An Ode to Head shots, by Karmyn Tyler Cobb
Head shot, head shot, please help me
When I look, what should I see?
My zit, my wrinkle, my nose so big
A doctor, a dad, a bum with a cig.
Thousand of dollars I’ll spend on you
Comedic, dramatic – the looks I’ll ensue
I’ll rummage through t-shirts, and jackets galore
Finding nothing…I’ll run to the store
All this anxiety churned into a brine
For that one “look” frozen in time
So off to the photographer I must go
To find “that look” to bring in the dough.
Hmm…I’ve been on many “sides” of a head shot. I’m an actor, I’ve worked for an agent, I’ve cast a few indy films and I’m a headshot photographer.
“So, Karmyn, what DOES make for a good headshot?”
“It’s depends…on you!”
As a photographer sometimes I feel like an accountant. Tax season rolls around and family members get an extension. Why? So mom can focus on the paying clients and while we get help after the deadline. (I love you +Suzie Tyler!!) 😉
But I’m currently very happy with my shots…until I decide to chop off my hair again! (Thank you Michael D’Ambrosia of Los Angeles)
I remember when I worked for my Dallas agent, Ivett Stone, the pile of head shots on her desk. (My desk actually.) This was a daily occurrence If they got opened, the number she threw away was extraordinary. She did keep a few and had me call those aspiring actors for an appointment. I asked her one day what she looked for. Her response was this: “I’ve been in this business a long time so I know what looks good and what I’m looking for. But honestly? I trust my gut.”
I didn’t understand what Ivett meant until I was asked to help a friend cast a film in LA. Getting bombarded by zillions (no joke) of head shots, was overwhelming. This was before electronic submissions so my friend’s floor was a sea heads…of the actors she WANTED to call in. The others were trashed. The heads were put in piles by character first, then reordered by who we liked 1st, 2nd, 3rd…etc. Then the calling to agents/managers/their cell phones would begin.
Looking at all those shots we would start talking about photographers…not the actors. Conversations like: “Here’s another shot by Big-Time-Photographer, you can tell because they all look the same.” or “I like this So-and-so-Photographer because their shots look natural and like the actor.” You would also get the occasional, “I love this guy’s work, but I wish he would get better shots!”
What the heck DO I look for in my head shot???
Almost ever actor I’ve shot mentions at some time during the shoot, “I hate/dislike/get nervous taking head shots!”
Why is that? Actors the same question can be asked: “How should I read these sides in this audition?”
You make interesting choices.
It’s more ‘what you think’ while you’re getting your head shot taken that makes the difference.
Stay relaxed. Take chances. Let loose. Actors? Act out your character for the big screen. Every nuance can be captured. Be interesting NOT attractive. Women? Don’t be afraid to look ugly! (…or hat you perceive as unattractive.)
A good photographer will help lead you through you self consciousness into freedom of frozen expression. So, communicate your vulnerability to your photographer. Hopefully you feel comfortable doing that.
HOW DO I PRACTICE?
Selfies….duh! 🙂 Take pictures of yourself moving your head around to find what angle you like, what makes your eyes pop and not squint. Use the iPhone app Fast Camera so you can move as you would in real life.
The next time you take photos, prep to relax and explore yourself in front of a camera…in other words – Just Be!
Inspired by By Steve Johnson’s article on the Chicago Tribune, “The painfully unfunny truth about comics’ head shots.”
Karmyn Tyler Cobb’s photography website is www.photosbykarmyn.com