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Secret Agent Man

Get Your Headshot Straight

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Get Your Headshot Straight

I've always felt the most frustrating part of being an actor is that you're rarely in charge of your own destiny. You can spend years working on your craft, but there's no guarantee an agent will ever notice. And let's say one does, and you end up getting signed -- you have no real way of knowing if the agent's working for you. If he does come through with an amazing audition, you probably don't have a chance anyway because casting already has an offer out to a name actor, someone who may or may not take the part.

The good news is, there are a few moments during the dawn of your career when you get to be in charge. One of them is when you're deciding which photographer to hire for your headshots. After all, it's your money, so you're the one who gets to choose how you spend it, right? If you're nodding in agreement, then can you please tell me why actors always screw up this part?

A few months ago, a client came in to show me her proofs. The disc had more than 200 pictures on it. I reviewed them and came up with bupkis. That's right. They were all terrible. I explained that the lighting was too harsh and she was squinting in most of the pictures. That's when she burst into tears. My client explained she was worried this would happen, but when she expressed her concern to the photographer, he told her he was a professional and that he knew exactly what he was doing.

(FYI: I tracked down the photographer, and he's now living a comfortable life in my basement, tied to a post, eating rats for dinner. Every now and then, I go down and shine a blinding light in his face, explaining that I'll let him go if he can refrain from squinting. Guess what? It's been six weeks, and he's still down there.)

A similar situation happened a few years back when I was working with a disabled actor in a wheelchair. This woman had a bright, cheery personality that I needed to see in her new headshots. But when the proofs landed on my desk, I was shocked to find the photographer had posed her against a dark background, which completely ruined her positive energy. Furious, I called to ask why he'd done this, and the idiot explained he was trying to make her wheelchair blend into the background so no one could see it. Excuse me? That chair is part of who she is, and I can't just hide it from casting directors. The photographer's discomfort with her disability ruined the first round of pictures. I say "the first round" because I threatened to make his life a living hell if he didn't reshoot for free.

In both cases, the photographers were clueless but my clients have to share the blame. They needed to take charge in the studio, especially because I wasn't there to do it for them.
Remember, it's your career on the line, so you have to choose the right photographer and then make sure your headshots come out exactly the way you want them. Because when all is said and done, the photographer will move on to the next customer, but you'll be stuck with the pictures.

So if you want natural lighting and the photographer insists on using the studio, walk away. If you want minimal makeup and he urges you to slap it on with a paint roller, walk away. If you want to play loud music during the session and he pops in some Enya, walk away.

Next week I'll give you a list of questions to ask the photographer that will help you make your final decision.

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