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Maybe I’ll even get lucky and get a shot of a cute Harajuku girl! I’ll be there too!
Thirty five years of photographing actors, models, celebrities, corporate folk, and anyone else who’d pay me, gives me a certain bag of stories that seem “normal” to me until I start telling my friends “what happened in my studio today.”
Take, for instance, the case of Sonny Stiletto. I’d be comfortable wagering that wasn’t his birth name but that’s who he was when he walked into my studio. He actually didn’t “walk” into my studio – he swaggered in. Webster defines “swagger”, when used as an adjective, as “denoting a coat or jacket with a loose flare from the shoulders” and that’s a good description of Sonny. Starting at the top, his hair was lubricated to the point of one molecule away from dripping and it was jet black like shiny plastic. His cheeks remained sucked in the entire visit so I feel confident he had super glued them to his molars. He nose was Roman straight (geometrically speaking) and his lips pursed permanently in duck fashion.
“Yo, Michael, how you doin?” he nodded.
“Great Sonny, pleased to meet you. What are we shooting today?” I smiled.
“I need some pichas. Some good pichas, ya know, to like, get some work or sumthin, ya know?” he pursed.
“OK…pictures you want, pictures you got. Let’s go through your wardrobe” I interpreted.
So we pulled two wadded up shirts out of a grocery store plastic bag and chatted about which one brought out his eyes best. Were we going to settle on the shiny dark black cotton shirt (shiny from being ironed too hot), the charcoal black, or the shiny black silk? Sonny preferred the shiny black silk because it “looked good” and showed off his gold chains nestled in his chest hair. Since that was what he wore in, I figured it was a favorite anyway.
I have learned over the years when someone asks me what I think that they really aren’t interested in what I truly think. The REAL question is,”Try to guess what I think and then agree with me!”. I have also become fairly proficient at reading the air, so I felt rather confident in choosing shiny black silk. He nodded approval when I said I thought that shirt would bring out his hair also.
After twenty minutes of rearranging his hair to EXACTLY the same position it was when he walked in, we started our shoot.
He stood in front of my camera and proclaimed, “Yo Michael, dis here is a good picha. Shoot dis”
So I did.
He unbuttoned his skin tight jeans and hung his thumbs from the waist band, gave his lips and extra purse and then swaggered,”Den how ’bout I give ya one of deez!”
So I took that photo also.
What I need to interject at this point is that during our entire session he was perseverating about the recent demise of a relationship with a girl in New York. I’d shoot a few frames and Sonny would say something about that puzzling breakup, then he would return to “Shoot dis”, and off we’d go for a few more frames. I will condense the two hour conversation to my favorite passages.
Sonny,”I don’t know what her problem is, ya know. What is her problem?”
Me,”You got me, Sonny”
Sonny,”I mean…I got a normal penis, ya know. So what is her problem?”
Me,”Don’t know, man, that’s truly a mystery”
Sonny,”What does she want anyway, ya know? I got a normal penis!?”
Sonny,”You know what’s wrong with women dees days, Michael?”
Me,”Not a clue, Sonny, do tell”
Sonny,”Their minds are fuckin degenerated. Dat’s it, ya know. I think it must be the smog or sumthin, ya know!”
Me,”Ah…it’s the smog… got it.”
Sonny,”You know what, Michael, I got an idea”
Sonny,”You know what I’m gonna do? I’m gonna tell ya what I’m gonna do. Here’s what I’m gonna do!”
(Why Sonny felt compelled to let me know in three different ways that he was called to action, I have no idea, but I was on the edge of my seat.)
Sonny,”I’m gonna get me a couple of dikes. Yea – I’m gonna get me a couple of dikes. Den they can move in wif me, and I can watch them, and they can watch me, den they can do my laundry!”
I must say I was stunned. Even for the likes of Sonny Stiletto, this “idea”, left me absolutely speechless.
I stammered,”Wow…well, I’ll be anxious to hear how that works out for ya there, Sonny!”
Somewhere deep (admittedly not that deep) inside me I wanted him to attempt to implement this boneheaded plan. I could just see the headlines in the newspaper:
“Disenchanted Lesbian Couple Hangs Stiletto”
“Gay Couple Throws Stiletto Out Window”
“Dead Stiletto Found Sonny Side Up”
What disturbed me most I have to say, is knowing that somewhere in the world, Sonny has most likely, reproduced and little Stilettos are running around saying,”Shoot dis!”
I’ve been hearing and reading about an interesting new phenomenon in the head shot world. It seems there is a new trend toward shooting video for head shots also known as Moving Head Shots. The idea is to then go back and sift through the images for a still shot that is the “ultimate moment” captured to print or use on line.
What I am amazed to hear is how many people think Moving Head Shots is not only a good idea, but that it will somehow revolutionize the world of head shots. Some think Moving Headshots will redefine the way a portrait is captured and that it will improve our art.
Part of this thinking (Moving Headshots) has been set up by the digital revolution. Back in the day, a photographer was limited to 36 exposures on a roll of 35mm film. That meant he had to be aware of moments that were fleeting and he had to be specific about what he chose to shoot and the timing of when to push the button.
These days, photographers have huge memory cards that hold hundreds of photos. Where a photographer used to shoot 3 rolls of 36 exposure film (108 frames), now it is not unusual to shoot 200-400 images in a session. This is not necessarily a good thing because more is not always better.
In so many areas we have replaced quality with quantity. I even see photographer’s web sites where they boast “unlimited” number of images.
The photographers who have attempted to shoot video (super high resolution video) and then sift through the images for the “perfect frame”, have found this task daunting to say the least. If you think of shooting 24 frames a second over a period of time, it takes VERY LITTLE time to amass HUGE numbers of frames. For instance, if a photographer shoots video at 24 frames a second and he shoots for 10 minutes, he will have 144,000 frames to go through for a head shot. If his client is wanting to shoot 3 or 4 “looks”, then he can conceivably end up with over half a million frames. I’m wondering how many agents will be willing to look through half a million frames to find the “perfect” head shot?? How many clients have the time to go through that number of frames?
Basically – it’s not practical – and is counterintuitive to what a good photographer is about. One of the gifts of a talented photographer is knowing WHEN to push the button. Not only when, but having the ability to set up a situation where this magic moment CAN happen.
If an actor comes to me wanting 4 different types of head shots, I will shoot anywhere from 15 to 50 frames on average. I listen to what my clients needs are and provide the shots they want. Perhaps 35 years in the business gives me some insight into how to set up a shot and make it happen. Perhaps enjoying the company of the people I shoot makes for a relaxed atmosphere. Perhaps it is because I ask people to be specific about their ideas for the images they want.
For whatever reason, I seem to shoot fewer frames and have a higher percentage of “winning” photos than beginner photographers who hope quantity can overcome lack of quality.
All the great photographers have been able to set up a shot, be clear what their objective was, and know when to push the button.
It is this “magic” that separates the mediocre from the marvelous. I have had instances where I shot less than 10 frames with a client because I KNOW we got the shot. Half a million frames would not have changed that fact.
Video is good for video but for head shots, it’s not a good idea.
Thank you for reading my article about why Moving Headshot is not practical for working actors.
One of the things I hear the most from actors who come to me for a head shot is,”I just need a photo that really captures ME and who I REALLY AM!”
As harsh and cruel as it sounds, I really want to say,”Why? What casting director cares who you REALY ARE??”
If I go to the beach, I dress very casually. If I go out to dinner, I dress up a bit. And if I attend a formal event, I wear a tux. It’s still “me” at each event but I dress differently and perhaps even behave differently, and hopefully appropriately, for each occasion.
To have one head shot that captures who and what we “are” is impossible because we so many different people depending on the situation. For actors, it is imperative they identify their “casting”. It is vital they know how they are seen by casting agents, not how they see themselves or are seen by their friends, loved ones, or relatives.
A tall lanky model type girl walked into my studio one day for head shots. She was really beautiful and had a sort of “Playboy” look with blonde hair, blue eyes, slightly oversized breast implants, and rather obvious lip injections. She said,”I’m so sick and tied of getting sexy roles and always being asked to take my clothes off. I’m a GOOD actress and I want to do more serious roles!”
All I could think of to say was,”WHY?”
While not an understanding or compassionate answer, it was painfully obvious she had invested in her physical looks, her body, and her skimpy wardrobe.
She told me she could play a “lawyer” and “here’s my suit jacket” for the shot. Indeed she did have a suit jacket but it was a plunging neckline and she chose not to wear anything under it. When I suggested she wear a blouse under her jacket to “look a little more official”, she said she didn’t want to because it “didn’t feel sexy”.
Oddly, the very next day I had a sweet and charming young lady come to the studio who was sort of the opposite. She was rather plain looking and I thought about all the wonderful roles she could get as a farmers wife, pioneer woman, or dust bowl maiden. She said,”I want some photos like these” and handed me magazine photos of Cindy Crawford, Linda Evangelista, and other top models.
Acting requires one thinks of themselves in third person and remove ego from the equation. It requires an actor to look at themselves objectively as possible and ask what roles are right for them.
Who looks like you? What roles are they playing? You don’t have to BE a mom to play mom roles. You can be a full time mom and play roles as a judge, a sexy hooker, or a fighter pilot. It just depends on how you are perceived by casting agents.
While there are many classes available for figuring out what “type” you are, it really is a matter of basic homework and being honest with yourself.
Acting is a job and like any other job, it means you work at it. Figure out how to best market yourself because YOU are your product.
I guess I am becoming Mr. Wolff in the headshot business nowadays.
Today I got yet another set of head shots in my email from an actor wanting me to see if I could save a disastrous set of photos. He decided to shoot with a “friend”. He thought he could help his friend get more established and add to his portfolio.
What he sent me was a set of photos that wouldn’t pass Photo 101 in any reasonable course study of photography. The photographer used a camera that is just slightly better than a point and shoot. He used the wrong lens for a head shot (35mm). He shot from a disturbingly bad angle (BAD idea to shoot UP at a jowly dude!) and the lighting was deplorable.
But the actor thought the photos were “OK, but not that great”. He asked me if I could “…fix them up a bit till he could come in and shoot with me”.
Why would an actor spend $100 on headshots OVER and OVER again before they get ONE SET of headshots that works for them?
I will offer one easy quick piece of advice at this point. If you are looking for a professional photographer to take your head shots, ask this simple question. “What camera do you use?”
And if the camera cost less than $2,500. Then just keep searching because professional cameras start at that base price. I have seen beautiful images shot on a cell phone, so I am not saying wonderful images cannot be shot on a lesser price camera. However, professional photographers use professional equipment. He will also have a backup in case something happens with his primary camera.
If an actor, model, or corporate leader takes their business seriously, they will invest in professional photos. You can help your friends, but don’t use it to represent you.
Photography is an expensive profession. Just FYI – here’s my equipment – AKA: guns: (yeah, brag brag!)
Canon 7D (backup camera) – $1,700.
Canon 16-35mm f2.8 lens – $1,700.
Canon 24-70mm f2.8 lens – $1,600.
Canon 70-200mm f2.8 AF IS lens – $2,500.
Canon 85mm f1.2 lens – $2,200.
Canon 100mm f2.8 lens – $1,000.
Canon 135mm f2.0 lens – $1,100.
I have also invested in lighting equipment, stands, computers, and a full studio with all the amenities.
In short, I have survived the competitive LA market as a photographer for over 35 years because I take my job seriously and invest in my career. I continue to invest in my career.
To find the right photographer, ask for referrals, look at web sites, interview photographers IN PERSON, and ask a lot of questions. BEFORE you “just try and help a friend” put your career first.