Moving through Still | Dance Photography and the Paintings of Clyfford Still in Denver

The arts run deep in my family. 

Growing up, I thought it was really cool that my grandfather was an artist. I earned an Art & Art History major in college before becoming an architect and eventually a photographer. Within a few generations we have a concert pianist, an interior designer, a jewelry designer, painters, writers, architects, actors and a photographer. 

I've always felt most alive with a creative tool in my hand -- a pencil, a camera, even a computer (to write or design) or a paintbrush. Creative spaces of all kinds excite me -- museums, galleries, theaters, libraries and studios.

Artists and creators are my muses, my subjects and forever my inspiration. 

I mention all of this because several people asked both Valerie and I why we were doing this project. And the answer is quite simple: it was born in this space -- this love of creativity.

We just decided to make art. Art for Art's Sake.

And I mean really: Art combined with dance and photography… it sounds like a dreamy mix, doesn't it?

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My creative collaborator -- my "partner in art" -- for this project is my treasured friend Valerie Madonia, an accomplished dancer in the world of ballet (seriously accomplished -- check out her bio below).

I have known Valerie since our days of living in Telluride and have wanted to photograph her for years. When I first approached her I only knew that I wanted to photograph her, but the details were still murky in my head. I wanted to create striking images that involved her dance background and her graceful presence as an accomplished, poised and beautiful woman. 

Enter the Clyfford Still Museum. My background as an architect made me quick to fall in love with this unique space when it first opened in Denver. Huge abstract artworks on display in a building designed specifically to show this artist's paintings. The museum is impeccably detailed with beautiful proportions, overlapping spaces, strong architectural materials in natural earth tones, and architecturally designed to take advantage of Colorado's consistent natural light to illuminate the artwork.

When I learned we could photograph inside the museum (with special permits), I suspected I’d finally found the location for our first shoot. Valerie and I toured on one of her visits to Denver. We set it up with proper permits and got to work planning our photoshoot, still not altogether clear on an end goal -- other than to make art for the fun of it.


BEFORE I CONTINUE... A FEW WORDS ON ABSTRACT EXPRESSIONISM: If you're not familiar with the roots of abstract art, this genre of art is non-representational. Expand the photos below (from inside the Clyfford Still Museum) to see the evolution from more representational art to abstraction in both Clyfford Still's artwork, and in the larger context of art history.

In these demonstrations (which I photographed at the Clyfford Still Museum), you can see that while elements of abstract art are often derived originally from figures, landscapes and more traditional still life subjects, in their final form the compositions may be openly interpreted by those who experience the art. 

It is this idea of artistic interpretation that most excited me about photographing Valerie in this space.

I anticipated that her breadth of experience as a dancer and choreographer, along with her vision as an artist would all lend themselves to compelling choreographed movement in her reactions to the motion she felt in viewing Still's paintings. My own instincts on this were not wrong...

As I moved around the space with my camera, watching her move, I asked simply, "what do you see?" and directed very minimally, only reacting for compositional or framing purposes. Together we moved through the museum, creating and capturing, from painting to painting. My perspective kept switching from the physical space and relationships between gallery, painting and dancer, to the framed composition within a photograph.

During my years as an architectural photographer, this interplay between three dimensional design and two dimensional photography always excited me, but the opportunity to play with these parameters -- now with a moving dancer -- was creatively satisfying on a whole new level. 

My heart leapt right with Valerie's movements as I watched her improvised choreography transform the artwork before my eyes. Paintings came alive in ways I hadn't previously perceived as she danced with them. Sometimes in quiet contemplation.

Other times it was as if she leapt right into the compositions and became a part of the paintings themselves.

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In this block of creative, "art for art's sake" time we were transported into a world of imagination, color, movement and the beauty of dance. A world of where dance choreography meets improvisation. 

This is a world where three dimensional space can flatten into a framed composition in a celebration of the human body and art -- where photography allows something frozen in time to remain full of life. 

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After finishing this shoot, Valerie and I sat at a coffee shop and scrolled through the collection of images. Exhilarated and filled with satisfaction and inspiration, we realized this would most definitely be the first chapter in a larger dance photography project...

So stay tuned...


ABOUT VALERIE MADONIA (DANCER): Valerie Madonia began her dance training with Maris Battaglia at the American Academy of Ballet in Buffalo, NY and left home at the age of 14 to continued at the National Ballet School of Canada, graduating in 1979. She was a recipient of the prestigious Peter Dwyer Award for Dance Excellence. She danced professionally with the National Ballet of Canada 1979-1981 (under the direction of Alexander Grant), at American Ballet Theatre 1981-1986 (under Mikhail Baryshnikov) and at the Joffrey Ballet 1987- 1997 (under Robert Joffrey and Gerald Arpino).
 
Ms. Madonia began as a member of the corps de ballet eventually establishing herself as a leading ballerina with the Joffrey Ballet. She had the honor of dancing as a company member with Alonzo Kings Lines Ballet, Armitage Gone! Dance, Complexions Dance, Configuration Ballet and as a guest artist with Alaska Dance Theatre, Russian Ballet Theatre, Lemon Sponge Cake Contemporary Ballet, and at Le Gala des Etoiles numerous times in Montreal and Greece. She performed the role of the Princess in Stravinsky's L'Histoire du Soldat at the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival in 2001 and with the New York Philharmonic in 2005, conducted by Alan Gilbert and accompanied by Pinkus Zuckerman. Madonia appeared in six PBS Dance in America Specials and is featured in four dance books, most prominently in, Classical Ballet Technique, by G.W. Warren. She performed the role of Madge in Colorado Ballet’s 2015 production of La Sylphide and as the Queen in it’s 2017 Swan Lake.
 
Her choreographic credits include the full length Ballets: Cinderella for Louisiana Delta Ballet, The Nutcracker, Polar Express and Appalachian Spring for Telluride Dance Academy and Ames Conservatory,  Shapeshift for Boulder Ballet in addition to new works for the NYC Dance Now Festival, Sunday Salons and Les Patineurs for Colorado Ballet’s Pre -professional Division, Solo works for professional dancers in  Colorado Ballet, YAGP competitions, Ballet West and Dayton Ballet. In 2016 she staged staged Gerald Arpino’s Light Rain Pas de Deux  for Colorado Ballet.

ABOUT JENNIFER (PHOTOGRAPHER): After a ten year career as an architect, Jennifer is currently an Award Winning, Denver based photographer, specializing in actor headshots and high school senior portraits. She is also an accomplished theatre and dance production photographer, having worked with the Colorado Shakespeare Festival, the Denver Center Theatre Company and Denver School of the Arts. She specializes in creating a positive experience and helping clients find their value through photography, fostering a sense of connection in her work, and bringing out personality in her clients while celebrating THEIR work. Her published theatrical photography work has run all around the world, and has appeared in American Theatre Magazine, The New York Times, Playbill.com, Broadway World and the Denver Post, to name a few.

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FINALLY: A special thanks to the wonderful staff and curators at the Clyfford Still Museum for a lovely experience. I highly recommend a visit to this unique museum in the heart of Denver's growing arts district.

Photographers, please note that a photography permit is required in advance to photograph subjects in this space.

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"Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life."

- Pablo Picasso

Theatre to Change the World | Hamilton Education Program comes to Denver

I’ve long been a believer that storytelling has the power to change the world, one person at a time. My own life has been shaped repeatedly by stories, inviting curiosity about new things, prompting me to change my own habits with regards to the environment, opening my heart and mind to understand my own blind-spots and to try to be better... more like the heroes of stories that I've admired.

A well told story can ignite a spark of compassion in the darkness of unfamiliarity and/or fear of the unknown. An empathetic narrative can shift a long-held perspective, opening a mind to something previously unimaginable.

"Actors are agents of change. A film, a piece of theater, a piece of music or a book can make a difference. It can change the world." - Alan Rickman

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There’s certainly no shortage of stories of all forms from literature to film to theatre that have done this over the millennia. But, wow... how lucky we are to be alive... right now.

Hamilton, An American Musical is arguably one of the most impactful examples of culturally groundbreaking storytelling of our time (of a lot of times). A narrative told powerfully enough to rewrite the rules of musical theatre to connect with today's audiences and rewrite the rules of diverse representation in historical storytelling all at once.

Even if you haven't seen the show you've probably heard about the intoxicating juxtaposition of a heart-wrenching true story, brilliantly written music, creative narrative elements, unexpectedly disarming humor and extraordinary talent on every corner of the stage. The mash-up of elements is truly unlike anything any of us have ever experienced.

Lin-Manuel Miranda’s decision to cast historical figures as actors of color re-frames our understanding of history and allows today’s young immigrants a chance to see themselves mirrored in the faces, voices and hearts of the founders of our country. To see their ancestors as real life heroes, forging new alliances, loving, trying, failing, problem-solving, fighting, inventing and creating.

Such a simple but profound shift invites ALL of us to see a visual representation of our founders for who they were: a band of “young, scrappy and hungry” immigrants coming together to build something brand new. To aspire, to dream, to fight and to create.

How could that story NOT inspire hope in young people and theatre-goers of today?? In people of all ages really -- just listening to the soundtrack as a story inspired me so deeply that I picked up a copy of the Federalist Papers and read them for the first time at the age of forty-seven. And I speak as someone who strongly disliked history class as a kid! I've become a more informed citizen and increased my personal admiration for and investment in my own democracy.

Because of a theatrical story.

"Great theatre is about challenging how we think and encouraging us to fantasize about a world we aspire to." - Willem Dafoe

All that being said, it's what Lin-Manuel Miranda has done following the extraordinary success of this musical that I find perhaps even more impressive. In collaboration with others, together they have worked in powerful ways to extend the reach of this impactful story far beyond the typical theatre crowd .

Since the show itself connected with audiences in such a profound way and quickly became a phenomenon accompanied by sold out audiences and high priced ticket-scalping (despite Lin-Manuel's explicit desires to avoid this), he wanted a way to reach younger, low income audiences. A way for students to become moved by the story, and, importantly, to see themselves reflected on that stage and spark inspiration in the hearts of young people of all backgrounds. 

In a collaboration with the Rockefeller Foundation, the Gilder Lehrman Institute and others, #EduHam was born.

I first learned of this through a friend in the Broadway cast who shared his passion and perspective on #EduHam through social media. Watching how deeply he was moved by the investment made by students in the material they were studying was profound. So when I was invited to document this program first hand, I jumped at the chance.

The Hamilton Education Program now collaborates with local low income and Title One schools in New York, and for one day in each city that the tour visits. High school juniors start by studying the historical content of the play in their high school classes. In order to more deeply engage students with the material, they then write their own Hamilton-inspired hip-hop and rap poems, songs and skits to perform for each other.

No longer is history stuck in a dry textbook. It comes alive in their hearts and through their own performances. 

Ultimately they compete for a chance to perform their acts live in front of thousands of other high school juniors (and the cast of Hamilton) on the very stage where the magic happens. Their performances are followed by a spirited Q&A with members from the cast. And finally, after soaking in each other’s brave and moving performances, they get to sit back and enjoy a matinee performance of the hottest (and most sold out) show around.

What a thrill it was to document this day for the Gilder Lehrman Institute when the Hamilton Education Program came to Denver.

The students’ performances were brave, thoughtful, intimate, raw, and ranged in tone from funny to profound to deeply moving (I've got a link below where you can watch them for yourself on the Denver Center blog). I could feel their connection and commitment to the historical material, and how perfectly each of them met the moment of our present day issues with their own material.

"The theatre is a spiritual and social x-ray of it's time." - Stella Adler

What a privilege it was to then sit in the audience for a matinee performance of Hamilton with this group of nearly 3,000 high school juniors, many of whom had never been to the theatre. The show brought me to tears (if you've seen it, you know!), but just as moving during this particular performance was the visceral feeling in the theater of their reactions to the story as they invested their hearts and engaged, often audibly, with the unfolding twists and turns of the story.

At the end of the day, who else could get nearly three thousand high school juniors to cheer during a debate in a cabinet meeting about the structure of state debt?

Only Lin-Manuel Miranda.


To learn more about the Hamilton Education Program please visit:

On the evolution and origin of this program: Gilder Lehrman Institute and Hamilton Education Program

To view a great video about the program: PBS segment about the Hamilton Education Program

To see the student performances from the Denver tour, please visit the Denver Center’s post featuring videos.

Also check out the Hamilton App for lottery tickets, and weekly inspiration from the cast & show


ABOUT THE PHOTOGRAPHER: Jennifer Koskinen is an internationally published theatre, dance and stage production photographer based in Denver Colorado. She is the production photographer for the Colorado Shakespeare Festival after having photographed multiple seasons 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 6 years. Her photos have appeared in around the world, and in publications such as the New York Times, Playbill, American Theatre Magazine, The Denver Post, and Broadway World, to name just a few.

Troilus & Cressida | A Photographer's Appreciation of Staging for Theatre

I don’t typically create blog posts about photographing individual stage productions.

I’ve already written at length about how much I love photographing live theatre, and you'd be bored by now if I waxed poetic about how VERY much I love it after every show. There’s a whole world of arts critics and journalists whose job it is to write about the performances themselves -- the production quality, acting, direction, design, etc.

But really, everyone who knows me is aware that I’m -- how shall I say? -- easy to entertain and genuinely quick to love, so my effusive praise of a particular show, heart-felt as it may be, admittedly probably doesn’t carry a lot of weight.

All that being said... I was so moved by the aesthetic experience and technical challenges of photographing this particular production of this lesser known Shakespearean play that I felt inspired to share a few “photographer perspective” thoughts (and photos) from this production; this extraordinarily beautiful, intriguing and -- at least judging by this particular iteration -- perhaps too little produced play.

My first experience photographing Carolyn Howarth’s work was last season at Colorado Shakespeare Festival, when she directed HENRY V on the indoor stage at the University Theatre. Everything about that production was spectacular -- for me as a photographer AND to experience without a camera (and I say this having attended several times throughout the run, including closing night when I almost cried because I still wanted to go see it again… but I digress… )

Photographing a director’s work multiple times gives me a chance to learn how to “dance” with a director’s blocking. It allows me to move through space in anticipation of where actors will be to create the best photographic compositions. Carolyn’s work was so beautifully staged for Henry that I was giddy to see what she would do with the outdoor Mary Rippon stage on the campus of University of Colorado, Boulder.

And let me tell you…  this entire team of designers spectacularly delivered on a vision which somehow was at once both distopic and stunningly, viscerally beautiful.

The opening scene of TROILUS AND CRESSIDA immediately thrusts the audience into a visual (and acoustic) landscape of overwhelmingly powerful beauty. Symmetry of design, of stage direction and blocking, of light, and even somehow of sound -- which is difficult to capture in a photo, but somehow, it was so powerful that I actually hear the beating of Benaiah Anderson’s incredibly crafted swords and shields when I see the opening photos.

The outdoor setting of the Mary Rippon Theatre provides a spectacular backdrop for the set design that changes throughout the evening. Wide photo of  Troilus & Cressida  at Colorado Shakespeare Festival, photographed by Gabe Koskinen for Merritt Portrait Studio

The outdoor setting of the Mary Rippon Theatre provides a spectacular backdrop for the set design that changes throughout the evening. Wide photo of Troilus & Cressida at Colorado Shakespeare Festival, photographed by Gabe Koskinen for Merritt Portrait Studio

Howarth’s stage aesthetic is simply divine. Her blocking of the actors -- how they move through and inhabit different parts of the outdoor stage -- so perfectly complements the depth of the incredible set design, the colors of the wardrobe, and the dramatic and compelling lighting design, that even for those who may not follow every twist of Shakespeare's story, there is always something beautiful, sexy and dramatic to absorb for eyes and ears.

How the wardrobe -- the colors of the designs of each scene as a whole worked so that everyone on stage at a given time complemented each other as an ensemble... I mean, just look at the palette of costumes and how they work together in this scene (the last set of photos above). It nearly took my breath away, even where the colors on each actor stood on the stage!

And yes, it IS my job while shooting a production to become almost “lost” in the visual. To celebrate the composition, color and light… but it is also my goal to capture the connection I see in actor’s eyes, with each other and to their character. The most satisfying productions to photograph are those which provide all of these things in concert with each other. When that happens, my job honestly feels like playing...

...until the light design becomes so brilliantly in line with the story that it envelopes the audience in near darkness as the stage fighting intensifies... and the photographer who wants to capture it all freaks out.

Luckily I had scouted this show the night before, so I knew this was coming, but still -- to capture the combination of extreme low light and extreme fast motion -- it pushes even the best photographer and equipment to the limits of what is possible. Even with a super high ISO and the widest aperture my lens could shoot, this is still a nearly impossible combination to capture, but I pushed myself and my equipment, tried a few new things and was actually able to capture more than I thought would be possible. Though I must say still… you really need to SEE these scenes to get a sense of how incredible they are. Geoffrey Kent’s stage fight choreography and his movement onstage during these scenes is jaw-droppingly good.

I'll add a few more photos of ending scenes AFTER the show closes so as not to give away any dramatic and incredibly aesthetically powerful spoilers...

The artful storytelling of this lesser known Shakespearean work, which contains both comedy and tragedy, in the hands of these incredibly talented actors is not to be missed!

CREDITS:

Direction by Carolyn Howarth | Scenic Design: Caitlin Ayer | Lighting Design: Shannon McKinney | Costume Design: Hugh Hanson | Sound Design: Jason Ducat | Fight Director: Geoffrey Kent | Photos: Jennifer Koskinen + Gabriel Koskinen for Merritt Portrait Studio

CAST: Christopher Joel Onken, Howard Swain, Lilli Hokama, Carolyn Holding, Naomy Ambroise, Kristofer Buxton, Kelsey Didion, Sam Sandoe, Mare Trevathan, Zach Stolz, Austin Terrell, Sean Scrutchins, Geoffrey Kent, Spencer Althoff, Coleman Zeigen, Steven Cole Hughes, Emelie O'Hara, Jihad Milhem, Benaiah Anderson, Lindsay Kyler, Coleman Zeigen, Jesse Wardak, Paige Olson

TROILUS AND CRESSIDA, by William Shakespeare has 8 remaining performances at the Colorado Shakespeare Festival through August 6, 2016. VISIT: CSF for tickets!

And a final sequence to appreciate, from my son's wide angle photos, how spectacular it is to feel twilight stretch into night, watching theatre under the stars on a summer night in Colorado is an experience everyone should have. How the trees surrounding the theatre space are included in the lighting and set design -- just breathtaking!

The Artist Studio | Redthreaded Editorial Photos

For quite some time now I’ve been dreaming of a series of editorial / documentary style photos essays on Artists in their Studios...

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... a photo from our editorial STYLED SESSION at Blanc, Denver

Seamstress and costume designer Cynthia Settje opened Redthreaded in 2009, and recently moved her workshop and studio to its new home outside of Boulder, CO. Her historically inspired costume work is of the highest caliber, and has earned her clients from university stages to television to Broadway.

I have been loving collaborations with this talented woman ever since photographing her work this past summer for Colorado Shakespeare Festival.

In case you missed it, THIS styled session featuring a new line of her corset designs was an opportunity to create pure collaborative magic.

Naturally, I jumped at the chance to photograph Cindy’s headshots in the space she has designed for her incredibly successful costume shop.

Since Cindy invited me to come to her studio for headshots, I couldn't resist the opportunity to turn the photoshoot it into a bit more of a story than just taking "headshots."

I’d like to think of this session as the first in a series that I’ve long dreamed of photographing... artists at work in the spaces they've designed as their creative homes.

Perhaps it's the former Art Major in me... perhaps its the former architectural designer, but whatever the origin, I’m drawn to the idea of documenting the magic of a creative soul in his or her environment.

How artists design and work in their spaces to best foster productivity -- both from a functional perspective, and to keep themselves inspired -- is a fascinating study in personality, creativity, light and design.

I invite you to visit Redthreaded online, as well as Cindy’s etsy shop for more information and to see more of her extraordinary work. Her instagram feed is also amazing… and it all happens right in here!

Thanks also to the amazing Sara Duffey for beautiful hair & makeup!

And if YOU are an artist with a studio or unique creative space, or if you know someone who might be a good subject for this fun artist's studio series, please let me know!!

I’m a Denver based portrait and editorial photographer specializing in bringing out connection, personality and story for my clients and their stories. I love to create empowering photo session experiences, custom tailored around the personality and interests of each individual client. I would love to chat with you about documenting your creativity or story!

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.