The Cinematic Headshot

As an actor-photographer I try to think on my headshots as if they were frames directly grabbed from a film, when at my studio I try to use my reflectors as backgrounds to give this outdoors/indoors feel. I love a subtle rim light to accentuate the jaw and cheekbones and to separate the client’s face and hair from the background.

Movies of course have also been a big source of inspiration. Films such as Star Wars and The Matrix, have driven me to perceive every picture I take as if it were a frame in a Movie.

I would like to say that my style is very much inspired by cinematic visuals. As far as I remember, my work has been influenced by many facets of the entertainment industry, from manga and anime to film and movie posters. I love the way lights and shadows are used to define the subjet’s features and make them appear more dramatic. I would definitely say that movie posters have also been a big source of inspiration, mainly from the sci-fi genre due to the cinematic effect of contrast between rim lights and dramatic shadows.

What could be regarded as a particularity to my photography, or let’s say, my signature, is the contrast between light and shadows, the so called chiaroscuro. I always rely on histogram expansion to include as much information as possible by enhancing contrast to create striking and appealing images.

My Workflow

When shooting at my studio, I start the session welcoming my client and reviewing what they have in their suitcase, it’s key to ask the client to bring a range of different outfits, a white or black T-shirt is always a safe bet and I always recommend having at least one headshot in this simple outfit. Other colors that look great on camera are mustard, dark greens, blues, maroon, burgundy. It’s also good to layer up clothes, denim jacket with T-shirt or leather jacket with T-Shirt always looks good. A top with a vivid color also helps to make the headshot stand out from the rest, a good idea is to make this color match your eyes. Big logos or busy patterns don’t work, t-shirts with text on it are also very distracting and you don’t want people spending time on reading your T-shirt instead of looking at you. I also ask the client to avoid big furry coats, big collars are very intrusive, I’m also not a fan of turtlenecks because it makes your neck shorter.

After a preliminary chat and a quick touch up at the makeup station I explain my view on headshots, for me, a headshot is like a handshake: when you are interested in meeting someone you lean forward and grab other persons hand firmly, that’s why I ask my clients to lean forward so the face is the closest  part of the body to the camera. An Apple box is very handy for this matter so the client can put their feet on it and bring their body forward.

I personally prefer to have my client sitting on a stool with wheels that can be moved and rotated so I can have more control on how the light is hitting their face and make subtle corrections on their posture.

A session at my studio normally runs for about 90 minutes trying to have basic standard shots on plain background and building up the set to more complex layouts.

I shoot tethered to laptop on Capture one. After the session ends I have a quick review with client. Then, the session will be ready for the client in 2-3 hours for proofing online.

To manage my bookings workflow for payments, online bookings and session proofing I recommend Photo Workflow (https://www.photoworkflow.studio) which is one of the few web applications that allows the photographer to manage all things mentioned above in one single place.

 

What’s in my bag

Before talking about what’s in my bag, I would also comment on the bag itself, to me is such an important part of photographer’s kit that often gets overlooked.  I personally recommend a sturdy padded photography bag. I have been using a Manfrotto Pro Light RedBee-210 since 3-4 years ago and it has survived several trips around the world with ease.

When shooting outdoors, I usually bring the following equipment with me, My camera of choice, Sony A7Rii, Lenses SEL8514fGM for headshot work and SEL2470GM shooting on 35mm-50mm for commercial work.

A small foldable triangle reflector to light the face for headshots with a small tripod is vital.

Tons of batteries! shooting with mirrorless cameras can be very power consuming, I carry 4 batteries with me and use 2 of them to exhaustion, I recommend switching the camera screen off for the whole session and only activating it when reviewing. I also shoot with a vertical battery grip so I can place two batteries in it which will cover the whole session, plus, having the ergonomic advantage of shooting in portrait without hurting my wrist.

Last but not least, is the thing that most people ask me about when shooting outdoors, I always bring a prism for shooting some of my commercial look to get reflections from street lights directed into the foreground of my subject by placing the prism right on the edge of the lens and tilting/rotating it until I get the desired effect.

 

5 top tips for shooting headshots for beginners and/or professional

 

Learn the light

Learn the light – my first piece of advice would be that as a visual artist, whether he be a photographer, a painter or a designer, the main objective is to tame the light. You use light to shape a scene or subject with highlights and shadows, to create something visually appealing. When someone sees your work, their brain scans shades and lights to recreate a visual representation, so understanding how light affects our subjects and learning about the quality of light, its properties, fall-off etc, is paramount. By broadening my knowledge of light, my photography have increasingly become better.”

Invest in your lenses

Invest in your lenses rather than in your camera. I think one of the most common mistakes is to use up your budget for the body of the camera to the detriment of the lenses. For me, this spells out a big No. It’s better to save a few hundred quid on the body and get a better quality lens as you will get better quality images, at least from a technical point of view.”

Find a lens that compliments your style, for headshots. For headshots the focal lengths primarily used ranges from 50mm to 85mm to 200mm being the widest one that gives the subject a more edgy modern look by distorting the facial features more and 85 to 200 giving a more natural and realistic look. I personally shoot 90% of my headshots with 85mm (Sony SEL85f14gm) the reason being: I like my clients headshots to look very realistic so when they go for an audition, they don’t look like a different person but also keeping a slight edgy look.

Let the client see what you are doing

I am a firm believer of showing the photos to the client as you are going through the session, which will help them to relax and build their confidence, you can even point out some things that are not working with his posture or expression to get the best results.

fun fact: To help client get in the mood I ask them to suggest 1-2 songs to play on the speakers, songs that are then included into my Spotify  studio playlist made up entirely of client suggestions.

Find the character

When shooting headshots for actors, you need to find a way to give the client a range of different characters, you have to think which characters the client could portray and set up your lights accordingly, the objective is to give them a number of completely different looks and range to help them getting the part when auditioning  for roles.

Connect with your client

This is really important, especially for headshots , You might have the best equipment in your studio or outdoors, as well as the best weather conditions for that perfect shot, but if the subject is not highly engaged with every part of their body and soul, the picture won’t transmit any particular vibe nor will it tell a story. I always tell my clients to focus on the reflection of themselves in the camera instead of the very device and I also ask them to gaze out and think through the lens.

There is always something about my subjects. A message trying to get across or a secret that is hidden in an attempt to bridge the gap between the viewer and the subject. It’s all in the eyes.