I don’t know about other photographers, but for me a shoot is about capturing a moment in life. It’s about giving people a chance to see a private side of you that most people usually don’t see. And it’s about sharing a feeling, a sentiment. To do that, it takes a bit of time, preparation and planning to get the best results. Here are some things to think about, and do, prior to the shoot.
Getting to Know You and What Works for You
- Send me your current or past photos via email. Not every photographer does this, but I like to, because even if I know you, it gives me a sense of what you look like on camera, how you and your agents have seen you in the past, and where we’re starting from. It also tells me whether there might be any untapped possibilities.
- Tell me if there’s something you’re looking for, what you have in mind, what your agents say you need. Some people know what they want; perhaps a friend has suggested something, perhaps the agent has been asking for something, perhaps you have seen something in a magazine and would like to try it. Others are open to something new, and want to experiment. In either case, it’s good to have a dialogue about what we’re going for in the shoot, and to make sure that we are on the same page.
Your Own Prep
- Haircuts, Grooming, and Such. Of course, get your hair cut the way you’d like, give it some time to grow, and so forth. Some people also want to work out a bit before, or lose some weight. I always recommend making sure you shoot when you feel ready, there’s rarely a good reason to rush.
- Expressions. I don’t recommend this for everyone, but sometimes, it doesn’t hurt to stand in front of mirror and see what some of your expressions look like. It depends on how you work, but by all means, if it can help you, why not?
- Poses. Likewise, it doesn’t hurt to practice some poses in front of a mirror. The “natural” and “spontaneous” look is what we’re going after. Nevertheless, being a little conscious of your body position can’t hurt. It’s like acting – think about it, even practice if you want, beforehand and then forget about it and focus on connecting with the camera when you’re shooting. The truth is, what looks good on camera isn’t always the most natural or most realistic pose. So play around a bit in front of mirror, try looking at some other pictures and see if certain poses work for you. Basically, get comfortable, and find what works for you.
Some important guidelines (remember, not absolute rules by any means) are helpful. If you flip through a magazine, you’ll find that asymmetry is very important and contributes to the “natural” feel. So generally, keep in mind the following:
- Often, tilting the head to one side or the other helps
- Asymmetrical shoulders are usually more interesting than symmetrical
- Being square to camera can often work, but eyes to camera and chin pointing just to the right or left of camera is usually more interesting
- Pick positions where you’ll be very comfortable, even slouchy. Lazy will give the photo a more natural feel.
Generally, for women I recommend a make-up artist, unless you feel quite confident doing your own. I have some great make-up artists, and I would work with them all the time if I could. For men, you can get away with not using one. In either case, I suggest thinking about the following.
- Powder. If you’re not using a make-up artist, bring some powder. Everybody has a unique skin tone, so best that you bring what works for you. Even if you hire a make-up artist, if you have powder that you know works for your skin tone, it doesn’t hurt to bring it.
- Concealer. The same is true for concealer. For those of you not familiar with concealer, it’s for the area under the eye, and it helps hide or soften the dark areas that can appear under the eye. And dark areas under the eye aren’t necessarily a skin issue; the angle of light hitting the lower eyelid can create shadows that darken the area under the eye. Concealer helps reduce the shadow area.
- Hair Spray and / or Gel. If you have long hair, hair spray is definitely necessary. Outdoor especially, and even indoor, hair can get in the way and ruin a shot very easily. And hair in the wrong place – for example, across the face – is very difficult to fix in photoshop.
- Avoid Busy Patterns. Busy patterns, such as plaids, are often distracting. In particular, avoid intricate patterns. On digital, very intricate patterns can create a moire effect, a kind of “streaking” in the clothes.
- Some White or Black, Not All. White and black are very popular and look great in daily life, but these colors can easily overpower a photo. For example, a white t-shirt will be brighter than skin tone. So, if we’re shooting a 3/4 shot, a white t-shirt will be brighter than you’re face, and the eye will be drawn to the white. The same is true with black. With a black t-shirt in a 3/4 shot, the black overpowers the photo.
One way to work with black or white is to combine it with other colors to soften it’s impact. For example, a white t-shirt with a jacket – either a more formal dinner jacket or more casual (like a denim or leather jacket) – works quite well. In the wider 3/4 shot, the white doesn’t overpower the picture, and in a closer headshot, the white of the t-shirt if broken up by the color of the jacket.
- Avoid “Light” Colors, Such as Light Pastels. Light pastels will become “whiter” in the camera. For example, light pink, a popular color for women, will often just become white in the photo.
- Simple, Medium Bright Solids Are Best. Why? Solids aren’t distracting, and allow the viewer to focus on the face, which is the objective. The reason I say medium bright is because light solids become white, and bright solids are just too bright.
- Avoid Colors Close to Skin Tone. Colors very close to your skin tone don’t work very well. You want some contrast and separation.
- For Women, Avoid Tops with Low Necklines. While these tops attract a lot of attention, in a headshot and in a head-and-shoulders shot the low neckline makes it look like, well, like you’re naked. Or nearly. And don’t forget, we want them to focus on your face and your eyes!
During the Shoot
- Tension. Very few of us take headshots naturally. Even models, who are always in front of a camera, have a hard time with headshots, because the requirements are very different. Many of us carry tension somewhere in our faces when we’re in front of a camera: we furrow the brows, crinkle the forehead, tweak the lip to one side or the other. If you know you carry tension in front of a camera, please let me know. Also, practice making yourself aware of this tension. Often, the tension develops because we become disconnected, so any action – physical or mental that forces us to reconnect will solve the problem.