Headshots Q&A with @CNewmanWilliams Claire Newman-Williams

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I would like to start my actors headshot Q&A with the well known photographer Claire Newman-Williams. Claire is a London based photographer that has extensive experience in the States as well as experience in fine art photography featured in The Last Supper Gallery and more.
Most of us in the business know her shots from a single glance because they are simply perfection. Check out four fabulous examples below: 
Top Left: Stephen Fry  / Top Right: Samantha Barks / Bottom Left: Kirsty Shaw / Bottom Right: Oliver Dobson
Claire has taken the time to answer some general and random questions I have collected together below. Please read as it is extremely useful and insighful to Actors, Agents and Casting Directors.


  1. Instructions on Clothing: Do you provide the clients with any ‘heads up’ on what to wear?

Yes, I do give clients guidelines about what clothing to bring. Although the London market is now primarily colour, headshots are still often converted to b&w for theatre programmes or by drama schools so we have to bear this in mind when we’re shooting. What works in colour doesn’t necessarily work in b&w. A stunning blue shirt may look great with your eyes in colour, but in b&w it just becomes a boring mid-tone grey So, in order to keep some good contrast in the picture, I recommend strong tones as they will work well in colour or b&w. So black or white clothing are great and then either deep colours like navy, chocolate brown, dark greens etc or lighter, paler shades of colours that will convert to crisper, light tones in b&w. I suggest that clients bring a selection of different necklines too (shirts, round necks, v-necks, boat necks etc.) Some necklines are just better than others with certain face shapes and if we have a selection we can pick whatever will work best with the shape of the face.

This is where I’ve been accused of being the Trinny & Susannah of the headshot world! The other thing I suggest is no baggy clothes. My make-up artist clips clothing when necessary to give a nice clean silhouette, but if a client shows up with oversized clothes hanging off the shoulders, it’s never a good look and just ends up looking messy in the final photos. Clients who follow these guidelines and show up with 7 or 8 options for us to choose from always make my day easier!

  1. In your opinion what do you think is best for a client to wear in a headshot? Colours, prints, solids, etc… – and is this based on their casting type?

Rule of thumb is don’t use patterns that are very distracting. On the whole, plain fabrics are better or fabrics with a pattern that is small enough that it translates more as texture than pattern. As in life different people look better in certain colours and the same is true for photographs. If you look dreadful in yellow in life, you’ll probably look dreadful in yellow in your headshots. We want the wardrobe to do everything it can to complement you, without the picture becoming about the wardrobe. Wardrobe can hint towards an actors’ casting type, but it’s important that it doesn’t tip the picture over into being a photo of a character. I always say we want to do things subtly enough that the casting person thinks they thought about it themselves!

  1. From a casting point of view, a lot of actors have headshots that make them look glamorous but doesn’t look like them in everyday life or when they walk in the audition room. What kind of advice do you provide when the session is over in terms of picking the one?

Your headshot needs to look like you. Nothing annoys casting professionals more than when they take the time to call an actor in based on their headshot and a completely different looking actor walks in the room.

That said I do think that while your headshot should look like you, it’s important that it’s you looking your best. I’m a big believer in actors looking successful in their pictures – well styled, well groomed and confident.

There’s got to be something about a headshot that when casting directors are looking through a stack of a hundred photos, there’s something about that one that makes that stop and say “Who’s this”? The picture needs to jump off the page . Gone are the days when it’s enough to have a photo that says “oh yes that’s sort of what Molly looks like on a reasonable day in patchy light under a tree.” Everything these days gets branded and with the proliferation of media, especially social media, everything has to have a message, everything has to be sold and like it or not, the actor is the product and they need to a photo that sells them. With regard to picking final images, most of the time actors’ agents have a clear idea of how they want to sell that person and most agents make good picks. But if an actor needs help I’m always happy to put my 2 cents worth in. Equally if someone sends me their selection and I think they have much stronger choices that they are missing I feel I’m not doing my job properly if I don’t tactfully point that out and suggest some alternatives.

  1. Do you suggest for men to come unshaved & then do various shots after shaving?

 Yes is the short answer. I’m always happy to do a look with facial hair and one without – in fact I strongly encourage that as it just gives an actor a lot more latitude with the shots.

  1. For women do you suggest them to go with their natural hair or multiple hair looks?

With women we always do hair down and hair up if that’s what they want. Time permitting we may do another variation if it substantially changes an actresses look.

  1. What is the average amount of shots you take in a session? Does this range on the client depending on how photogenic they may be?

We shoot till I’m happy with the pictures and the client is happy too. Before a client leaves the studio I always have them look through everything we’ve shot to see if there’s anything we haven’t done that they had wanted to try to do. The joy of digital technology is that we are not limited too a certain number of shots. The biggest factor that affects how much we shoot is how comfortable a client is in front of the camera. Some people find it very easy to deliver what we need, in which case a session will be shorter; others find it more difficult. But it’s the photographer’s job to relax an actor enough to get good results no matter how long it takes or how many frames we have to shoot. After the session I edit the pictures down to 150 and these will be the selection that the client will choose their final images from. If I had to guess, I’d say the least I’ve ever shot is 150 and the most about 700.

  1. Do any artists desire landscape photographs (similar to US headshots) or is it all portrait in the UK?

    I used to shoot a lot of landscape shots when I was working in the States, but I don’t now. As headshots are printed less and emailed more, I think that how an image is orientated on the page is becoming less relevant.

8. Do you do your shots inside or outside? What difference can this make for the client?

 I mostly shoot indoors, but plenty of headshot photographers shoot outside and do some great work. To some extent I don’t think it matters, providing that if you use a photographer who shoots outside, that photographer understands that just because you’re outside, it doesn’t mean that you have nice light. In photography light needs to be controlled and shaped. Once in a blue moon nature does that for you, but it doesn’t happen very often. I sometimes shoot outside if the weather complies, but I think it’s a good idea to combine that with work in the studio just in case the day you have booked for headshots it’s pouring with rain or blowing a gale.

  1. When you edit the final shots, what kind of edits to you do to the image?

 People often assume that with digital photography, the minute you press the shutter release on the camera, the picture is done. But actually a good bit of the work happens after that. Once clients have picked their final choices the digital file has to be converted from a raw file to a jpeg, resized, cropped to a 10x 8 format, colour corrected and tonally adjusted. Beyond that I do a limited amount of retouching based on whatever is required. There are generally stray hairs that need to be cleaned up, any skin imperfections taken out (it’s not fair that just because you have a spot on the day of your headshot session you should have to have it on your headshot for the next couple of years!), etc. Again it’s important that your headshot looks like you though so I’m not in favour of masses of retouching.

  1. What has been your favorite shoot to date?

 I can’t say I have a favourite shoot to date. I’m done this job for a long time and I’ve been lucky enough to meet some great people many of whom have become friends over the years. A good day for me is an actor who shows up well prepared, responds well to direction and trusts me enough to let me do my job so I can give them the best possible headshots.

  1. Who would be your dream client to photograph?

 Dream client? Any woman with short hair! Gorgeous long curly tresses may look fab, but it takes a lot of work to get them looking that way!

 And that is a wrap! Claire has been fantastic to get in touch with and I have enjoyed her work over the years. I recommend her to any actor looking for some new shots and please find her details below. Prices etc listed on her website. Thanks again CNW!
Twitter: @CNewmanWilliams / Website: clairenewmanwilliamsheadshots.com

(Make sure to stay tuned for 2 more exciting interviews this week) 

Hearts & Flowers,