How to choose your headshot photographer – Video Tips

How to choose your headshot photographer - Video Tips
Photo Credit: Brooke Novak via cc

How can I choose a Headshot Photographer?

In 2011 Casting Call Pro undertook a survey of it’s members and they asked two questions regarding headshots.
Here is what the results told us:

How regularly do you get new headshots?

  • Once a year – 15.9%
  • Every 1 – 2 years – 43.4%
  • Every 3 years or so – 32.2%
  • Every 5 years – 6.7%
  • More than 5 years – 2.7%

How much would you spend on headshots?

  • up to £100 -29.4%
  • £100 – £150: 29.2%
  • up to £200: 24.2%
  • £200 – £300: 12.1%
  • £300+ : 5.1%
So almost half of their members get new headshots every couple of years and almost half pay between £100 and £200, with some even paying over £300.
This means every couple of years you are probably searching around for someone new to capture you and ‘your essence’ for the casting world to see.
Just a quick google of “headshot photographer’s” made me want to lie down in a dark room for a week!
How on earth do you choose who to go to?
Thankfully photographer and arts journalist Michael Wharley has a series of videos which lift the lid on the headshot world and show you what you should be looking for. His videos explain how to ‘Take Control of Your Headshots’ and lose the fear factor associated with getting your headshots taken.

This short video explores:

  • How much time do you need?
  • Indoors or Outdoors?
  • Colour or Black and White?
  • How much should it cost?
  • Its all in the eyes
  • Do you need to go with a headshot specialist?
Narrative to the Video
  • Click to read the video narrative
    00:02Choosing a headshot photographer
    00:03there are hundreds of headshot
    00:09photographers in the UK but which one should you go to and why
    00:13I think for lots of people that comes down to a gut feeling
    00:16a sense that are specific photographer is going to get something special
    00:19out of you on the day
    00:20and that gut feeling is really important so don’t disregard it
    00:23If I was and I was choosing a headshot photographer these are the factors I would consider
    00:27how much time do you need to get good pictures
    00:31it depends, a session can last anywhere from one hour
    00:35to the whole day and it can be confusing. Often a photographer can offer
    00:39two or three different packages of different lengths and you’ve got to decide
    00:42which is the best for you
    00:43now that is a personal decision. Only you know how long it takes you to relax in
    00:47front of camera
    00:48I would say this: it can be tempting to go for the shortest package
    00:52and because it’s cheap and saves you some money but don’t underestimate
    00:56how hard it is, or how hard it can be, to relax in front of camera.
    00:59Personally I often find that the most productive part of a session is the last
    01:03half an hour
    01:04no matter how long it is. The other factor to consider with session length
    01:08is how much range you want to try and get out if your shoot. How many changes
    01:12of top have you got planned, do you have complicated hair and makeup changes
    01:16that you want to make,
    01:17if you’re a guy do you want to shave to differentiate your looks,
    01:20all these things can really eat into the shoot time that you’ve got
    01:23and it might mean that you want to plan for longer shoot.
    01:27Studio light versus Natural Light
    01:28so which is better: studio or natural light?
    01:32Well the answer is neither is better, they just have different qualities.
    01:36We’re working inside today and we’re using the natural light which as you can see
    01:40is quite soft on my face, you don’t have any sense of where there are deep dark shadows.
    01:43If you shoot outside in the shade we’d have similarly kind soft light
    01:48but we’d also be at the mercy of the wind and the rain and bright sunshine which is
    01:52not a headshots friend.
    01:54What we do get outside, on the plus side, is a sense of context:
    01:58an urban background
    01:59or a slightly more edgy feel, perhaps something a little more dynamic.
    02:02As you can see from this set up studio light can be very different to natural light
    02:07what it does is it gives us potentially a lot more control over how we show the
    02:11shape and the structure of the face compared to natural light. So in this setup,
    02:15which is probably what you might think of as classic headshots from history,
    02:19the light’s coming from this direction and leaving this side of my face
    02:23in deep shadow. What that does is gives a sense of the structure and shape
    02:27the face. But it doesn’t have to be that way: in this slightly more crisp and
    02:32commercial set up
    02:33what we’re doing is using light instead of shadow to show the structure and shape of
    02:36my face
    02:37these two lights from either side are hitting my cheekbones and neck here
    02:41and creating a sense of the three dimensionality. That’s just one
    02:49option which hopefully gives you a sense of how a photographer could use
    02:52natural light or studio light
    02:53to show off your casting range. Make sure you know what you want
    02:57and make sure you’re getting that from your session. Some photographers will only
    03:00shoot outside,
    03:01some will shoot naturally lit but indoors and some will shoot
    03:05studio lit in a studio. If you’re lucky and this is a good option
    03:09some will do all of the above, and some photographers will even mix in a little
    03:13bit of studio lighting
    03:14into a predominantly naturally lit shot for the best of both worlds.
    03:18Colour versus black and white
    03:22so do you need colour or black-and-white headshots? Well there’s no real right or wrong answer here
    03:25historically headshots have always been black and white, in the last five or six
    03:30years there has been a really strong trend in the industry towards colour
    03:33and I certainly see, as a headshot photographer, agents and casting professionals
    03:37are expecting colour. We’re gonna deal with this topic in depth in another video
    03:42what I would say is this: black and white photos give a great sense of the structure
    03:46of your face
    03:47they can be very dynamic that can be very atmospheric. Colour photos, well they
    03:51do the same things, but they also give us a great sense
    03:53or your skin tone, your eye colour, your hair colour,
    03:56and that means the casting professional, the employer, is getting
    04:00a sense of you as a whole package before you ever
    04:02walk into the room. What does that mean now about the photographer you work with?
    04:05Well, just make sure you know what you’re getting before the session. Most
    04:09digital photographers will shoot in colour and do black and white conversion later.
    04:14How much should you pay?
    04:17Well you can pay anywhere from fifty pounds to nearly 600 in the UK for headshots.
    04:21How much should you actually pay? Well take a look at my blog piece comparing
    04:26headshot photographer prices
    04:27for a sense of the market and different price brackets.
    04:31What my research suggests
    04:32is that anywhere above 250 pounds, you’re going to get
    04:35industry standard photos that are a good accurate preview of you for casting purposes
    04:40that make you look good and that you in your agent going to be happy with.
    04:44Between 250 pounds and 600 hundred pounds:
    04:48what are you paying for? Well you’re paying for perhaps the extra time you spend with
    04:52the photographer,
    04:53you might be paying for a couple of extra changes of top, or a couple
    04:57of extra retouch prints. You could also be paying for the reputation of the photographer
    05:02Are six hundred-pound photos better than 300 pound photos?
    05:06well that’s up to you to decide.
    05:09Are the photos any good?
    05:10Whether a photo is good or not is of course a bit subjective
    05:13I’m going to in a separate video look at what makes a good headshot
    05:17What I’d say is headshots is all about the eyes.
    05:21So here’s a simple test you can apply if you’re trying to decide whether
    05:25to work with a photographer
    05:26and that’s the catchlight test: to check for little reflections in the eyes
    05:31of the photographers photo. So what we’re looking for is the reflection, whether of
    05:35the studio light
    05:36whether of the sky, or even of a silver or gold reflector.
    05:41Now you’ll see those little specks in the eye,
    05:44maybe the top may be at the bottom, and what they do is fill the iris
    05:48with light, make the colour really sing.
    05:49They also, alongside whatever you’re doing as an acting thought
    05:54they make you feel awake and sparky and connected
    05:58and they’re especially important if you’ve got any shade of darker eyes.
    06:01Should you go with a headshot specialist?
    06:05do you need to work with the photographer who specialises in headshots?
    06:07Well not every photographer can take a brilliant headshot
    06:11However good they are and and that’s because headshots are actually quite a
    06:14specific form of portrait.
    06:16They are not model shots, they are not reportage shots. They sit somewhere in the middle.
    06:21And why is that? Well they need to do two jobs for you, they need to be an accurate
    06:25preview of you for casting purposes,
    06:27so that the you who walks into the audition is the you in the photo
    06:32but importantly they are also your branding, they need to make you look good because
    06:36they need to promote you and catch people’s attention.
    06:38A specialist headshot photographer understands how to get that balance just right.
    06:42What you also get with a headshot specialist is the benefit of their expertise
    06:47they’ve shot hundreds and hundreds of people, so they will look at you and know
    06:51exactly how to shoot
    06:52you to make the most of your eye colour, your skin tone, your hair colour and your
    06:56face shape
    06:57to make sure that you get the best possible shots. Hopefully that’s all really
    07:04at check out the list of UK headshot photographers
    07:07at Casting Call Pro and I’d also recommend: the search and comparison
    07:12at a new site called Headshot Hunter which is really fantastic.
    07:16I’m going to be releasing a few more videos in this ‘take control of your head shot series
    07:21so please subscribe via the link and look forward to seeing you again soon

Useful Links

About Michael Wharley

A “Top Theatre Photographer…leading voice on headshot trends” (The Stage), Michael is an award-winning, London-based Photographer specialising in portrait, advertising & editorial photography for the entertainment industries
As well as shooting play and film poster imagery, Michael regularly works with clients of agencies including BWH, United, Angel & Francis, Felix de Wolfe and many, many more. Each year, he works with students from all major UK drama schools.
“I trained as an actor myself at Central, and worked on the stage for six years, so I vividly remember both how important headshots are, and how hard it can be to approach a session. That’s why, as well as running my studio in Waterloo, providing editorial, advertising and portrait photography services for the business, I try to do more than just take headshots.”
“I aim to provide cutting-edge industry expertise, knowledge that will help my clients, but also other actors going for sessions elsewhere, whether it’s an in-depth feature article, or a Youtube advice video.”
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