Getting Commercial and Theatrical Headshots During the Pandemic

The Future is Starting to Look Brighter for Actors, as the Theatre and Film Industries Begin to Open Up

As the theatre and film industries look to get back in the swing of things, actors are more and more getting ready for new opportunities. For many actors, new headshots will be in order. But health experts continue to warn the COVID-19 pandemic is still a threat. So, what can actors do to safely get updated headshots?

Getting Headshots Safely Done During the Pandemic

With a few precautions, you can generally be safer about getting actor headshots done with a professional photographer. If you will be working in a studio, find out what steps the photographer takes to make for a safer indoor environment.

For example, does the photographer wipe down key touchpoints between headshot sessions or appointments. Wiping down key touchpoints can mean using antibacterial cleaner to wipe down common areas a customer or the photographer may usually touch. This can include doorknobs, payment terminals, restrooms, and other such things.

You can also inquire with the photographer about any general health precautions. For example, you can ask if they have felt sick recently or been near someone who has? Do they wear a mask as a common practice while not at work, limiting their chances for exposure?

During a photo shoot, it is obvious the person getting a headshot made will need to be mask-less. But it should be noted the photographer will also likely need to be since it is common for masks to fog the back of their camera.

Knowing the photographer generally is practicing what health experts advise can reduce COVID-19 health concerns. You can also ask if they are willing to provide and do temperature checks before a session starts. These are additional safety precaution a photographer might be able to accommodate.

During the actual session, you can request the photographer to wear a mask while not actively photographing you. This can be while collaborating on viewing photos during a session, for example. Many photographers share the viewing of photos by showing the back of their camera. This can mean standing almost shoulder to shoulder. Some photographers in a studio can use external viewing monitors so a bit more distance is possible. You might inquire about such practices.

According to news reports, as of mid-April, all adults in Los Angeles county will be able to schedule an appointment for a vaccine against COVID-19. So, after this you can get one and check if your chosen photographer is vaccinated.

None of these steps fully remove all risks associated with COVID-19 but they can reduce them. The more of them you practice, the less your risk of getting exposed. Of course, none of this is expert health advice and everyone should first follow guidance of health experts or their doctor.

Getting Studio or Outdoor Commercial Headshots

A Typical Commercial-Look Actor Headshot
A Typical Commercial-Look Actor Headshot

In a studio setting, you are more likely to be within the recommended six feet of space of another person. The more people that are in a studio, the more this is likely. So, ask your photographer how many people will be involved in a headshot session.

Check out photos of their studio to determine the size of it and how easy it might be to navigate and safely stay apart. In a studio, the photographer will need to do light setups. This will mean they need to move around the studio to do so. If you setup a session and know you are only going to do commercial looks, you might first discuss this with a photographer. This is because perhaps they can setup the lighting before you arrive. Thus, it can reduce movement during the session.

In an outdoor commercial look session, there will probably be plenty of opportunity to keep distanced from the photographer. However, being outside means other people factor into the scenario. One never knows how strangers will behave. Do they stay away from your shoot? Are they wearing a mask? How many people are generally near where you are photographing?

So, whether indoor or outdoor, there are different risks to possibly consider. Plan your outdoor location according to how concerned you might be with the risk of COVID-19. This might require advanced coordination with the photographer.

Getting Studio or Outdoor Theatrical Headshots

Theatrical looks can be a bit more complex, from a photographer’s perspective. This is in terms of the lighting and overall theme you are going after. Generally, the more shadows that can be put into play, the more dramatic – and hence more theatrical – a look can be. There are varying degrees to this look and much of it is driven by how much control the photographer has over lighting.

Without Lighting Modifiers for Deeper Shadows, An Outdoor Theatrical Look Can Still Be Had
Without Lighting Modifiers for Deeper Shadows, An Outdoor Theatrical Look Can Still Be Had

In a studio setting, the photographer will have more control. But planning a theatrical look in advance so the photographer can setup lights before you arrive might be a tougher task. It can be made more possible if you are able to provide the photographer with very specific example shots you want to mirror.

In a Studio, the Photographer Can Control Lighting So Shadows Fall Specifically Where Desired and Colors Can Better Match Desired Tones
In a Studio, the Photographer Can Control Lighting So Shadows Fall Specifically Where Desired and Colors Can Better Match Desired Tones

A studio or outdoor theatrical look has no cookie-cutter answer, nor does a commercial look. It is more about the look the actor wants to put across. Generally, the more specific the actor wants to get about a theme, the more likely the better choice is a studio. The less specific, the more likely an outdoor shoot is fine too.

Photo Style Considerations

No two casting directors are alike. Some prefer clean and simple shots with uncluttered backgrounds. This helps the casting director focus on your look instead of being distracted by busy backgrounds or clothing. Just the same, some casting directors prefer seeing you specifically in the element they are trying to cast for. So, getting as close as possible to a detective look or superhero look might be an option to shoot for just in case you get that casting director.

The more shots you can employ in your profile, the better. However, it is generally advised to also not overdo it. Common advice is 5-10 is good and more than 10 can start to get cumbersome. But actors would do well to go with the advice of a manager if they are working with one. 

Tips on Finding a Headshot Photographer

If you use a popular search engine, you can easily find a photographer. Start with a search for “actor headshots near me” and a list of photographers near you will pop up. If you can travel, do not limit yourself to the 10 or so mile radius the search engine might default to. Expand the area so you can find as many photographers with high ratings, and lots of ratings, as possible. The expansion will broaden your options, from how many photographers there are to also different pricing options.

Start to make a list of those with high ratings and a lot of ratings. Visit their website to review their example headshots, to learn more about them, and to start to inquire. The search engine you use might tell you if they are currently open for business. However, it is a good idea to verify it with the photographer.

Once you have a list of a few photographers, you can start to inquire about how they work. You can ask if they do studio shoots, outdoors, or both. You can ask how they provide the photos, how much they cost, and so on. And, at least for the foreseeable future, you can also go over safeguards they use for the pandemic.

Rafael Larin is an award-winning headshot photographer in the Los Angeles area. He operates the Headshots by The Light Committee studio where he regularly works with actors and other professionals on professional headshots.