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Getting the most from your headshot session.

Part 1: The Objective.


Recently the actor Matt Damon had a bad experience with a headshot photographer. The results were, well, frightening actually! Great if he wants to play some bizarre alien psycho fiend, but not much else. Take a look here.

Actually, the article is from The Onion so it could well be a joke.

But (genuine or not) it does flag up an important question when it comes to artist headshots (or any portrait photography you might use for publicity or marketing purposes). That is, how can you get the best results from the photoshoot?

Some people have a bit of a misguided notion that a headshot is easy to achieve and doesn’t need as much work or thought than a ‘proper portrait’.

But a headshot is a portrait, albeit with a predefined content requirement and style. In many ways this makes it that bit tougher to get something that really stands out. Good headshot photographers know this. Whether it’s for casting purposes or as part of a broader set of publicity shots the photo session has to be approached with clear ideas and attention to detail.

As someone who worked in the entertainment industry for a good number of years I would never approach a headshot session by putting it out to a formula. I’ve seen what the results are like and been on the receiving end of that approach as well. And it often misses the mark.

If you’re an artist of any kind (or even someone looking for corporate headshots) it’s not as simple as finding someone who fits your budget, turning up at the studio or location, click click and you’re done.

That’s winging it too much.

In my experience, a successful headshot or publicity portrait session is based on three things:

  1. The Objective
  2. Preparation
  3. Delivery

Let’s take a look at the first of those and I’ll follow up with the others in subsequent posts.

1 The Objective

You are your brand and (unless you’re a body double) your face is the most important part of that brand when it comes to photography. So what’s your strategy behind having your photos taken?

Okay your current headshots might be out of date. That’s a reason for new shots of course. But perhaps there’s more to it than that? Have you ever asked yourself how you want your audience to see you?

Strong? Funny? Brooding? Quirky? Sexy?

If you’re an actor or stage performer are you more a comedian than a tragedian? Or both?

If you’re a singer or songwriter, what’s the genre you’re associated with and what elements of lighting or location might need to be used in the shot to suggest that?

If you’re already well known (i.e. your ‘brand’ is established) then what do you want to reinforce and what do you want to change or surprise people with?

Where do you want to have these photos seen? And by whom specifically? Discuss with your agent or your manager what will work in terms of how the images will be used in promoting you. The better you know yourself and the clearer your intentions the more that will come across in the final images.

All artists and performers are working in oversubscribed markets. But nowadays you have a great tool at your disposal to help you stand out: content. We live in a content rich age so be content rich yourself. For example, in the UK you can exploit the Spotlight portfolio gallery: fill it with images that show off more than one aspect of who you are and what you’re best at. Gone are the days of the single casting headshot being your only calling card. You need a whole library of content that’s supporting you.

You have a website right? Turn it into the ultimate ‘you machine’ with photos from a variety of shoots and sources (and don’t forget video – but that’s another post).

As a very wise friend reminded me the other day: ‘there’s always more than one road to market’.

So be clear about the objectives of your content and the outcomes will be that much better.

In the next post in this series we’ll take a look at preparing for the shoot including: what to wear and why it’s worth meeting the photographer beforehand.

Of course if you want to dive in and create some headshots together then check out my headshot and portfolio packages here to make a booking or if you just want to ask any questions rising from these posts then feel free to drop me a line.

All images © James Bellorini

James is a commercial, editorial and documentary photographer. He has over ten years experience in the arts and entertainment industries and has worked for internationally recognised brands including Glyndebourne, The Royal Shakespeare Company, and The Old Vic. His portrait and headshot clients include actors, musicians, writers, artists, international singers, entrepreneurs and corporates. He is a member of the Redeye Network and a participant in their Lightbox program for emerging photographers.