Picking the right headshot photographer can be a daunting task. In our industry, headshots are an actor’s number one marketing tool. It’s the first thing that Agents and Casting Directors see of us. They must target specific roles; have an air of intrigue that will interest industry professionals and look exactly like you on a good day. In order to accomplish all of that in one photo, you need a photographer who not only has skill and talent, but also knows the ins and outs of the film and television world.
Photographers may know photography, but they don’t know you
It’s likely you’ve only spoken to your photographer over the phone or very briefly during your initial meeting. Sure, they may have an idea of your type and (hopefully) know the roles that you should be targeting, but they don’t know what makes you special within your type/category. Many photographers feel they “know better” or that they know how to bring out your individuality, but they say the exact same things to every actor. This is why so many headshots look the same with exactly the same expressions. The right photographer is one who is open to hearing your thoughts and your opinions, and will happily work with you to bring out those aspects that separate you from other actors in your category.
Did you feel comfortable working with this photographer?
Would you shoot with them again?
Are the pictures getting you called into the room?
How does the photographer work with actors?
Are they up on all the current industry requirements and trends?
Did they have a good hair and makeup artist?
How much do additional edits cost?
Were you able to meet with the photographer and talk beforehand?
Quiz your agent as well to see if they have an updated referral list that they could share with you. After all, they see hundreds of headshots and know first-hand which of their clients are getting called in.
Every Actor is Different
Just because your friend got amazing shots with one photographer, doesn’t guarantee that you will have the same outcome. Take this into consideration as you collect referrals. Headshot sessions are very personal experiences that differ depending on the needs of each individual. If you are uncomfortable or the photographer doesn’t understand what you want to capture, the shoot will quickly head in the wrong direction.
For example, certain photographers may work very well with younger actors. They may have a knack for capturing that youthful glow or inquisitive look that casting directors are dying to see in the teen market. However, if you’re a middle-aged character actor, it is highly unlikely they will be able to create the same magic in your shots.
For newer actors who are still solidifying their brand or type, it is crucial to have a photographer who is willing to collaborate in the moment and aid the actor where they’re lacking clarity.
Does gender matter?
Whether the photographer is male or female does not affect their skills as a photographer, but it can make the difference for good or bad pictures. It’s really comes down to a personal preference. For instance, if part of an actress’ branding and marketability has to do with portraying her sexuality, she may feel more comfortable shooting with a female photographer (alternatively however she may feel a male photographer is better at bringing that out in her). The most important thing is that you, as the actor, feel comfortable and relaxed enough to open up and expose certain aspects of your personality to the camera. Whether that is with a male or female photographer is completely up to you.
Websites aren’t always the best representation of a photographer
Do not base your choice of photographers solely on their website examples. Anyone can create a beautiful website with the right set of tools, but how can we be sure that it truly represents the photographer and his or her work? It can be difficult to determine if those shots realistically represent the actors and there is no guarantee that the shots on the site actually belong to that particular photographer.
Money isn’t everything
It’s no secret that headshots can be costly. Here in Vancouver, the cost ranges anywhere from $200-$600 by the time you’ve had them printed. While we all want to save money wherever we can, when it comes to our career, cheaper isn’t always better. Sure, your cousin may do a great job of capturing your family vacation, but do they know all the aspects that go into a professional actor’s headshot? Probably not. There are many great photographers out there that won’t break the bank. Always remember that you aren’t only investing in photos, you’re investing in your career.
On the other end of this spectrum, you don’t need to max out the credit card on these either. Just because a photographer charges a lot doesn’t mean they’re the best person out there. Many times, those photographers have built a large resume with editorial work or portraits, which are vastly different than headshots. Often these photographers are only looking to make you look overly glamorous and not at all how you would walk into an audition room.
When it comes to cost, the most important thing is to find a suitable middle ground that leaves you at a comfortable spending area as well as beautiful shots to pass on to an agent.
Knowledge of the business and current trends
As actors, it’s always important that we know what’s being filmed in our area and where we fit in that equation. For instance, it’s important to know if you fit better in Hallmark’s wholesome demographic or have an edgier CW look. It’s also important that your photographer knows the difference between these networks to ensure that the lighting and style of the shot will be on type with this brand.
You’d be surprised how many photographers are not aware of how the film and television industry actually works. Or sometimes, their knowledge is out of date and not up to snuff with the current trends in our market. The best photographers get out and gather feedback from casting directors and agents to see what they look for in a photo. Just like fashion, the film and television industry is constantly changing. Make sure you and your headshots are too.