I hope you enjoy the following true stories from my personal Headshot Photographer Journal. They’re fun to read and educational too. You can find additional shoot information above in the other FAQ sections and also in the Rates section.
DOUG’S DIARY: January 20th
"I Am What I Am" and "I've Gotta Be Me" are two song titles that should be mantras for every actor when it comes to headshots. Your photos should look just like you on a really good day. But as I've learned in my years as a photographer, not every actor has a realistic take on his or her looks or casting potential.
Several years ago, an actor about to graduate from college came to me to get her first headshots taken. She bore a striking resemblance to Jennifer Aniston. We had an excellent session, resulting in headshots that represented her truthfully and at her best. After seeing the shots, one of her classmates met with me about possibly doing a session. She too had a great look. She was 4 foot 10, heavyset, with buckteeth, big curly red hair, and a face full of freckles. As she looked through my portfolio, she kept landing on the headshots of leading ladies and proclaiming, "That's what I want to look like in my headshot." When I asked her how she saw herself within the business, she responded, "I'm a Sandra Bullock type."
One of the biggest complaints that casting directors and agents have is actors who don't represent themselves honestly in their photos. A skilled photographer can take headshots of a character actor and make her look like a leading lady through the use of lighting and make-up. This misguided actor then uses the headshot, gets called in for meetings for inappropriate roles, and wastes everyone’s time.
In such instances, I blame the photographer as much as the actor. A headshot photographer must have an understanding of casting and the business, and must be honest with an actor when he or she is off-track. Sadly, that is not always what happens.
I always take an interest in who you are and what kind of roles you have played, and offer my insight on how I see you being cast. My philosophy: Celebrate your individuality and put your best face forward.
Which brings us back to the character actor looking through my portfolio and expecting me to make her look like Sandra Bullock. The moment of truth: I took a deep breath and told her straight that she was not the leading-lady type, - but that her unique look would ensure her a fair share of character roles, with which she could sustain a very successful career. Her reaction? Exit stage right.
I assumed she went out and found someone to take her headshots in the misleading way she wanted. I was pleasantly surprised a number of weeks later when I received a call from her. She told me that what I said had really jolted her, that she spoke about it with her acting teachers and classmates, and they agreed with how I typed her. She asked them how they saw her and what roles they thought she would play. She gained a more realistic insight into the best way to market herself in her headshots. She thanked me for my honesty, booked a session, and turned out to be a delight to photograph. Her headshots looked just like her and helped get her career off to the right start.
DOUG’S DIARY: March 10th
Let there be light!
Lighting is an important headshot consideration. There's daylight, studio light (flash or continuous lighting), and mixed light (a combo of studio and daylight).
Photographers often tout the lighting they use as the best thing since Michelangelo. In my opinion, one type of lighting is no better than the next; it all comes down to the skill of the photographer in using that particular type of lighting.
Nowadays the key to lighting a headshot is to keep it looking natural. Extreme stylized lighting—headshots that look "lit"—has gone the way of the black-and-white headshot: Both have faded into oblivion. Sure there’s always room to play a bit with the light, but ultimately casting directors want to see the real you, not a photographer's over-the-top concept.
Actors, agents and casting directors love the way I light. My beautiful NYC studio located in the renowned Creative Arts Building just steps from the Theater District offers great natural light and amazing views. Indoors I mix natural with studio light. Outdoors it’s all fun in the sun.
DOUG’S DIARY: May 1st
Location, location, location!
My book Holy Headshot! published by Simon and Schuster is an amazing collection of the funniest, strangest, most jaw droppingest headshots you have ever seen (All taken by OTHER headshot photographers, NOT me, and used with the express permission of both the photographers and the subjects). In it you will see some of the most outrageous headshot locations you can imagine. My personal favorite is the actor sitting on a toilet on the beach. Yes, I’m serious.
In the old days headshots were all done against a simple plain background. Today, you have much more room to play with how you use backgrounds and locations. You can keep it plain and simple, and still have a modern and exciting headshot. Or you can go a bit more environmental. The key is to make sure the location backgrounds serve who the person is as an actor. Photographing the girl next door next to a grungy brick wall does not make any sense, but might really serve an edgier actor.
I like to tailor the location and background to your personal tastes and what makes the most sense for your marketing needs. You are the star not the location, and my job is to capture what is special about you.
DOUG’S DIARY: July 24th
"Put On a Happy Face" is easier said than done for a lot of actors getting their headshots taken. When I first started doing this work, I expected every actor who stepped in front of my camera to be very excited and ready to give 'em the old "Razzle Dazzle." What I have learned over the years is that for many, this could not be further from the truth. For some, a photography studio is a Little Shop of Horrors.
Nothing illustrated this better than when a Broadway Star booked a session over the phone after seeing the headshots I had done for a castmate. The day of the shoot arrived, there was a knock on my door, and I expected the actor to enter my studio ready to put on a Broadway show. To my astonishment, when I opened the door I found him collapsed against the door frame, looking like he was about to get a root canal.
"Are you all right?" I asked. "No, I'm not," he said. "I hate getting my headshots done."
I ushered him in, sat him on the couch, and gave him a glass of water.
"What have your past headshot sessions been like?" I asked.
"Well, the photographer says, 'Smile,' and I feel phony," he said. "They say, 'Be serious,' and I want to kill them. They pose me and I feel like a prop."
Sympathetically I said, "That’s a terrible way to director an actor!”
I went on to tell him that I approach each session as a true actor’s director. Like a great performance together we will strive to create a headshot that is real, alive, vibrant and connected. Because I give you real direction, tailored to suit your particular personality and approach.
When you act, you have your script, your acting partner, and your method of working. When you're standing in front of the still camera, it's a different genre, so to speak. I work with you to bring all your acting skills to your headshot session. You can work with intentions, actions, sense memory, - whatever serves you. You can communicate into the camera as if you were delivering specific messages to a particular person. You can have music playing that taps into certain emotions. You can recite a monologue out loud or in your head. You can pretend to be a particular character for the moment, as it may connect you to a side of your personality that will be valuable to have captured in your headshot. If you are the kind of actor who feels extremely connected with your body, movement might make you feel more relaxed or help tell a story about your personality. All the while, keep in mind that the end result must be a headshot that is true to you.
After sharing these ideas with the camera-shy Broadway actor, he suddenly had an epiphany. "Why haven't I thought of that?" he exclaimed. As the camera shutter clicked away, he "Put On a Happy Face" and brilliantly gave 'em the old "Razzle Dazzle." He was empowered and soon had the headshots to prove it.
So whether you aspire to play Romeo or Juliet, Alban or Albert Peterson, Henry V or Joan of Arc, remember that a great headshot is a killer weapon to have in an industry where you must battle to achieve your dreams!