I recently had the pleasure of shooting Boston-based character actor, Bill Thorpe. Bill’s credits include work with Clint Eastwood and Sean Penn in the Academy Award winning film “Mystic River,” and with Mel Gibson in “Edge of Darkness”. Bill has a powerful character look and great charisma in front of the camera. I’d like to use examples of his shoot to illustrate a few key concepts in achieving great headshots and dispel some misconceptions regarding the elements of a great headshot session.
We began the session by identifying the qualities which make Bill unique. I told Bill from our first contact that his face was a gift to me! Audiences share a universal consciousness in perceiving the essence of a character immediately upon sight. A collection of information is processed at the first instance of stage or screen time. We, as an audience, observe the looks, size, vocal quality, and style of the character and make immediate decisions based upon our understanding of that general type of person in “real life” and bingo, we understand who we are looking at. A romantic lead, a villan, a comic character…the process is immediate and effortless. The same process should work in an effective headshot. One glance and we should understand the essence of the actor we are seeing. One glance at Bill and we know that his characters are intense, gritty, edgy, strong and direct. His character may have a heart of gold, but he might be quick to pawn that gold and buy a gun with it!
So, we started with natural light, looking to work with that intense, direct energy…I asked Bill to arrive with a few days scruff…
I liked his direct gaze, pining down his viewer. We’ve all heard the term “to hold someone in your gaze”, that is an ability that Bill has in spades.. I found his best angles very quickly. Bill, like many sitters has an asymetrical face and my job is the find the best balance of his features. I liked the dark background for drama and the leather jacket for an edgy look.
Once we had that shot, we decided to go a bit lighter with the background, still using the available light. I used this stone wall which gave the background a lighter texture with some interest but nothing specific to draw the viewer away from Bill’s face. I love using the depth of field to bring the viewer to the subject’s face. The focus falls away quickly to the edges of the photograph.
Bill then shaved to clean up his look and as the sun was setting quickly, we grabbed some shots on the street using the street lights as highlights to create a swirl of carnival color creating a feeling of movement and energy…
I love all of Bill’s shots. 4 different”looks” in 75 minutes! Each one different, each one a powerful statement about a powerful presence. And no retouching whatsoever on any of the images! Why would a client ever settle for one approach and one background when there are so many varied ways to create a powerful headshot! One point I want to make in exhibiting this shoot is that the value in a headshot session is not determined by the length of the session or the number of photographs taken, the value lies in the photographer’s ability to use his/her tools to accomplish a well-executed aesthetic statement created with intention and knowledge and the ability to connect with a client and help them “hold the viewer in their gaze”!
Thanks again Bill, your face was a gift to me!
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