I recently produced a headshot for my husband. He’s a terrible subject, and he is cynical of the concept of a “headshot.” Though he is not an actor, he works in the theatre, and he looks at actors’ headshots on a regular basis. In his words, headshots frequently appear “plastic,” “forced,” and “artificial.” Like many people, he became attached to a photo of himself that he liked not because of the quality of the photo, but because of the emotional content of his face. With a little coaxing and a fair amount of marital bullying, I was able to capture him with both emotional and photographic quality.
We all know the difference between a posed smile and a spontaneous one. Understanding that is the first step of many towards crafting a great headshot. There are subtleties of expression that involve every facial muscle. Though we might not have the language to discuss them, we all are experts at reading what are called micro-expressions. The art of crafting a great headshot involves being able to see micro-expressions, being able to read them, and, most importantly, being able to evoke them in the studio or on the site. If an actor has come in for a headshot session, they might have scheduled three weeks ago. Anything might have happened as they walked up to my studio; parking tickets, traffic, maybe a fight with a spouse that morning. All of this will affect the shoot.
I have had the good fortune to study and apprentice with a renowned master photographer named Peter Hurley. Peter is a New York and Los Angeles based photographer specializing in fashion, beauty, and actor’s headshots. It was Peter Hurley who introduced me to the language of micro-expressions in portraits. My personal journey with this methodology has to do mostly with applying these concepts to the very mixed clientele that I receive in my own studio.
I am located in Plymouth, a small town in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. New Hampshire towns are small, and they push right up against each other. Surrounding Plymouth is Campton, Rumney, Holderness, Ashland, and Bridgewater. The people here are often intelligent and educated. They also tend to be independent and private; often to the point of being introverted, or, like my husband, grumpy. The challenge of portrait photography here is to get the subject to drop all of their baggage for a moment, and be the person that they are, when they are at their best. The beautiful thing about photography is that I only need to make that moment happen long enough to catch it with the camera.
That’s what you want for your headshot as an actor. That’s what you want on your website as a real estate agent. That’s what you want in the ad for your law firm. Not a plastic smile; not a polite pose. You, being who you are, when you are relaxed, confident, and being the best that you are.