Would you rather get shot in the head than get a new headshot?
That was the last time, until now, that I felt really good about my headshots and the process of having them taken. It’s always been the part of my “business” that I’ve avoided as long as possible. I resented that I had to spend money and go through the uncomfortable experience of sitting, as myself, for the camera. I’m an actor, not a model. I believed (or let my discomfort make me think that I believed) that my work and my resume should speak for me. The headshot should only serve to remind people what I look like. I’ve tried to save money by having them taken by friends and family members, excellent photographers all, but not schooled in the art and style of the headshot. As a result, I have somehow managed to have a couple of good ones, but it was by accident, not design.
Along comes Daniel Reichert to teach his guest seminar on the importance of headshots to my students at South Coast Rep’s Acting Intensive Program. I sat in on the seminar. It opened my eyes and I scheduled a session with him. You can see the results on the homepage of this website and here, and I can tell you that my agents and I are thrilled. I can’t recommend his work highly enough. I'm going to turn this over to him, because he can talk about what he does so much better than I can.
The word from Daniel Reichert
Facing this anxiety, actors find almost any excuse to put off scheduling a headshot session; their reluctance might lead one to think that they’d prefer root canal to posing for portraits. Eventually, though, their agent says they need them, or their manager says they have to get them, or the actor finally realizes that he or she no longer looks like their decade old headshot, and the level of embarrassment at such an obvious age discrepancy is now too much to bear. It is resolved, with equal parts resignation and resentment, that New Photos Must Be Taken. Oftentimes this occurs at the beginning of a New Year, much like a resolution to lose weight, floss daily, quit smoking, or join a gym. Rarely is there excitement or delight – these emotions are reserved for getting the damn part. No, in all my years of photographing actors, I’ve rarely heard one of these “athletes of the heart” express anything other than trepidation and various levels of dread at the prospect of having to sit still for a photographer armed with a camera.
Doesn’t this strike you as something of a shame? Actors do need headshots, which are a vital tool in the acting business. Why must it be such a Herculean task? I want to assure you that it needn’t be. You see, in addition to being a photographer, I’m an actor, too. I used to feel the same dread and discomfort that many of my clients (initially) feel.
I studied acting at the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco. My professional training, which led to my MFA in Acting, was rigorous and comprehensive. We studied everything, it seemed, that could be of use to us on the stage – Scansion, Phonetics and Ear Training, Stage Fighting, Ballet, Jazz Dance, Voice, Heroic Speech, Scene Study, and of course many techniques and approaches to Acting itself. Upon completion of our training, one of my classmates suggested we should all get new headshots. It made a kind of business sense, even if it caused a bit of panic amongst us. Someone had a few names of local photographers, so our first step was clear: We had to make a phone call or two and set up an appointment. But after that, what were we to do? For all of our training, we hadn’t a clue as to HOW to get our pictures taken.
I think that’s the problem. We don’t know what we’re doing when we sit in front of a still camera. No one teaches us that.We schedule a session, crossing our fingers, hoping that we get a good night’s sleep, and that our skin is relatively free of obvious eruptions. We hope we like the photographer, we hope we have a good hair day, we hope it isn’t too embarrassing or awkward or humiliating. We write a check, and we hope we haven’t wasted our money. We hope for a lot, but we feel we have little control.
This has to change. We have to take control. No longer can we cross our fingers and hope for the best – there’s just too much uncertainty and chance to such an approach, and there’s too much at stake. Our headshot is often the very first impression we make with agents, managers, and casting directors. We need to know how to take a great headshot. We need tangible, specific techniques – we need to know exactly what to DO when we’re sitting or standing in front of a camera. It’s my job to teach you.
I hear quite frequently from clients that they don’t think they’re photogenic, that they “take a terrible picture.” Look, we can ALL take a bad picture. I’m sure Marlene Dietrich’s publicist tossed out many a photo. It happens, even to the most gorgeous people on the planet. But if we approach a photo session with the idea that we take a terrible picture, we’re not doing ourselves any favors, and we’re setting ourselves up for failure and disappointment. Imagine an actor walking into an audition saying to him or herself, "God, I'm terrible at auditioning." Now, I don't know many actors who truly enjoy auditioning, but walking into a casting office expecting to do poorly won't help. If we face the camera with the attitude that we’re not photogenic, chances are we’ll look uncomfortable, embarrassed, apologetic, guarded, and resentful. As real as those feelings may be, they aren’t the qualities we want to capture.
What do we want to capture? Casting Director Joanne DeNaut, who’s seen thousands of actor headshots, says, “I want to recognize the person walking into the audition based on the photograph I’ve seen. The headshot needs to reflect who you are, and that you are comfortable with yourself. It should not be the younger, more glamorous you; it should just be you. At your best, yes, but still you.” She’s right. Your headshot needs to be about you, not about how clever, quirky, or brilliant the photographer is. It needs to look like you, and it needs to capture something real and compelling about you. No single photograph is going to capture everything about you – that would be impossible. You could have a portfolio of two thousand photos, and together they couldn’t encapsulate every facet of your personality. But when you look at your headshot, you should feel that it expresses something – an essence or spirit – that resonates with you as part of your authentic self. “Yeah,” you should say, “I like what this photo says about me.” When you hand your photo to a casting director, or hit the “Send” button as you email your photo to a prospective agent, you should do so with confidence that the photo represents you honestly and compellingly.
At its best, the relationship between an actor and a photographer is a rewarding and exciting collaboration. Before that kind of relationship can be forged, though, you need the confidence that comes from learned skills. Mastering any skill takes practice, so I remind my clients to think of their session not as an audition, but as a rehearsal. Remember: You got the part. It’s you.
If you need new headshots, you can look at Daniel's portfolio and contact him at Daniel Reichert Photography.