This interview is with Los Angeles headshot photographer, Jeff Nicholson.
How should an actor choose a headshot photographer?
Obviously, budget has to be a consideration - but should not mean you go with the cheapest.
It really depends on what market you are in. If you are in a super competitive market like LA or NY - you are competing at the highest level to be noticed and its critical that your headshots are absolutely amazing. In a part time market - while still important - the competition is much less intense and you may still get opportunities with a less impressive/expensive headshot. I've never seen a $75 headshot that blew me away - but I've also seen $1500 headshots that were a complete waste of money.
You should ask around your actor friends - your acting coach. Post on Facebook - "Hey I'm looking for a great headshot photographer - any suggestions?" A referral is the best way to go.
Looking at photographers websites you don't know can be really tough because anyone can throw together a few good shots. If you are shooting with a stranger - you should make sure the session is guaranteed - meaning - if the shots are not technically sound - you get a refund or a reshoot. If they won't stand behind their work - they are not for you.
Most photographers in smaller markets have very little experience shooting headshots. Take exact samples of what you want so you can work together to achieve it. Look at the images as they are being shot to make sure you both are on the right path before discovering a week later that you completely wasted your time and money.
What are some red flags when choosing a photographer?
Some red flags are when photographers that shoot out of their home/apartment, if they don't guarantee their work, if they do not shoot headshots. Look out if there is no personality on their website/facebook/twitter and Iif their ego is bigger than yours. Lastly, if they are the most expensive - you are buying into their dream - not yours.
In your opinion, what is the thing that makes a headshot great?
Connection - the same thing that would engage you if you were searching match.com. There needs to be an instant and great first impression.
I love eyes and find them so fascinating and beautiful. Even after all this
time - I'm still drawn in when the eyes are saying something and not dead. The same way you meet someone and either continue a conversation - or move on - a great headshot can be like a great handshake and my grandmother always said you must have a great handshake and look
someone right in the eye.
A photographer can only do so much. The camera is a truth recorder. It does not matter how great your photographer is - if you do not give him/her something to photograph. You are shooting a headshot to create an opportunity for your talent - if that is not apparent in your shot - if you are not participating - then you miss out.
What are some dos and don’ts when it comes to wardrobe?
Keep it simple; solids typically best. Wear exactly what you would to audition for the 'type' of role you are shooting for.
I love colors that match your eyes - or are a shade darker. Dark eyes work great with black/brown/earth tones. I don't like jackets - unless we can shoot outside. Jewelery should be minimal - if at all. NEVER compete with your clothing - remember YOU are the star. Think of your headshot as your magazine cover. I think Megan Trainer said it best - It's all about the face bout the face no trouble. (insert Jeff smirking at his own joke here.)
What do you love and what do you hate that actors bring to the table when they come to shoot?
In almost every case - my clients facebook pages are FILLED with personality because they are with people they love and are truly being themselves. THAT is what the casting world is looking for so why leave that fun side of you at home?! I love when actors bring their extroverted self to be photographed.
I love when they bring samples of what they love - and what they don't and any previous shots of themselves. Nothing gets us on the same track faster than seeing what they want.
I love when actors are realistic about their 'type'. When they're not, it makes for a very difficult shoot and virtually no bookings for them as actors when they walk in a room and cannot represent the delusion we have created. You have to understand that a photographer is being paid by you and wants to make you happy - even if it misrepresents your true self and talent.
The perfect shoot is when an actor is fully in touch with what they bring to the table and celebrate it in front of my camera. I like when shy clients bring a friend, their own mix of music or anything they can to set themselves up for success.
If someone walks in front of an ugly casting wall in terrible light on a casting camera and absolutely SHINES and books the job, THAT is exactly what you should do in front of your headshot photographers camera.