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.

1. OUTSIDE: URBAN, CONTEMPORARY, VIBRANT, APPROACHABLE, PROFESSIONAL HEADSHOTS

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.

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Urban Street Session BENEFITS:

vibrant, energetic, colorful, depth in backgrounds

eye-catching, memorable, unique

professional

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)


2. NATURAL LIGHT STUDIO: MODERN, CLEAN, CONTROLLED ENVIRONMENT HEADSHOTS

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.

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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!

LEARN MORE ABOUT ACTOR & PROFESSIONAL HEADSHOT SESSIONS WITH JENNIFER :

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.

Tips for Impactful Actors Headshots | An Interview with Denver Casting Director Sylvia Gregory

Actor Headshots by Jennifer Koskinen | Merritt Portrait Studio. [ Click to enlarge ]

What makes a Killer Actor's Headshot… ?

You know what I'm talking about... the kind of photo that grabs the right kind of attention, communicates personality and makes a casting director curious to know more about an actor…

It takes a special blend of preparation (from the actor), technical skill (on the part of the photographer), timing and chemistry -- interpersonal chemistry, that is -- between an actor and a photographer to create that perfect headshot.

As a service to my actor headshot clients, I thought it would be helpful to sit down with Denver Casting Director, Sylvia Gregory, of Sylvia Gregory Casting, (who works with these headshots every day, after all) to get her perspective regarding how headshots are ultimately received and used in the casting process, what elements are best (or worst) to have in your headshots, and other answers to questions I often hear from my clients.

I’m incredibly grateful to Sylvia, a former actor herself, for sharing both her valuable time and expertise so that we could present this information to you. Whether you are just starting your acting career, or if you're a seasoned actor looking to refresh your headshots after a few years, hopefully you’ll find Sylvia's insight and perspective to be helpful in preparing for a fantastic headshot experience! 

NOTE: All of Sylvia’s answers below are paraphrased from a candid conversation -- I’m a photographer, after all, and make no claim to being a journalist!!


A CASTING DIRECTOR's PERSPECTIVE on creating POWERFUL ACTOR HEADSHOTS :

Jennifer (photographer) Question : As a casting director, are there particular elements that stand out to you in a headshot that catches your attention, either positively or negatively?

Sylvia (casting director) Answer : YES! During the casting process we often have headshots spread out on the floor, so actors' names should be on the FRONT of their headshots. This little thing helps save our knees and backs during the casting process!

Focus should be on the Eyes... something should be happening in the eyes: they should be thoughtful, engaging, humorous. This photo is an introduction to what this actor is going to be like to work with, we want to know this person, not a caricature of the person.

It’s critical that your headshot look like you. You don’t want us to think, “This doesn’t look like person at all.” I tell actors that you should be photographed as you would look “on a good day,” because if you show up not looking like your headshot, it wastes your time and everyone else involved in that casting (you’d want that consideration from others as well, as this potentially takes a limited audition spot from someone else who might have been more appropriate for a role).

Jennifer : If an actor has diversity of styles, should they have different headshots for each kind of role they might go after, or one “brand” photo?

Sylvia : One brand photo which is about the ACTOR is most important. A client needs to know who will show up ON SET... we want to get an idea for who this PERSON is… not a caricature. That being said, an actor should have two great headshots -- one with teeth (expressive, i.e. smiling), and one more theatrical and serious.

There are special instances where an actor may want to show a more gritty, intense, or more hip (etc.) side of themselves for certain types of roles in which they are often cast, and if you have the means to do this, certainly go for it, just be cautious of appearing too “posey” or caricature-like. These are big NO’s.

Jennifer : As a photographer, I’ve been told that actors’ headshots should look “like they’d look when they walk into an audition.” Do you have thoughts on this regarding makeup/hair/wardrobe/retouching/ etc:

Sylvia : Regarding Makeup & Hair -- Again, think natural -- wear your hair how you would every day. Having options is good, so for women, if you have long hair, maybe start with it up, then try it down. Guys, it’s great to see beard and no beard, so consider coming in with a beard and shaving part way through a session.

Regarding Wardrobe -- No logos, no crazy patterns... NO JEWELRY... nothing that could make your headshots dated (so avoid trendy fashion choices). Solid colors are best, you should know your best colors for your coloring. If you have the means, consider investing in a meeting with an image consultant (they can advise you on the best neck and collar lines, best sleeve cuts, best colors, and other wardrobe choices that are best for your bone structure, body type and coloring).

Regarding Retouching - remember this is not a glamour shot! If there are a few blemishes it’s fine to retouch these, but if you have scars or if your skin is textured in any way that is going to be there during your audition and/or for a role, we need to see that. Be aware again of the importance that your headshot truly look like YOU... there’s a trickle-down of consequences for bringing in the wrong look when an actor walks in for the part

Jennifer : As a photographer, I direct a lot on a headshot session and often capture the space and movement between directions. Should actors be thinking of anything in particular or do you have tips from your perspective, having been an actor and as an audition coach and casting director?

Sylvia : Really, just be YOURSELF... a few tricks that can help:

If you’ll be in a studio, bring some of your favorite music. This can create natural moments of spontaneity, allow you to get into a groove. Moving photos are often the best ... moments of spark.

Bring a person you love to be on set to help create moments of authenticity.

Jennifer : For beginners, do you have any advice on preparing for headshots for those who may not have defined their brand yet?

Sylvia : Use a professional headshot photographer if you can, or at the very least do NOT submit a blurry, iphone photo. Don’t get too posey: be natural, be yourself, show your personality... Natural light is best. I often spot amateur photos because they have worn too much makeup, or are too posed. Kids, please: NO CUTESY photos! They appear over-coached (and not in a good way).

Jennifer : I hear a lot of discussion from photographers that there's a big debate in the casting director community about Horizontal vs. Vertical headshots. Do you have a preference??

Sylvia : No preference at all - horizontal or vertical -- either is fine, a good headshot is what's important. And again, "I just want your NAME ON THE FRONT.” (that part in quotes... that's a direct quote... and take note, that's not the first time she said it! If you work with me, I'll make sure you get a file that will make Sylvia happy!)

Jennifer : Location -- do you have preference on indoor vs. outdoor headshots?

Sylvia : Natural light is best, so wherever the light is good works. Although if you’re easily distracted, working inside a natural light studio may be a better choice for you.

Jennifer : Are there any headshot trends that you like (or dislike) in the Denver headshot market at the moment?

Sylvia : No… but I do still see black and white on occasion and it comes across as NOT CURRENT. We want to see you in full color.

Jennifer : How much should an actor worry about the print quality of a submitted headshot (matte vs. gloss, press printed, stapled vs. taped resume, etc.)

Sylvia : Matte and glossy finishes are all fine... (although be aware that if you spend money to print your resume directly on the back, this tells CD you’re probably not working enough to update your resume often -- generally these are printed in bulk and ideally you want your resume to need updating before you run out of 50 headshots!)

I strongly prefer headshots and resumes to be stapled in all 4 corners to ensure that your photo stays attached to the back of your resume. And (this is a biggie!) your headshot and resume need to be stapled BEFORE you walk in!! Huge pet peeve to walk into an audition unprepared! There’s no need to spend a ton on your print, but your choice in the final quality does come across. And we see a lot of bad headshots in Denver...

Also, it's a good idea to make a cheap photocopy of your headshot just to see how it converts to black and white. Headshots will get photocopied in the process, and sometimes this reveals “floating head” syndrome, or too much texture in background -- the focus should always be on your eyes!

Jennifer : How often should an actor update his/her headshot? (does this keep actors fresh in front of agents and casting directors?)

Sylvia : Every 3-5 years for adults should be fine, every year for fast growing children. If you have a drastic hair change and don’t have funds to update your headshot yet, take an iPhone photo of your new look, print it small and staple it to the upper corner of your headshot. This will at least allow us to quickly know we're thinking of the right person (from an audition, for example).


And ... A Few TIPS from the PHOTOGRAPHER:

  • Please tell me about your brand prior to our session. Do you specialize in comedic or dramatic roles? Do you specialize in theatre, television or film? Are you known for any particular or unique physical features? Especially if we haven’t met, knowing these things will help me get a sense of who you are, and may have an influence on how and where I photograph you.

  • Know your face. If you have strong features you’d like to accentuate or decentuate, please communicate this. Practice your smile in the mirror to see how it affects the size of your eyes.

  • Discuss any specifics with your agent if you have representation. If you’re trying to get representation, look at headshots posted by that agency and compare to the work of any photographers you may be comparing.

  • Prepare for your headshots like you would for an audition: Drink plenty of water and get a good night’s sleep for bright, clear eyes. Exercising that day (if it’s your thing), does increase circulation for healthier skin color (especially if you are pale).

  • Prepare your wardrobe AHEAD of time (not the day of)! Double check that all necessary layers (including undershirts, bra straps, etc.) work together, fit, are clean, and that they all come with you!

  • Bring OPTIONS for clothing (solid colors are best, layers are great to have on hand to change up a look simply -- leather jackets, for example).

  • Bring your wardrobe items in a portable bag, preferably with wheels, in case we head out for sessions in the streets of downtown. Even if we’ve planned a studio session, sometimes we’ll head outside for a different look, and it’s great to be portable!

  • Keep your lips hydrated! This goes for guys, too! Bring lip balm/chapstick -- whatever you like. Dry, cracking or chapped lips do not look good in photos!

  • Kids -- pigtails & ponytails make younger look, straight hair often reads older.

  • I probably don't need to say this, but just in case... Do NOT think a glass of wine (or other substance of choice) will help relax you. Instead, you won’t be as alert or receptive to direction, and your eyes will be dull and/or bloodshot. You can trust me to direct you and believe me… this is going to actually be a positive experience for you.

  • When sharing your headshots online (social media), noting copyright / photographer credit helps boost all of us creatives. Share the love!

OK... so now it's your turn!

Are there other questions you have? Please feel free to contact me, or leave questions in the comments below and we can continue to update this actor headshot resource for you.

And of course I'd love to learn more about YOU! If you'd like to set up a time to talk about headshots, please drop me a line and let's set something up!

Break Legs!

- Jennifer

If you're looking for more info, THIS ARTICLE from Backstage is one of many resources available from them, and again stresses the importance of preparation and connecting with your photographer. Please let me know if you'd like to chat and see if we'd be a good fit!


ABOUT THE PHOTOGRAPHER: Jennifer Koskinen | Merritt Portrait Studio specializes in Actor Headshots and Portraiture. She is also an internationally published Live Theatre and Stage Production Photographer based in Denver Colorado. In the summer of 2015 she was brought on as the production photographer for the Colorado Shakespeare Festival after multiple seasons photographing live theatre for the Denver Center for Performing Arts Theatre Company. She has also volunteered with the Denver School of the Arts Theatre Department, capturing actor headshots and staged productions for the past 4 years. Her photos have appeared in around the world, and in US publications such as the New York Times, American Theatre Magazine, Playbill.com, The Denver Post, and Broadway World, to name just a few.

For more about Jennifer, please visit our ABOUT page. For information on headshot packages, please take a look HERE!

 

ABOUT SYLVIA GREGORY CASTING: Sylvia Gregory cast the SAG Independent Feature Film “Fishing Naked” and the SAG Independent Short Films “Death of the Bar-T” and “Distance”. She has cast commercials, Web spots, print ads and projects for such Nationally established companies such as Sprint, Kellogg’s, Coors, Southwest Airlines, Honda, Duracell, Jenny Craig, Kroger/King Sooper, Bayer, HP, Spectrum Reach, Cabela’s, TGI Friday’s, Hunter Douglas, HP, Ameristar Casinos, Best Western, Allstate, AAA, The Bill Gates Foundation, Conoco, Kaiser Permanente, Delta Dental, BabyCenter.com, Reebok (NHL), Burger King, IBM, NFL Red Zone, Dish NetworkVerizon, SpeakEasy, Play Along!, Boston Market, and Bass Pro Shop.

Regionally, Sylvia has cast for Humana ParksCalifornia AlmondsColorado Department of Health EducationSmartypants VitaminsRocky Mountain Health Plans, Connect for Health Colorado, The Colorado Lottery, The New Hampshire Lottery, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, Summit Automotive, Charter Media, Via Satellite,  Keen Shoes, The Rocky Mountain Cancer Center,  North Dakota Department of Transportation, Pinnacle Bank, LiveWell Colorado, CollegeInvest, Tri-State Energy, Banner Health, Del Real Foods, and Furniture Row.

The Colorado Heath Foundation episodic films “Encrucijada”,  for PBS and Univision, won the Heartland Regional Emmy Award for best PSA in 2015. Sylvia is also proud to be a part of The Colorado Office of Suicide Prevention’s “Man Therapy” PSA campaign, which was written up in an article in the Media & Advertising section of The New York Times.

Sylvia is currently the Casting Director for The Colorado Shakespeare Festival and LOCAL Theatre Company. She worked as the Casting Associate at The Denver Center Theater Company for three seasons.  She has also cast shows for Denver Center Attractions, Off Square Theatre, The Colorado Symphony Orchestra, The Colorado Springs Symphony Orchestra, Bravo! Vail, Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company, Cleo Parker-Robinson Dance, Colorado Theatre Works, Senior Housing Options at The Barth Hotel, and Paragon Theatre Company.

Please visit SYLVIA GREGORY CASTING for more information.


Oh this Girl! Stunning Talent Headshots in Denver

Eeek! I absolutely love this young woman!

Young Actor Headshot by Denver photographer Jennifer Koskinen | Merritt Portrait Studio

We have known this gorgeous girl since she and my son shared a 4th grade classroom when we first moved to Denver. She captured our hearts from day one -- creative, funny, bright, grounded and a blast to be around. Her mom asked me to photograph her first round of talent headshots before I was doing a lot of portrait work -- I'll always be grateful that she trusted me before I trusted myself!

Not surprisingly, getting to photograph her actor / talent headshots again this time was a huge honor! Her unique brand of exotic beauty is completely captivating to me. And as beautiful as she is in these natural light photographs, she is this beautiful and even so much MORE as a human being. Smart, kind, witty -- make that hilarious -- and she possesses that kind of completely contagious laugh that makes me smile just to think about (seriously. I just smiled all by myself at my computer)..

For her portfolio of actor and commercial headshots, we wandered the streets and alleys of Cherry Creek North in Denver, exploring complementary textures and colors to use as environmental backdrops for her wardrobe and personal style. The goal with her headshot session was first to celebrate her bright, youthful look, and then also to show some of the diversity of her range by styling with a more intense look, as seen in the leather jacket shots (I mean, the intensity in her gaze in the photo above... right??).

Her wardrobe is a fantastic example of how to get a dynamic and interesting range of looks in your headshots, simply inspired by appropriate clothing choices.

Without changing hair or makeup, we were still able to capture a nice variety of looks. By switching up layers, necklines, textures, colors, and styles you can access different sides of your own personality for a good variety of choice when it comes to your final photos.

These kinds of model portfolio sessions really are so much fun -- for me, and judging by the feedback I hear, for my clients! I’m constantly learning on every shoot about new ways to draw things out of people to bring to their headshots and portrait photographs. It’s enormously satisfying -- and especially fulfilling when my clients are full of this much awesome personality.

I’m one lucky photographer!

Finally...

You really can't pass up an opportunity for silly photos when you have old friends reuniting on a session like this... Especially when you find a fabulous purple wall in an alley! That's my son and assistant, after helping me with reflectors on this session. With our "work" completed, the moms got to sit back and watch these two kids relax and do what they do best... crack each other up. Have I mentioned how much I adore these kids?


I’m a Denver based child actor headshot photographer specializing in bringing out connection, personality in my clients’ photos by giving them a highly personalized photo session experience. I would love to chat with you about your headshot needs!

Meet Gabe | Urban Actor Headshots in Denver

This young man . . .

What can I say about this talented, intelligent, kind-hearted, young human? Well, I’ve known him, literally, since the day he was born. Since that day (well, actually since about 9 months before that day) he’s been the love of my life, my inspiration, my best buddy… oh yes, and my son!

And while my iPhone camera always holds some several THOUSAND photos of him (the majority of which are of him making ridiculous faces)... And despite the fact that he’s with me holding reflectors to help light my clients as my assistant on most of my photo sessions… Incredibly, we hardly ever take real headshots or portraits of HIM.

So we decided to change that this past weekend, and actually scheduled a sort of official session! Of course, the day we scheduled, it happened to be 18 degrees out (happens less often than you'd think in Denver). But our mission was not to be deterred, and so set out to capture at least a few headshots -- for as long as my fingers worked and his nose wasn't too red!

As it turns out, 18 degrees is REALLY cold, and so we didn’t last all that long (frozen photographer fingers and bright red cheeks in a portrait aren’t the best combination for portrait work), but we had a great time (he remarked how strange it was to be on the other side of the reflector/camera!), and we got a few great shots just wandering the streets within walking distance of our home (and, thankfully, of a warm and cozy coffee shop in which we stopped to warm up!)

It's honestly a bit surreal to edit photos of a face I know so well… but it sure feels wonderful to finally make the time and space to do it!

And on the off chance that it's not abundantly obvious... I love this kid with all my heart!

I’m a Denver based talent and actor headshot photographer specializing in bringing out connection, personality in my clients’ photos by giving them a highly personalized photo session experience. I would love to chat with you about your headshot and family portrait needs!