I’ve been a photographer for over 35 years in the Los Angeles area. I’ve been shooting head shots of actors, models, celebrities, and corporate people for all these years. There are some things that I always hear no matter who my clients are and one of those things is,”I hate having my picture taken”.
It seems such an odd thing for an actor to say but it happens at least 90 percent of the time. I usually respond by telling them that a head shot is an acting job just like any other acting job and that they are portraying characters that represent the “type” they will be called in to portray. It’s a completely ineffective response on my part but what I attempt to do is simply get the actor into a different type of mindset so the session doesn’t become so self analytical.
Last year I had a guy come to my studio who was a character type and had a good “look” for casting. But one of the things he said to me was very revealing. He said he got called in for a role as a “very very bad guy” (like a rapist or pedophile) and he said,”I can’t play that! It just isn’t ME!”
As a photographer, I thought it odd he said that because when he walked through my studio doors, my first impression was what a great character type he was and what a perfect “rapist” or “pedophile” he could portray. He was a WONDERFUL human being and a terrific Dad to his children but he had a certain “look” (read CASTING) that conflicted with his real life existence. As a result of his feelings about the “bad guy” role he had auditioned for, he felt it more appropriate that we shoot images of him where he looked more friendly. He wanted a “Dad” shot, a “business man” shot, and a “guy next door” shot. All these “looks” are indeed a good idea and he might book some of those roles but his PRIMARY market will go untapped simply because of his own personal inability to separate himself PERSONALLY from himself as This is a somewhat schizophrenic business to be in.
An actor (model, celebrity, corporate person) needs to see themselves as a product. They need to look at their photos as pictures of “him/her” and NOT as photos of “ME”. If the reason for shooting a photo is for personal reasons and it’s going to hang on a wall or be put in a frame, then, certainly there is reason to want to look good and be yourself but if it is for business use, no matter the business, then that end use becomes the driving factor in what that image should be.
For instance, the CEO of a corporate bank should not have a head shot in a baseball cap and a tank top. It may be a perfectly acceptable look for him on vacation in the Carribean, but not for his corporate offices.
The NUMBER ONE comment I hear from actors when they come through the doors of my studio is,”I just want a photo that captures ME and who I REALLY am!” As harsh and cruel as it may sound…. in this business, who cares who and what you REALLY are!?? Casting offices only look at an actor as having the right look (and talent) for a role. They may be wonderful folks but they have no interest in who an actor “really is”. You don’t have to be a Mom to play a Mom. My client didn’t have to BE a “bad guy” to play a bad guy. His inability to divest himself of his self image damages his career.
Over and over I see this played out in my studio. Girls who are rather plain who want to be sexy, girls who are sexy who want “to be taken seriously” and not do sexy roles, guys who want to be macho leads who look like nerds, and fellows like I just mentioned who could make tons of money playing “bad guys” but are at odds with their casting.
Acting is a business. My advice is to put your money where you make your money. If you are attached to your photos, you are doing a disservice to your business. Look at TV, commercials (where 75% of the money spent in LA goes!), films, and print media and see who looks like you. What are they wearing? How are they cast? Then shoot images that will get you called in to audition for roles you have a shot at booking.
All this seems so “obvious” but I am astounded at the percentage of actors who miss this basic concept. A head shot is NOT about YOU and what YOU REALLY ARE. It is about shooting images that get you called in for work you have a shot at booking. A “great photo of you” is NOT a great photo of you if you get called in and when you get there, you look around the room and everyone is prettier, older, younger, or just simply not your “type”.
It may be a great photo of you for your wall at home, but if it doesn’t generate the appropriate auditions and get your work, then it’s NOT a good photo for your career.