Japan 2017 – Day 1 – March 18

Journey to Japan – Day 1

Boarding a plane bound for Japan is an exercise in mixed feelings. We’re SO HAPPY to be going but dreading being trapped in an aluminum tube at 37 thousand feet for 12 hours.Michael Helms Los Angeles Headshot Photographer
I’m jealous of those who can sleep on planes…I can’t. So, I have found the best way for me to pass time is to catch up on all the movies I haven’t seen. “LA LA LAND” was first on my list. What a horrid film…slow paced, predictable, schmaltzy, and I’m sorry but Emma and Ryan are neither singers or dancers. Watch Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire…listen to Julie Andrews or Judy Garland sing.
On the other hand, I LOVED “Moonlight” and feel it deserved to win. Well shot, directed, acted, and a wonderful story that walked a tough line concerning a sensitive and current topic. Sadly, the people who SHOULD see it, probably won’t.
I saw “Doctor Strange” – liked it a lot and recommend it. I’d watch Benedict Cumberbatch read a phone book.

We arrived at Narita Airport and on our way to pick up our baggage, Squi was running through the airport, tripped, fell, smacked his face on the floor and got a black eye. Great….we hoped this wasn’t a sign of things to come.

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We got to AirBnB rented house in Shinjuku around 3 in the afternoon and Kaz had to leave soon after to go teach an acting class. Squi and I decided to have a treasure hunt, so we went out on our own and wondered around. The “treasure hunt” consisted of taking photos as we went so we could find our way back home. I think it worked better than bread crumbs. But ultimately we were too tired to walk very far, so we found our way back home, put our feet up, and watched Sumo Wrestling!
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John Jack, the head honcho at The Stella Adler Acting Academy arrived that evening.
So when Kaz got back, we started our first food search.Los Angeles Headshot Photographer
We knew of a teeny hole in the wall restaurant in an alley in Shinjuku called Shinagawa Tei. The restaurant has room for about 8-10 guests and is owned and operated by a little old lady and her son. It’s a VERY popular local eatery and is practically impossible to get reservations but the last time we were there we just walked in at the right time and got seats! So we thought we’d go by and just say hello. As fate would have it, we got there just as they were opening and we got to eat there again!!! When we walked in the little old lady looked at Kaz and said, “OH….Matamura-san!!” We were stunned that she remembered us but so happy to get to have more of their wonderful food.Los Angeles Actors Headshot Photographer

We love Japan and I’m pretty sure living there part time will be in our future. Also – MANY of these blogs will mention food! Food you can’t get in the US, food that you can get in the US but is WAAAYYY better over there, and food served in a way (both in terms of service and presentation) that you can’t find here in the US.Los Angeles Actors Headshot Photographer Los Angeles Headshot Photographer

After our meal, we wondered around a bit in Shinjuku before we met up with Rick, an instructor  from Stella Adler, who was also coming in to join the teaching forces.
We’d been up for a LONG time, so after a snack and too many Asahi beers, we crashed  at our house, happy, full, and excited about the days to come!

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This year’s Labor Day weekend ….

Nope.  I didn’t got to the Burning Man.

I had four days off !   I laid one more row of cement block on my front retaining wall (125 feet long!) then stucco on the whole thing, then brick cap on top.
Too old for this shit!

I love doing projects like this.

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Los_Angeles_Photographer_Michael_Helms

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Los_Angeles_Photographer_Michael_Helms

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Summer 2015 – Headshot Workshop

Special Intensive Weekend Workshop:

Saturday,  July 11
Sunday, July 12
(10 AM to 4PM)

SIX students only

Saturday, 9 AM to 12 noon – Introduction
Saturday, 1 PM to 5 PM – Basic

Sunday, 9 AM to 12 noon – Intermediate
Sunday, 1 PM to 5 PM – “Starting up as a business” / Special Guests

Two Days for $350 (Return Student Discount $175)

Individual Workshop:
Introduction $120
Basic: $150
Intermediate: $200
Seminar: “Starting up your photography business”: $120

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Photoshop ­ – to retouch or NOT to retouch

One of the things I hear a lot these days is “I want my photo to look natural”. Yet, when I sit down in front of a computer monitor after a photo session to view their head shots, I hear ”can you fix this, and that, and that, and….”

In this age of digital manipulation, the general rule is: It is a GOOD thing to Photoshop your photos, it is a BAD thing to OVER­Photoshop your photos”

If you are in the public eye ­ an actor, model, CEO, or celebrity ­ you need to be aware of your image. The first thing to know is that you are not in the business of reality.

You are in a business of fantasy or at the very least idealism. No one who views your photos wants to know you had a zit the day of your photo shoot. No one is interested in seeing your blobby mascara, nose hairs hanging out, or blood shot eyes, even though that’s the “way it really looked” or the way it was “naturally”. When we view photos of George Clooney, we want him to look as perfect as our fantasies imagine him. We want Angelina Jolie to have flawless skin, perfect hair, and a trim lovely figure.

Dove has been running a campaign the last few years showing makeovers and accentuating all the stuff done in Photoshop afterwards. The idea is to show the “real” faces of models and therefore make them more “human” and accessible and thereby draw attention to their products. In my opinion, this is a huge marketing mistake. These videos will draw a lot of attention and get a lot of nods of approval but in the end will not increase sales of their products as much as an ad NOT showing the before images. People need a goal to strive for not someone who they look at and ”Oh well…with THAT MUCH photoshop, I can look good too!” It’s like telling people there is no Easter Bunny!

I had an agent here in LA tell one of my clients to “just shoot a selfie” for her head shots!! While I understand the agents frustration with actors bringing her head shots that don’t look like them, I also think a selfie is a horrid misrepresentation of oneself. The distortion of camera phone lenses, awful lighting, and unplanned images makes selfies fun but useless as a business tool.

So where is the magic line? When is an image “over Photoshopped”?

If you have a mole, leave in it because to will be there when you go on an audition. If you have a blemish, retouch it out.

It’s OK to soften laugh lines a bit but to remove them is a mistake. Taking the red out of your bloodshot eyes is fine because HOPEFULLY you won’t always have that, unless you live in Colorado.
If you plan on losing a little weight, then it’s OK to take some off in Photoshop but rarely do people actually go ahead and lose that weight and so you’d do better to look like your photo.

If you are taking a photo for your wall at home or for a gift, then you can Photoshop to your hearts content, but if it is for work, then less is more.

While on this topic, I should add that there is a lot of BAD Photoshop out there, so buyer beware. A photographer should either do it himself or have someone on staff who is proficient and will sit down with you to do the Photoshop Head shots in LA are going through a “natural” phase right now, which is a good thing, but beware of anyone who tells you not to do any Photoshop at all.

Remember ­ it is a GOOD thing to Photoshop your photos,

it’s a BAD thing to over­Photoshop them.

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Everything is beautiful … NOT!

In the 1960s, Ray Stevens wrote a song titled “Everything Is Beautiful” and it won him a grammy. Perhaps it was the idealism of those times or maybe a personal philosophy that gave birth to this song. It starts out with children singing “Jesus Loves the Little Children”, a song I remember singing in church when I was a child.
“Jesus loves the little children
All the children of the world
Red and yellow, black and white
They are precious in His sight
Jesus loves the little children of the world”

Like Disney’s “It’s a Small World”, this song has a worm like infectious tune that rolls around in your brain like a marble in a barrel. A child, once he has learned this song, will hum it, whistle it, and sing it until adult ears bleed. Not only is the tune contagious, the lyrics are ideal and Pollyanna to the point of near myopic blindness.
After one chorus of “Jesus Loves the Little Children”, Mr. Stevens’ song moves into his “Everything Is Beautiful, in It’s Own Way” mantra.
The notion he puts forth in this song is that everyone and everything is beautiful in it’s own way. That if we CHOOSE to see the good, choose to find the positive, and choose to open our hearts to love, then …”the World’s gonna find a way”.

The first thing I want to say is, whatever you do, DON’T listen to this song on YouTube or anywhere else because it will stick in your head. In less than an hour you will be begging for some Beatles, the Who, or a good dose of Led Zeppelin.
But beyond that, I have a bit of a dilemma. I am embarrassed to admit, I actually agree with Mr. Stevens… in theory. I truly WISH it was that way. I WANT to believe the best of people. I WISH the world would live in love. Personally, I choose to live my life that way. I choose to believe the best of people, trust people, and see the best in them … BUT… at 62 years of age I can say it’s not only incorrect, it’s dangerous to walk through life with rose colored glasses.
I have had people steal from me, cheat me, and deceive me in many ways, but I STILL choose to believe the best. I choose to be this way because I cannot live my life in paranoid, bitter, and angry resentment for the few times that people have chosen to be dishonest, deceitful, or deceptive.
As the old saying goes, I can’t allow “one bad apple to spoil the whole bunch” for me. I love life. I love people. I am happy when I see generosity in the world such as the relief efforts for the tsunami in Japan. I am happy when I see a child share a toy.

“Everything Is Beautiful in It’s Own Way” is an ideal I wish were true, but when I go downtown Los Angeles, I won’t leave valuables in my car and I won’t leave it unlocked. What I WILL do, is be the best person I can to everyone I meet. I will try to add something good to the world. And through personal experience, I now have a fairly perceptive filter on who to trust.

The way I see it, not everything is beautiful in the world, but I can add my small part to what is beautiful and I can revel in all the beauty around me. People who refuse to love again because of having experienced heartbreak, are protecting and empty house. Love will teach us freedom and experience will teach us discretion.

Now if only I could get that stupid song out of my head. I’m going on YouTube and look for “Stairway to Heaven”!!! Yeah… gimme some Led Zeppelin

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Headshot Photography Workshop 2016

Special Intensive Weekend Workshop:

Saturday, April 23 & Sunday, April 24 – 10 AM to 6 PM

Two Days for $375 (Repeat Student $150)

Individual Workshop:
Introduction $120
Basic: $150
Intermediate: $200
Seminar: “Starting up your photography business”: $120

Question? email

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Interview: Magic Image 12/10

Headshots and Effective Marketing by Michael Helms

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Bryan Batt

I have been a professional photographer in Los Angeles for 35 years. The thing I hear most when actors come to my studio is, “I just want a photo that really captures ME and who I really am!”

While this may sound good, it tells me there is a very basic lack of understanding of how this business works and how to carry out a strong marketing strategy. As harsh as it may sound, not ONE casting director in all of LA concerns themselves with who you really are. It is their job to CAST you not analyze you.

If you are a 30 year old female, you will get “Mom” roles, business women, nurses, a wife, or a host of other characters seen on TV and in movies. It doesn’t matter if you REALLY ARE a Mom or not…that’s why it’s called ACTING. If you are a curvy girl, don’t shoot sexy photos because you’ll get called in for an audition and find yourself in a room full of skinny models. Conversely, if you are a lovely young woman and you have a nice figure, understand that this is a business driven by money. What sells on TV and in movies is sex and violence. So make sure you have a sexy head shot.

Danny DeVito is a sexy leading man to Rhea Perlman because she is married to him, but it is not his casting. While “type casting” may not be right or fair, it is what it is. Get used to it.

Research, research, research to find the right photographer. The guy in your acting class who has a camera and will do your headshots for free or for fifty bucks is NOT a working professional. An actor who does head shots on the side is NOT a working professional photographer and if he has an audition the day of your shoot – you will be out of luck.

If you want this to be your career – invest in it. Go to a professional photographer. Look for someone with a studio (who can shoot natural light OR studio light), who has been in business for 10 years or more, who has a GOOD web site.

Los Angeles Actors Headshot by Michael Helms

GO SEE THEM! Don’t go to someone who shoots out of their apartment. Simply put, go to a pro. Beware of Agents or managers who INSIST you go to their photographer. An Agent should give you a list of known working pro photographers that you can choose from.Get plenty of sleep the night before your shoot. Don’t get involved in an argument with your significant other.

Don’t bring “a friend” to your photo shoot. Don’t bring your family or Mother or your dog. This is YOUR day.  Most of all… ENJOY your photo shoot. I often hear actors say how much they “hate having their photos taken”. This is your career…learn to love it. ALL of it. Taking headshots is an acting job just like any other acting job.

If someone tries to tell you “film is better than digital”, just walk away. You should expect to shoot, look at the photos on a computer, get them retouched, and have them burned onto a CD, and walk out with them done all in the same day.

Basically, it is a business. If you treat your acting career like a business, you will have a much greater chance of success!

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Perils of a Los Angeles Head Shot Photographer – Part I “Shoot dis!”

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”
Me,”Yeah!?”
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!”

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