Sir Stirling Moss, the legendary British racing driver, with his Aston Martin Cygnet.
This second post on head shots was inspired by a client asking if I could offer advice on how to prepare for being photographed, how to get into the right frame of mind. What follows is a distillation of the experience I have gained from the other side of the camera, the techniques I’ve found most helpful.
There are lucky individuals (often actors, models, performers) who know their faces and are blessed with the ability to display different expressions on demand to a camera. The vast majority of us find this very difficult, being asked to “smile” on demand to a camera is a recipe for photographic disaster. But all is not lost.
Let’s take it as a given that your photographer knows what they’re doing and wants to get the best shot of you. Nevertheless, it’s vital to realise that even the best photographer in the world won’t be able to shoot a decent headshot without a willing participant. So as a subject, what can you do to help them?
Prepare your clothes and hair. Read my previous post (“What to wear for a corporate head shot“) about getting your outfit right. If you feel well turned out, you are immediately more confident.
It’s natural to be nervous. Nerves are a good sign, they are a sign that this means something to you. Ask any actor or performer and they’ll tell you that pre-show nerves are perfectly natural and give your performance more energy. Don’t spend the whole day before the shoot worrying. It really isn’t going to be that bad.
Try not to bring the office with you. If you’ve been hunched over your desk all day or if you’re stressed, you won’t photograph well. Go for a quick walk just before, jump around or at least take a moment, something that clears your head and freshens your senses.
Expect lights and a big camera. So often I hear “Oh I wasn’t expecting all these lights” as people walk into the room. Cameras work better with good light. Don’t be intimidated if your photographer has set up a bunch of lights, they’re there to make you look your best (photographically speaking most offices have unflattering ambient light).
Try to be a willing participant. Whether you like it or not, this photo is going to happen and will be put out there. If you fight it, most likely it won’t turn out well. Do your best to play along, try to enjoy the experience; the outcome will be infinitely better. Suck it up, kid!
Get into character. Sorry, what was that? Yes, you heard right – get into character, find your motivation. I have found mental imagery and visualisation an immensely powerful tool for helping clients. We’ve all watched thoughts go across other peoples’ faces. If somehow you can manage to forget about being photographed and instead imagine sitting on a beach with a large cocktail in your hand, greeting your best friend, meeting a potentially huge client for the first time, walking through the door into an interview for your dream job – think very personal, find whatever works for you. The crucial point is that you actually need to feel the experience; if you do, your face and expression will follow subconsciously.
Find your imaginary friend. If you are intimidated by looking straight at the camera, try to imagine you are looking at a good friend. See their face right there in front of you, encouraging you on.
Try to forget the past. It’s very easy to get into a downward-spiraling vicious circle about how you believe you look in photos. If you see an unflattering shot of yourself, the next time someone points a camera at you you’re immediately thinking of the past shot and probably recoiling; that next shot then catches you at less than your best; so the circle continues and intensifies. You’ve must try to forget the past and trust the photographer. Remember also that your photographer will probably take quite a few shots – they may all feel the same during the shoot but you’ll be surprised how varied they are. Subtle changes in your expression and body position can make a huge difference.
Breathe. Try not to tense up your shoulders, breathe naturally. This will help release your nerves and improve your body posture.
Keep moving. Being static or holding a position too long will tense you up, move your head and shoulders between shots, shift your weight. Sometimes I make my subjects walk around the room for a moment, it can trigger a magical transformation.
Break a leg!
I am frequently asked “what should I wear for my headshot?”. Here are my top tips based on fifteen years of shooting. Remember these tips are only thought-starters aimed towards standard corporate head shots – there are no hard and fast rules. What business you’re in and where your image will be displayed will have a huge influence.
Dress accordingly. Your clothing should not be a distraction. Consider the context of the photograph and how this photograph will be used – most likely these photos will be used externally to present you to your clients or in PR materials.
Is there a dress code? If your colleagues are being photographed too, should you all be dressed in a similar way?
Dress confidently – if you feel confident and comfortable in your clothes, it will come across in your photo … and vice versa.
Plain clothing is better. This shot is about your presenting your face. Avoid strong patterns, logos, text, images, contrasting trim and shiny fabrics which will all distract from your face. Wear colours that compliment your skin, eye and hair tones. Good fabric textures can work well.
It is wise to avoid very fashionable trends as the photo will date quickly.
Collared formal shirts are generally better than casual. Women have more choice with blouse and shirt necklines, but quite often collars work best too. Please, get your shirt ironed!
Don’t show too much flesh. I recommend not to wear a blouse or shirt that shows bare arms, bare shoulders or has a plunging neckline. Within the tight framing of the head and shoulders portrait, the unexpected and inappropriate consequence of too much skin can be that you look almost naked.
Wearing a jacket looks more formal, just a shirt or blouse less so but may look out of place if all your colleagues are wearing jackets.
Jewellery should not be too overt but can be very effective if used appropriately.
Glasses are a matter of choice. If you are not easily recognised without them then it is probably best to wear them. If you do want to wear them, make sure the lenses are clean.
Bring options. If you are unsure what to wear, bring in a couple of options and ask for advice.
Hair, Make-up and Grooming
You would be astonished at the number of people who present themselves in front of my camera without having done basic grooming such as shaving, brushing their hair or scraping the remains of lunch off their tie.
Check yourself over in a mirror just beforehand.
If you are planning to get a haircut, do so a few days before. Bring whatever you need with you on the day to get your hair looking right.
Make-up should be neutral and even, just as you wear normally (there is no need to try to apply heavy ‘photographic’ make-up). Pay attention to detail. Again, bring whatever you need with you on the day.
Gentlemen, if you shave regularly, pay attention to detail.
Above all, you need to feel comfortable and that your appearance expresses you the way you want to be portrayed. If you can get this right, you will feel much more confident which will in turn come across in your photograph and make for a better shot.
Best of luck!
It was a great pleasure to be asked to photograph Austin and Howard for the jacket cover of their latest book “I Used to be in Pictures”.
Long after the demise of the Hollywood studio system, aged just 12 years, Austin and Howard started writing fan letters; first to Lillian Gish, then Douglas Fairbanks Jnr, quickly snowballing as a generation of actors shared their lives.
Thrilled at the recognition by the two young men, born a quarter of a century after many of their correspondents were at their prime, the stars began inviting the boys to take tea in their houses in Hollywood, Palm Springs, Malibu, Glendale and Santa Barbara. Those stars include Bette Davis, Marlene Dietrich, Kirk Douglas, Lillian Gish, Gene Kelly, Pola Negri, James Stewart, Frank Sinatra, Ginger Rogers, Elizabeth Taylor, Claudette Colbert, Lana Turner, Barbara Stanwyck, Jean Rogers, Keye Luke and Dorothy Revier.
I promised I would also mention that Austin and Howard would like to ask for your help. They are hoping to grant the last wish of Dorothy Revier twenty years after her death, to have a star placed on Hollywood Boulevard in her memory. Every ‘Like’ on the campaign page brings her wish one step closer (click here).
How could I resist the SIDEBURN Dirtquake?
The motto of these people is “Go Fast, Turn Left” and they’re not kidding. It’s like speedway racing but with fewer rules; they all must use the same tyres, the rest is up to them. Most of their bikes are home garage self-builds. They come from far and wide to race a few break-neck laps around the oval dirt track.
Just as Morgan and I were packing our lives to move home (my first move in 15 years, you can imagine all the stuff I had collected), my friends at Moore-Wilson commissioned me to undertake a great job shooting a press campaign for GE Capital. The brief was to visit existing GE Capital clients in West London, Hartlepool, Motherwell and Telford, capturing scenes to illustrate client testimonials.
1000 miles, one house-move and two months later the campaign is now out so I no longer need to play secret squirrel. Here are three of the spreads along with two other runners-up that almost made the final selection. My favourite is the truck mechanic in the filthy green jacket – if you’d been there in Motherwell that snow-covered morning, you’d know exactly why he was dressed that way.
After what seemed quite a wait, it’s really satisfying to see my photo up as a poster out on the streets in Hackney.