Actor and Professional Headshots: Urban vs Natural Light Studio

I offer two options for my actor and professional headshot clients: 1) natural light in urban location or 2) natural light studio.

Either way, I have spent my photography career learning to master natural light and am confident that how I use light will be flattering and natural in either location. The differences in the location types boil down to A) what is behind you and B) the experience you desire while on your photoshoot.

I thought I’d do a quick post sharing some examples of what is possible in the studio vs on location, along with a few words on the pros and cons of each.


Sessions shot outdoors are a bit more improvisational than in the studio, as both you and I will be responding to the immediate conditions of that day, weather, light and location. People tell me often that they to appreciate the “depth” they see in my outdoor photos, which serves to push the focus to the connection they can feel in my subjects’ eyes. I always start in an area which is slightly removed from crowds, so you’ll feel comfortable, yet alive with the vibrance of the city. There’s a fun energy created on these sessions which is reflected in the style of the photos, and I believe reacting in the urban environment leads to part of the very "natural" expressions we get out there. These sessions are always vibrant and fresh.


Urban Street Session BENEFITS:

vibrant, energetic, colorful, depth in backgrounds

eye-catching, memorable, unique


Urban Street Session CHALLENGES:

weather can be an issue (mostly wind, but can also add element of fresh, natural movement)

must pack wardrobe to carry (rolling suitcase is best)


My natural light studio is a shared co-op space, so does require advanced booking. In here, the light is consistent and beautiful. It is quiet and a controlled setting, which for some people can be preferable. I have a few different seamless backdrop options, so you won’t be getting the stiff, traditional yearbook background! These sessions are modern, comfortable and consistently beautiful.


Natural Light Studio BENEFITS:

controlled, predictable, quiet

neutral, professional look

easy to change and keep wardrobe at studio

Natural Light Studio CHALLENGES:

shared studio space can be harder to book

not as much depth in photos (if that's important to you)


IN SUMMARY... Either way you go, even if you're not comfortable with the idea of getting in front of the camera, my promise to you is that you'll end up having a great experience!


Actor Headshots | Make the Most of Your Photo Session!

As a lifelong theatre lover, stage production photographer and mother of an actor heading for his BFA, I have an intense admiration for your work, and the highest possible respect for your talent and art.

 above: natural light actor headshots photographed on location in urban settings in Denver, except for upper right which was photographed in my natural light studio

above: natural light actor headshots photographed on location in urban settings in Denver, except for upper right which was photographed in my natural light studio

And I get it: getting photographed as an actor when you’re not… acting… is not your favorite thing.

SO... if you're nervous about this, please keep in mind that 1) you’re not alone in this feeling, and 2) I’ve got your back. My job will be to help you relax and have fun with the process. I’ve been told often by many clients that this is my superpower.

But there are a few things you can do before the session to increase the odds that you arrive at least feeling prepared.

Think of getting ready for your headshot session like you would prepare to arrive at an audition: rested, hydrated, on time and dressed for the part you want.


  1. Bring 3-4 different looks for and actor headshot session (4-6 looks if you booked an extended photo session). Even if your end goal is just two photos  (one commercial and one dramatic) it’s best to have options. Please don’t bring your whole wardrobe as we'll end up using up shooting time trying to sort through your clothes.

  2. Bring a variety of necklines and fabric textures. Simple tops are best, and keep wardrobe options in line with your brand.

  3. Clothes that fit close to your body are more flattering in photos (no matter your body type, I can pose you in more flattering ways if your clothing is not baggy or boxy).

  4. Bring colors that compliment your skin tones, and generally avoid black or pure white -- colors that compliment and bring out your eyes, skin tone or hair are best.

  5. Avoid flashy and busy patterns that will distract from YOU. The main focus of these photos should be your eyes and the connection we feel with your personality.

  6. Jackets and uncomplicated layers can create variety without stopping for full changes.

  7. If you can wear a light tank under tops, it allows for quick changes outdoors and therefore more photography time.

  8. Jewelry is likely to distract from you, so unless it’s a vital part of your brand (and you're confident it will stay that way until your next headshot session), skip it.

  9. TRY ON your wardrobe items before you bring them. If you’re only doing headshots, there’s no need to worry about pants (I mean, you’ll need to WEAR pants to the session, of course). Check that items still fit well. Hopefully this will remind you to pack outfit specific undergarments (i.e. avoid striped undershirts/black bras under light shirts, etc.).

  10. Launder, press, de-lint as needed.

  11. NOTE for actors and models who have AGENCY REPRESENTATION: talk with your agent beforehand if he/she wants input regarding wardrobe and styling!


  1. After selecting your wardrobe, PACK it in a way that it is portable and can comfortably sit on a sidewalk while we are taking photos. A small duffel bag or rolling suitcase is ideal.

  2. Make sure you stay hydrated and get plenty of rest. This will help keep your skin clear and eyes bright. Don’t stress if you wake up with blemishes the day of your session (and don’t mess with them as that generally makes them worse -- let photoshop do the magic there!)

  3. Exercise the week prior (if that’s your thing), but there’s no need to delay a headshot session just so you can “lose a few pounds.” You’d be amazed what good posing can do to flatter every and any body! Light exercise before your session can add a healthy glow to your skin.

  4. Eyebrows / Nails / Hair / Lips / Facial Hair: Clean up, pluck and trim as necessary. You want to arrive at your audition looking essentially like your headshot for it to be the most effective tool for casting directors to connect your headshot to your audition. Please DO NOT try out a brand new haircut/style in the few days before your session (take it from many clients who have learned this lesson the hard way)! Wear hair & makeup how you normally would, just be sure to refresh right before our session and bring anything necessary for touch-ups just in case. Even if you don't wear makeup, mascara and lip tint or at least gloss is great to highlight your features but still look natural. Men: remember some lip balm or chapstick… it’s Colorado. 

  5. It is not your job to be photogenic, it is my job to make you feel empowered to draw out your personality while you connect with the camera. You can relax knowing that I will direct you into your most flattering poses (this is critically important since you can’t see yourself, after all). I’ll give you posing tips to take with you, and YES, I’ll show you photos as we go (not all photographers do this). My clients love to see what we are getting and discuss any necessary modifications we want to make as we work together.

  6. IMPORTANT: Please arrive on time! Familiarize yourself with directions to our meeting place and leave time to negotiate traffic and parking. Session times are designed around flattering LIGHT. Nothing worse than arriving frazzled, except also having to race against the sun.

  7. If you have done your prep-work, the only thing left is to show up! We’ll chat about your wardrobe for a few minutes when you first arrive, and then you’ll have time to relax into the session. Ideally you’ll have a great experience while we produce fantastic headshots to land you in front of your dream casting director.


To learn more about my personal approach to studio and/or on location actor, model and professional headshots (for men, women and kids), and to explore investment options, please check out my PORTFOLIO. And if you’d like to read my most popular blog post to date, check out my INTERVIEW with Denver Casting Director Sylvia Gregory and discover in depth what she’s looking for in an actor headshot.


Final thoughts if you’ve reached this post and are still shopping to hire a professional:

Be sure you are working with a photographer who specializes in ACTOR Headshots (very different from portraits or professional corporate headshots). Spend time looking at a photographer’s work -- do you resonate with the photos in her/his portfolio? Are the eyes the main focus of the photos? Do you feel personality and connection in the subjects? Is the lighting flattering? Do the photos make the actors look approachable, interesting, engaged and professional? Are the backgrounds distracting? Also important: do you feel comfortable communicating with your photographer? Is he or she willing to talk with you on the phone if you have questions? Your comfort level the day of your session is critical to getting great connection in your photos.

View more of my work at this link:

Voice Talent | Personal Branding Portrait Session in Denver

Don’t be fooled by her petite stature: this adorable woman is a fierce powerhouse of talent, warmth and inspiring confidence. To say I was impressed by her (and loved every minute of spending the day with her!) would be an enormous understatement.

Rachael West Talent Personal Branding Photos in Denver with Merritt Portrait Studio

An Emmy Award Winning ISDN Voice Talent, Actor, Model and Host, she also happens to be downright delightful. My son (assisting on this session) and I thoroughly enjoyed touring her studio, learning about the work she does in her impressive custom studio, and basking in the purple and yellow glow of her home.

Her personal branding photo session was divided into two parts. Part One fell into my initial career skillset of architectural photography. The goal here was to showcase her incredible, purple (I do LOVE a client with his or her own color!) custom recording studio. Her top of the line professional recording booth was designed to fit her home so she can record at any hour, without the need to work around others’ studio hours, as well as to meet the demands of her internationally based clientele. And this woman WORKS. Every detail has been addressed from technical to functional… and the cream on top? It is all designed to match her personal style.

Part Two of her session was her personal branding, headshot and portrait session. Which, of course, was a blast! We spent a large portion of the session laughing as we wandered around downtown Denver seeking out the perfect backgrounds and colors to complement her wardrobe and coloring, finding a cohesive look to tie all of her photos together. All the while we enjoyed trading industry stories and getting to know each other..

I always love working with actors and talent who have had the opportunity to work with other photographers, as their perspective provides me with valuable feedback. I try to be as helpful as possible in communicating direction on a session, as well as showing my clients what I mean with examples on the back of camera to help them visualize what I'm getting. It was great to hear her articulate both during the session and afterwards, just how helpful that was on that side of the camera.

"Amazing! Incredible talent, wonderful ability to give direction in the moment with understandable adjustments that make the photo magical. The BEST headshot experience I've ever had in Denver!" - Rachael

Towards the end of the session, as the light slipped toward the warm and golden hour, we headed to one of my favorite spots in Denver and these photos are some of my favorites of this season. Warmth permeating not just in the quality of light, but captured in her adorable personality, expression, tone and character.

Every time I meet someone with this quality of warm competence and confidence, I can see immediately that their clients must love working with them as well. What a treasure!!

For more information on Rachael West and RW Talent LLC  and to hear and watch samples of her work, please visit her website:

Thank you, Rachael, for reminding me again how fortunate I am that this work introduces me to such outstandingly talented people. You have inspired me and I'm grateful to know you!

ABOUT THE PHOTOGRAPHER: I am a Denver based portrait photographer specializing in bringing out personality in my clients’ eyes while creating powerful, personal images. I want your photos to stand out and communicate more than your average headshot. Comprehensive personal branding packages are custom styled around each client’s specific needs, and sessions are designed to be enjoyable and empowering And don’t worry, if you think you’re not “photogenic” -- it’s not your job to be photogenic. It’s my job to take great photos of you! I would love to chat with you about designing a couture professional branding session for you.

Making Wind WORK on a Natural Light Headshot Session in Denver

… and sometimes, when your client has long hair and the wind gusts are so crazy unpredictable that her hair is mostly blowing in her face… and you’re considering postponing the rest of the session... but you just keep shooting because there’s a tight turnaround for audition materials and something in you says you can make it work …
... sometimes... you end up with a shot like THIS that just takes your breath away:

Gorgeous wind in hair headshot of high school senior actor in Denver, by photographer Jennifer Koskinen, Merritt Portrait Studio

It’s one of my favorite expressions, and it applies so perfectly to photography. Especially to a session like this that pushes a photographer to make the most of challenging weather (although let's be honest -- the stormy clouds made for light that was PERFECT!) If you've done the work -- the preparation, the learning, the scouting, and you've learned how to make the most of your equipment, location and situation... that's when you really can get lucky.

And so, by "getting lucky" in this case, I mean: this was a stormy afternoon in Denver, and normally we probably would have postponed. But there were gifts for us in this storm. What a great example of the rewards of staying focused, flexible and determined through climatological challenges on an outdoor, natural light session. The wind ended up moving Josette's hair beautifully -- if we waited for it! And the light was soft, and wrapped around her gorgeous skin and freckles just perfectly.

And yes, it helps to be working with such a strikingly beautiful, talented and wonderful young woman!

Josette was a dream to work with, expressing herself with confidence beautifully through those incredible and completely captivating blue eyes. And it was amazing how she didn’t even seem to notice the dramatic (sometimes scary looking) clouds and wind and rain and everything else we encountered that day. Actors are amazing -- the show must go on, right? We just genuinely had fun out there and made it work!

This amazing young woman is gorgeous, uber-talented and a joy to spend time with. I’m ridiculously excited to photograph her senior portrait session this summer!

I’m a Denver based headshot AND senior portrait photographer specializing in bringing out personality and highlighting connection in my clients’ EYES, and creating images that are far more than just headshots. Your headshot session will be styled around YOU, and will be an immersive, enjoyable and empowering experience, to boot. I would love to chat with you about a session!

On Choosing a Location for your Portrait or Headshot Session

I was photographing a headshot session a few days ago in Denver, and was struck, as I often am, by how stark the contrast can be between what you see at a location, and what you CAN see at a location... with the right composition, professional equipment, and knowledge of how to work a location to your advantage as an experienced photographer.

I was so struck by this contrast, in fact, that I whipped out my cellphone on this particular session just so that I could share with you what I was looking at… vs. what I was able to create in camera at this exact spot. Fairly dramatic, yes?!

Behind the scenes pullback on headshot location in Denver

I had so much fun at this location that I went back with another headshot client a few days later, and was amazed by how completely different the results were, now later in the afternoon and with overcast skies.

behind the scenes pullback of headshot session on location in Denver

Note that in the two examples above, the backgrounds in the final photos are quite different, even though the location is the SAME exact garage, due to the difference in the angle and amount of sunlight on each day.

OK so what am I trying to say by sharing this??

Basically that choosing a location may not be as critical as you think, at least if you want the focus to be on YOU in your photos. A skilled professional photographer should be able to draw attention to YOU no matter what the location.

Absolutely, there are certain variables that I consider when considering locations: walk-ability, ease of finding places to change, wind and sun exposure, color, texture and the motion and fabric of the available “backdrops” in the vicinity, as well as variety in the intensity of all of these things.

behind the scenes on senior session in Denver, Merritt Portrait Studio

What keeps me on my toes all the time is that even areas I know very well will change dramatically from hour to hour, season to season. So part of the challenge (and delight) is derived from learning how to work with what I see on any given day, at any given hour, and with my client’s particular style, coloring and wardrobe.

In fact, working with a place that is special to YOU is one of my favorite creative challenges as an artist (and if you’ve worked with me, you’ve seen how obsessed I am with the visual discovery!)

behind the scenes on senior session in Denver, Merritt Portrait Studio

Urban locations offer infinite possibilities for texture, light, vibrant movement and implied history. I’ve photographed in stockyards, next to dumpsters, in gritty alleyways, in open parking lots, garages, industrial garage doors… you name it. And in fact, some of those least expected locations become people’s favorite photos of their session.

There’s also an organic energy that happens and brings both focus and spontaneity to expression when you're not in an enclosed, safe studio space. A studio has its advantages for certain kinds of sessions to be sure, but if you head outdoors, when you add the motion, noise and vibe of the city with just enough of a textured background and some beautiful light… it can be rather magical.

Even inside in an urban setting, it’s amazing what can happen with the right composition, aperture, lens, photographer's eye and willing subject! 

Hopefully this all leads to a finished photo that becomes true portrait or headshot magic.

That's when, for me anyway, a picture can cross into becoming ART.

I’m a Denver based headshot and senior portrait photographer specializing in bringing out personality and highlighting connection in my clients’ EYES. I strive to create images that are far more memorable than typical headshots or senior pictures. Your session will be styled around YOU, and will be an immersive, enjoyable and empowering experience, to boot. I would love to chat with you about a session!