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Photography Question 
Justin G.
BetterPhoto Member Since: 7/13/2004

Theatrical Headshots

Hey guys, I finally got my first job. it'll be expenses only buy hey its a job! anyways I'm going to be shooting an actress for, as you see above!, theatrical headshots. at first I said "hey, not too bad, some headshots". as I read some "actress tips pages", i'm learning how vitally important it is for an actress to have ABSOLUTELY PERFECT, NOTHING LESS of a headshot. it's the first impression of an actress to a director, it has the ability to make or break the actress, and needs to be technically perfect as well as pose perfect. I read that it must show the TRUEST character of the actress.

well as you can see i'm getting nervous. I thought hey, I could play around and work on getting the lights perfect..i'm not too good at posing yet but we'll get by. AAAAAAHHHHHHHHHH I can really screw over this model, I hope you guys realize the pressure on me. anyways when I call her i'm going to advise her we'll shoot as much as possible to get it PERFECT... NOTHING LESS THAN PERFECT.

#1. Am I overreacting?
#2. I've never worked with a model other than my wife.
#3. How can I bring out expression of true character in the actress?
#4. Any lighting style tips?

... I'm thinking of doing some clamshell, very flattering. I'm also thinking of this:

2/3 Pose with main (47" octabox) @ the 9:00. silver reflector around camera right to fill shadows for her face. medium softbox at the rear for hair highlights. should I meter this w/ main or 1/2 - 1 stop less? i'm thinking about 1/2 stop down from main.

I'm also thinking of using a light blue backdrop..shooting B&W film will give a nice gray tone (she's a black lady). i'm thinking (no offense to black people) that i'll lose her hair with a black background and white would be overpowering. should I do a flat backdrop or make it wavy for some texture (i don't want to steal from her).

I know this is a thousand questions but any tips on any and all would help so much. I'm nervous, but she told me this is new for her to, so that i'm a little relieved. thx again.

the ever-worried about her career,

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2/1/2006 3:53:41 PM

Samuel Smith
BetterPhoto Member Since: 1/21/2004
  settle down justin.i've seen you get better and better.posing?not a clue.
will you get a practice session?a must.
young photographers/confidence.
2 questions
1 will I fail?
2 is this what I have been waiting for?
even if you do fail, you learn.
otherwise your going to be where you want to be.
you just need a few test shots to determine your settings and how dark she is,and backdrop.

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2/1/2006 8:20:07 PM

Michael H. Cothran   Justin,
Living in Nashville, Tennessee, I've been shooting head shots for 25 years, and ain't rich yet. Turns out all the wannabe models/entertainers/actors/singers are just poor, struggling individuals like me!
I can offer you one bit of advice - darker African American skin is extremely difficult to photograph. The darker the skin, the more of a challenge it is. However, dark skinned people always seem to benefit from a "kicker" light on one or both sides of the face, from the rear, rimming the hair and cheeks. Weaker for females, and stronger for males. Monte Zucker has written some good articles on photographing and lighting dark skinned people. See if you can find them online.
Michael H. Cothran

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2/1/2006 8:30:14 PM

Bret Tate
BetterPhoto Member Since: 11/12/2005

RELAX! Shooting model portfolios can be a lot of fun. You should definitely use silver umbrellas/reflectors for darker skin. Spend some time getting to know the actress and let her collaborate with you. Every model/actress has an opinion of their "best side", "best features", and how they see themselves. Make sure you accentuate her best feature (eyes, lips, hair, face, etc.). This will dictate your lighting set-up.

I hope that this helps. Good luck and have fun.


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2/1/2006 8:59:33 PM

Justin G.
BetterPhoto Member Since: 7/13/2004
  That's the thing Bret. I'm new to studio (got my lights for C-mas). I've got the basic concepts down, a couple generic styles, but the problem lies therein if she has great hair, or great lips, I really don't know how to accomodate for something individually yet.

Do you guys think the clamshell lighting like the following would do me and her just? and also throwing in some kicker as Michael said?

The following two pics are NOT my photographs:


Thanks for the help, and for the record, lol, I'm really not as nervous as I made it out to be, if I screw up it's a reshoot, I just don't wanna reshoot, ya know?!

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2/1/2006 9:17:52 PM

Bret Tate
BetterPhoto Member Since: 11/12/2005
  Clamshell lighting is a very safe set-up for head shots. It doesn't "hide" anything but that is usually ok with the "pretty people" (actresses). If you want to try something like the 1940's Hollywood head shots you could try some butterfly(Paramount) lighting but that is more risky - it's easy to get it wrong. I would start by looking at the head shot that you posted here. What do you like about it? What don't you like about it? How does it flatter the model? How does it detract? How dramatic do you want to be? If this head shot came across your desk would it jump out at you and be memorable?

Do you have a Polaroid back yet? That is extremely helpful in this situation.

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2/1/2006 10:12:22 PM

Justin G.
BetterPhoto Member Since: 7/13/2004
  I dont' have a polaroid back yet and been meaning to get one but haven't. I was looking for a 180mm and a polaroid back but my wife and I got news that the air force is sending us on a "vacation" if you will so I really don't have a reason to buy stuff right now. Anyways...

what I like about this portrait is its softness. not in sharpness but in lighting. it's very "subtle" if you will and isn't harsh at all, very pleasant. the shadows are extremely soft and limited, but enough to give depth and form to her face. this lighting seems to do wonders on hair. I also love the analogous color scheme in this picture (nothign to do with lighitng but just thought i'd mention).

not to sure about the mugshot pose. I mean it works but i'm just not a fan of it except certain situations. what I would do is rotate her body maybe 1-2 hours counterclock wise and then rotate her face to the camera just to the point of her left ear disappearing and I think we'd be set. lighting wise though I think this is technically flawless. 3TU for the siggers. anyways pete could you critique the photo as well with the likes/dislikes so I can get someone elses view on it, to maybe help me see things a little more?

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2/2/2006 7:13:16 AM

BetterPhoto Member Since: 5/28/2002
  Hi Justin, as Michael pointed out that Monte Zucker used to have free lessons at I have seen it a few years ago and that site's content has changed. But I can still find some free lessons there. This one may help you:

Good luck.

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2/2/2006 7:41:14 AM

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