I suppose it’s a good thing that after 37 years of shooting head shots for actors, that I still enjoy it. I attribute this to the fact that I find people endlessly fascinating and what better place to be a head shot photographer than in Los Angeles! I get all sorts of fascinating characters through my photo studio and I sometimes think it should be a sit com.
In the past, an actor would get a recommendation from his Agent or manager for what head shot photographer to go visit. Usually an actor would meet with four or five photographers, look at their portfolios, check out the studio, and choose who they felt would be the best for the images they needed. This decision making process was good for everyone, actor and photographer alike although it required the photographer to sit through hours of seemingly endless and unnecessary recitations of resumes.
While I understand the concept that an actor wants the photographer to capture a certain essence, it has little bearing on whether or not that actor will actually book a job. The reason for this is that very very few actors see their casting. Every actor has an idea of the roles they want to play in film, commercials, or on stage but very few actors understand that it is a business and they will be cast according to how they look to a casting office.
An example of this would be a girl who came to my studio for head shots and she handed me photos of fashion models and proclaimed,”I want photos like these!”. What amused me was that MY idea of her casting was that she would be prefect in a role as a midwest farmers wife…perhaps pulling a plow. Suffice it to say she was NOT in shape for Victoria’s Secret.
Agents in Los Angeles have lists of head shot photographers that they recommend and I am fortunate to be on almost all of those lists. So, it presented me with a challenge, because, knowing her agent, if I shot images the agent liked, she would be unhappy but if I shot images she liked, the agent would be displeased.
I suggested to her that she show her agent what wonderful versatility she had as an actress. I told her she should shoot some rather plain images, then we could add more makeup and fluff her hair for more sexy images. She reluctantly agreed.
A week went by and I got a call from her and I winced as I asked her how she liked her photos. This was in the days of film so it would take a few days to process. She told me she was really happy with “some of them but some of the others she liked less”. I asked her if she had shown them to her agent and she frustratingly replied,”YES…and you won’t believe what he said to me. He said he liked the plain ones and could use those but the pretty shots he didn’t like. He said to me, these are pretty but I can’t use them because you aren’t pretty!”
“Yikes!” I responded,”What did you do!?”
“Well, I’m looking for another agent!” she growled.
I have had actors in my studio who did their best to imitate Robert DeNiro, sexy women who wanted to play “smart” roles, nerdy looking guys who wanted to be James Bond, and the aforementioned chubette who wanted to be Cindy Crawford.
When an actor walks through my doors, I know in the first minute how I am going to light him. I already know what roles he will get. I already know, after years doing head shots in Los Angeles, how an actor will be marketed. But it is not my job to make those decisions but rather to provide and actor with what type of photos HE/SHE wants. I make suggestions, I talk it over with all my clients, I can tell them what wardrobe I think will work, and I can let each individual know what the trends in head shots are current, but ultimately every actor needs to do their homework and see this as a business and realize they are a product and how best to market that product.
The idea is to have a head shot that gets you called in to a casting that, when you arrive and look around the casting office, you see actors who are in the same category. You don’t want to look around and see people who are 40 years older.
If an actor looks at TV, film, and commercials and identifies characters that “look like” him, he will know how to dress for a photo shoot. Basically an actor needs a smiling head shot for commercials and a more serious shot for theatrical purposes. Nothing more.
Casting offices generally know what type they are going to choose for any given role, so if you got a call, you have a shot!
The rest is up to you!