Actors Headshots Q&A

 The Q&A will begin 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. Without a doubt if I had pursed a career in Acting or Musical Theatre she would be my first pick for ‘dream headshots’. I remember recommending her to many actors during my time at LIPA and a few booked away.

 

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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 insightful to Actors, Agents and Casting Directors.

Q&A

  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? 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!

 

Twitter: @CNewmanWilliams
Website: clairenewmanwilliamsheadshots.com

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Nick James has been in the business for over 10 years and has set the mark for actors headshots. I remember the firs time I saw Nick James Photographer as an Intern for Pippa Ailion. It was a shot of Lucy May Barker and it was fantastic. I’ve always held him in a high regard and now I have the pleasure of hearing his thoughts and feedback for actors below. 

 

*Note – Nick offers discounts to students and returning clients* Information on prices is available on his website HERE.

nick james photography

TOP LEFT: SHERIDAN SMITH / TOP RIGHT: ALEX HAMMOND / BOTTOM LEFT: DWAYNE WALCOTT /
BOTTOM RIGHT: GEMMA PANZANELLE

Q&A

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

 

I do, I send out a three page letter on everything, what to do prior to the shoot, clothing, hair, make up, you name it it’s in there.

2. In your opinion what do you think is best for a client to wear in a headshot? Is this based on their casting type?

I normally suggest solid colours, black or white and look more at the necklines, as we are moving very fast into colour it is good to use it providing it’s not pulling focus from the face.

3. 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?

To be honest I think most actors these days that go to a ‘head shot’ photographer tend to turn up looking very much as they do in real life, it’s then using PhotoShop to try and cover these blemishes, bags etc.

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

If they can grow a good beard and it suits their casting then absolutely more looks the better!

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

If this works for their casting then yes they need to get over what they are right for.

  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?

For a standard session I will take around 900 and for the shorter session 400-500 depending on how many looks we are going for.

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

A few still require b/w mainly students but most agents have moved over to colour. The landscape is more a personal choice in this country, I photograph many American actors and actors that work in the US and they all still ask for the standard 10×8. Spotlight also still uses this format.

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

I mainly work indoors with either natural light or flash, both lights I try to make it look as if we could be outside if they want that. The main reason for not going outside so much is too many distractions, IE the weather, too cold too hot, too windy, too wet, too dull, too many people watching, no where to change, no where to check the hair the list goes on. I think most actors who book for outdoors forget all this until they are there on the day and then they are distracted so much it’s really hard for the photographer to capture them.

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

That’s one part of the job I farm out these days to an editor, he is brilliant and give me far more time for shooting.

10. What has been your favorite shoot to date?

 Impossible to answer, I have had so so many!

11. Who would be your dream client to photograph?

This is a hard one, I would love to photograph Judi Dench or Julie Walters for an actress and an actor Mark Rylance or Tom Hardy.

Website: http://www.nickjamesphotography.co.uk

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Next on the Q&A series with another fantastic and well known West End photographer Brandon Bishop

*Note – Brandon offers student rates for those who are training or are graduating which is a major plus for those still in Drama School*

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Top Left: Nina Touson White / Top Right: Chris Braizer / Bottom Left: Rowan Polonski / Bottom Right: Carl Welch

Q&A

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

Something that frames your face nicely, different faces suit different neck lines. Some suit a V neck and some suit round necks, some clients have long necks or round shoulders or bad posture, simple is usually better, and tops that don’t make you look bigger than you are. I.E. thin straps or lots of skin showing adds unnecessary weight to your self. If you have nice collar bones its nice to show them. I like a nice pair of collar bones… it makes my job 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?

I like the colours and slight patterns that suit their personality, something maybe to pull the colour out or compliment there eyes – clean and untidy neck lines. And old jumper or dress that has been given by grandad or an aunty really tends to work well for me. Urban, professional, hippy and simple bring everything your like yourself in.

  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?

This one pops all the time, even last week somebody put it into perspective. She said: “You can walk in and have the disappointment factor!”. Straight away you’ve had a wasted journey and you have lost the casting. If they think “Oh yeah really” then its over. It’s an honest photo that works, sometimes even an uglier or harder one.

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

Yes, unshaven is a best start for fellas no make-up for girls is a good place to start, for fellas it shows shape in there cheeks and jaw line, especially for the ones with rounded faces. It saves me trying to add shadow. Girls sometimes suit less make-up, some more. I get asked to reduce the amount of make-up on the the face in post-production, a couple of times a week.

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

Yes as many hair styles that suits you. Get as much out of a session as possible. Even if your agent doesn’t choose one from each of your looks, at least you have tried them. To much hair can over take the face. So it’s good to show variation and the shape of your face.

  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?

Sometimes you get pictures in the first two or three frames. That’s when I’m testing the light and the actor isn’t trying (they look great). Soon as I say: “Yep I’m ready”. It can all go a bit wrong, people then over try and try to pose or then look worried and it doesn’t look as good. So I don’t usually say this anymore. But then a lot of people don’t get warmed up till the third change or so, so sometimes you get them to put the first top they wore on again at the end to see how they may have improved. So between 300 to 700 frames. Sometimes the light may improve towards the end of the session, so you must take more to take the best picture. As you no longer waste film, as it is all digital. Shutters on my camera have to be replaced once a year as they take a hammering.

  1. Do clients still want B&W headshots or is this completely out of date? Do any artists desire landscape photographs (similar to US headshots) or is it all portrait in the UK?

Yep, some still want b/w, especially for programs at the theatre, they look more uniform with the other shots they have. And of course, for the spotlight that still print in bw. I have never asked to do a landscape for portrait. I know the US like that and also very flawless skin in the picture, but that work out there.

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

I prefer natural daylight for actors. I have lots of lights and flash heads and a big studio here, but I use my fire escape for my portraits. I love the light there (or big windows if you have them).

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

The eyes must look right. It is the first thing we all look at. If these is not right we may as well give up. I try hard not to over do them all the time, as its easy to go to far and make them look to powerful, when there not.

  1. What has been your favorite shoot to date?

I havent got one. Its a brilliant feeling when you here the pictures got them in the casting and they managed to get the job…so these become my favorite shoots.

  1. Who would be your dream client to photograph?

Ray Winston or Kathy Burk, Scum was the first film I watched on VHS video so I would love to take their picture, although they don’t need my help at all. That would be brilliant.

Website: http://www.brandonbishopphotography.com/

 

#HEADSHOTS #ACTORS #CASTING #PHOTOGRAPHY
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