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Friday, August 5, 2011

What Makes a Good Headshot And Why You Need One

Although I’ve directed this article toward my Voice Actor/Voiceover Artist colleagues, this advice applies to most any profession today. Whether you are a freelance professional, staff employee, changing careers or interviewing for a new position, you need a professional headshot.

Ok, the first thing you’re wondering is why is a Voice Actor giving advise
about what a good headshot should look like? What do I know, right? Well, for almost 20 years in Nashville I ran my own commercial photography business. I was simultaneosly working in the Nashville music scene establishing myself as a songwriter/recording artist. But that’s another story.

Now, to stay on point, my photography business involved shooting varous products, food, corporate/industrial location and studio work, architecture, music business (CD covers, PR, etc.) and lifestyle portraiture. I even spent a long year shooting catelog images for Gibson Guitar in my 1500 square foot wharehouse type studio inside a 100+ year old building in downtown Nashville. And Yes, I always did headshots. In an entertainment center like Nashville, headshots were always a staple of my business. I even held a few organized talent agent sanctioned meetings to discuss headshots. I still shoot the occasional one in my small studio in Spring Hill, Tennessee. Although, I’m no longer in the photography business. I closed up shop for reasons I won’t go into here. But doing so freed me up to pursue my voice acting career to a greater degree.

The second thing you may be asking is, “Why do I need a headshot?"
No one sees me... I work behind a mic. Besides, I’d rather not let anyone know that I am really a 55 year old man who does a very convincing character voice of a teenage girl.” And if that’s true then revealing your face makes your work all that more facinating!

The fact is, we voice actors are all (or most all) freelance business professionals. As in just about any other business, people want to see your face. C’mon get with it! We’re in the age of imagery. They want to see that “internet eye contact” being made in a simple clean photo on your website, blog, on line business profiles, etc. Maybe even on your business card. Make no mistake, people make a much more comfortable connection with a REAL person they can see in a photo. Maybe it gives them a peek behind the curtain. You already know that today’s voice acting/voice over work is all about realism. They want to hear your heart beat in your VO work! They want to hear you smile! Why not drive home the point with a photo?  Ah, I know what you’re thinking. “But I’m not photogenic.” But being ugly is no excuse... just kidding! As a photographer I’ve heard that a million times. My response is always, a good photographer will take a great shot of you when you give him the chance. The idea of being a professional photographer is to be skilled at the process of creating a great photograph. It’s not done by chance. It involves an understanding of light. (There would be no photography if there were no light!) Coupled with a great sensitivity for design and composition. In other words...  a good eye!

Preparing for your headshot.
Find a professional photographer! No, that cute little shot you took , arm fully extended with your cell phone in your hand aimed straight up at your face above just won’t cut it. Cute but not for use as a primary shot. And you do need something better than what’s on your drivers license or passport.

When you contact the photographer look at his work. Not his family portraits... not his wedding photography... nor his PR work. Just look at his headshots. Ask yourself, are they three dimensional looking? Or do the people look like cardboard cut outs? Is there life to their expressions? 
Do you see shine on their faces? Do you see sparkle in the eyes? Does the light look harsh or softer? What sort of backgrounds are being used? Are they overly glamorous? Are they shots of models or real people?

When you feel comfortable about the photographer’s work book a session. Choose a time in the morning when you are fresh faced. Faces begin to droop a bit as the day wares on. Get plenty of sleep the night before. If your eyes are a bit puffy the morning of the session then apply some “Preparation H” (yes, you know the stuff) to your lids to reduce swelling. Bring along some translucent powder for shine.

Bring a couple of different choices of shirts or tops. Medium blues or greens with small print or solid colors with simple neck lines and long sleeves often work best. Do not wear white. It reflects too much light. Suits for men or women are over done. Stay casual and simple. Your face is what's important here. It’s not a fashion shoot. It’s a business portrait. 

A bit about make up.
Make up for photography is not (ladies) your everyday type makeup. It is meant to be used under the photo lights... usually electronic flash... to blend the skin tone, eliminate shine and smooth out any specular highlights the lighting may cause. If you have a makeup artist at your session the fee will be more. Usually, $100.00-$150.00 more than the session fee. Today, however, and I know I’ll hear about it when I say this.... you may be able to get around a make up session by using just powder for shine. This is because of the great skin blending software available for use in post production touch up work. And remember not to be so conscious of a blemish or scar on your face during the shoot. It can be “Photoshoped” away easily. By the way, never expect a photogragher to redo your whole face in Photoshop. Headshots should look like you and not some glamed up version of you.

Headshot lighting
Traditionally, there has been an industry standard look for headshots. This was based on 3 main lighting styles developed in the early days of Hollywood moviemaking... Basic, Paramount and Patch lighting.

Basic is when the face is lit evenly on both sides. Usually pretty boring on most faces. A lighting ratio of 2:1, 3:1 or 4:1 is best. This gives roundness and contour to the face. This is used with Paramount lighting... where the main light is placed directly in front of the face above eye level creating a triangular shadow under the nose. Patch or Classic lighting is used with the main light to one side, a fill light on the other creating a triangular “patch” of light on one side of the face within the nose shadow.

These techniques have loosened up a bit over the years. The entire face may not be in sharp focus. This is acceptable provided 3/4 of the face is in sharp focus. Sparkle in the eyes are highlights you should see in the pupils when lights are placed correctly. Adding LIFE to the face. Lighting ratios... light to dark... on the face have become more dramatic. Backgrounds have become less “Sears” painted canvas looking. A dressed down glamour is more popular now. Soft (cloudy-bright or diffused ) outdoor lighting can also work well. The current headshot I am personally using was done in a large open doorway facing the daylight diffused by large translucent scrims. These are all acceptable techniques today if done carefully. 

The look!
For headshots, make eye contact with the camera. And be sure to smile!
Remember this is for business. Guys, we often look mean under our mustaches and beards when we’re not smiling. You don’t have to present a big cheesy grin, just a soft warm smile. Would you want to do business with a guy who looks like he’s ready to kill? Save the off camera -stare, no-smile, cool aloof looks for other photos on your website. There are plenty of occasions to post crazy pics of yourself. All things considered, it’s still best to use a good professional headshot as your main photo on your website, promotional materials and business profiles. You’ll find that your agents will also agree with having a good headshot. You actors know this and may already be using your actor headshots to promote your voice acting careers. If you’ve ever been on a live on camera audition, think of the photoshoot as an audition. Show some personality to that camera! You are unigue in your voice quality... allow that same quality to enhance your photo session.

Final results and costs
Your photographer should provide you with proofs... anywhere from 40 - 100+ digital frames ... that were taken in up to a 2 hour session. You’re looking for one or two main shots from the proofs. Show the proofs to friends and see which ones keep getting the most attention. Let your agent help you choose. Even if they know you are not an actor. They still know you from your voice acting work and are certainly qualified to choose which shots best represent you.

Depending on where you live, professional headshots can cost from as little as $150.00 to $300.00-$500.00 or more. As I said earlier, working with a makeup artist will cost more. Some photographers may not want to work without their makeup artists. But beware of those cheaper headshots! Some photographers, mainly in the larger entertainment cities of Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Nashville, etc. are non professionals trying to make some extra money and may produce inconsistent results.
I’d say an average cost would be in the middle.... $200.00-$300.00 range for a routine headshot session. 8x10 prints may be extra. Make sure your “finals” or heros are sent to you as high resolution (300 dpi) images or high and low resolution images. You’ll need hi res images for any type of traditional printing and lo res images for internet use. Back up your finals onto CD if the photographer didn’t supply you with images on CD.

If you happen to be in my area in Tennesee, I can certainly shoot your headhsot. At a professional discount, of course.

Yes, I know , you’re saying, “Geez, something else to pay for.” This is true, however, you should consider headshots as part of your marketing program. As you already know, marketing in the VO business, besides your VO performances, is the most important thing we do in our efforts to sustain our healthy careers. So go get your shots! After all, it’s not a root canal!