The Hollywood Headshot Formula
or How to Shoot Successful Headshots
Lighting for Headshots
For a pleasing, natural look, place the actor outside in the shade. Reflect sunlight back toward the subject. This setup will eliminate common problems such as harsh glare and shadows from misused studio lights. Facial blemishes will be rendered less prominent. This simple lighting setup is very effective because it produces the flat, shadowless light required for a headshot. Avoid dark shadows as nothing should distract attention from the face of the actor.
If the actor has sensitive eyes, she may squint if lit by daylight. In that case, studio lighting may be more appropriate. Place the keylight slightly above the actor and not far from center and use a fill light or reflector to light the shadows. A hair light placed above and behind the actor completes this basic lighting setup.
Current digital cameras now create a high quality file suitable for headshot reproductions. Use a lens of at least 85mm focal length (for the 35mm film format). Anything shorter will distort the face (enlarging the nose and creating a caricature effect) when shooting a tight, head-and-shoulders portrait.
In general, the camera should be aimed slightly down toward the subject. Open the aperture and keep the eyes in sharp focus. The hair, collar and background should be slightly fuzzy enabling the eyes to leap from the print and capture the viewers' attention. Many photographers also shoot looking down from a high angle.
Hair and Makeup
A professional stylist is highly recommended. The specialist knows how to create a clean, natural and professional look that flatters but does not hide the actor's facial features. Further, the ritual of having someone prepare the hair and makeup will create in the actor the mindset that they are part of a serious production. The pictures will reflect this.
If a professional stylist is not used, try to keep the style simple. Make the actor appear clean and attractive. Keep the hair off the face so it does not hide it or cast shadows on it.
Seat the actor leaning slightly forward and looking directly into the camera. Let the actor move naturally, adjusting the pose in search of the right look. Never cover the face with hair, hands, jewelry or clothing.
Converse with the actor and treat her with respect. A comfortable actor will reward you with unforced expressions. An actor that has a positive experience will genuinely appreciate your work.
An irregular or textured background is often more pleasing than a blank white sheet and less severe than a black one. In any case, avoid a contrasty or distracting background.
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