Inside the Mind of a Headshot Photographer

My goal as a headshot photographer is to interpret the presence of each sitter in the most direct way, with as much visual impact as possible. Envisioning the perfect headshot for an actor comes through a balanced combination of experience, perspective, and creativity. When I first meet a potential client, I ask them what their interests and goals are.  What markets of the performing world do they want to work in?  I try to help define the “essence” of the person I am going to be shooting. It’s a collection of factors: looks, vocal quality, body type, style…and filter those elements through the acting and casting universe. And we want to suggest the types of characters that are comprised of those qualities?  Sometimes the best way to define an actor is to craft a general impression, sometimes it’s better to make the statement more specific.   I want to present my clients so that casting people and directors are given a clear indication of that actor’s unique persona.  To do that properly I try to craft the style elements from the ground up.  That’s why I try to avoid the repetition of an assembly line stamped out product.  Which takes me to Trip Collins, a recent client.

Here is a photo of what Trip looked like when he walked into my studio to meet me…

Trip (before)

Trip Collins (before)

In getting to know Trip, we discussed his goals, and the markets in which he was interested in working.  He had some ideas, but was also interested in hearing my take on him and how I would approach his headshot.  The options are infinite and it can be daunting for an actor to decide on the look of his/her most important marketing tool.  And it’s really tough to look at yourself in an objective way.

What I saw in Trip was rugged intensity, tempered with sensitivity and intelligence.  He would be great for leading character work.  I saw him as a combination of Tom Hulce, Benicio Del Toro, and Alan Bates.  I knew from my first impression of Trip what his perfect headshot should look like and I told him right away, “I can see your headshot in my mind!”.  I wanted to capture the intensity of his presence and that dictated certain elements of the photography to me – dramatic side light, dark background, dark wardrobe to anchor him in the photo.  He should look handsome, raw, and his pose should feel immediate and direct, nothing tricky.  For want of a better word, I wanted him to look “epic”.  When I described my vision of his headshot, Trip got excited because he connected with my ideas and we had established the trust that all good portraits rise from.  I told him to arrive for his shoot with a few days scruff of beard and we discussed that his clothes should not attract attention, but should provide a solid base for the photograph.  I wanted his background to feel architectural, not reeking of a studio, so I put together a corner for him to pose in.  The set was pre-lit and I took some test shots to fine tune the lighting before he arrived.  Trip brought tons of clothes, but we cut right through the pile to a combination that looked timeless (Trip’s look was perfect for period work as well as current projects).  I applied minimal make-up, he put his usual product in his hair and then he stepped onto the set.  I looked at his stance and moved him around to find the combination of angles that had the right body language, observed his face from different perspectives and found the most attractive position, gave him some specific direction and…click… it was just as I had seen it in my mind’s eye during our first interview…

Trip Collins

Trip Collins (after)

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