”The way to get great headshots is with a great photographer.”
NoHo is a neighborhood filled with actors, after all we have 20+ theaters in one square mile! What do most actors need? Headshots. But finding a good headshot photographer can be a daunting task. Meet Rafael Larin from Headshots by The Light Committee – a photography studio that provides corporate, model and actor headshots. He’s given us some tips to help make the process a bit easier and manageable.
What made you want to be a photographer?
I took photography in high school and had a teacher that was very encouraging. He constantly worked with me one on one to help me improve. We entered some of my photography into statewide contests and I placed well in many of them.
Because I also like technical things, this passion grew as photography became more technical over time. I continue to love the opportunity to blend creativity with technical knowledge for what is required to create good images.
What type of photography do you like to do best? And why?
I truly love pretty much any kind of photography. So, it is difficult to select a type of photography that I like to do best. I regularly continue to do landscape photography, portrait photography, product photography, lifestyle photography, modeling photography, and of course headshot photography. I am probably forgetting something too.
If I had to absolutely pick one, I would go with headshots. With just about all other type of photography it is often one-way in terms of collaboration. With headshots, particularly acting, there is a collaborative effort. Generally, actors are going after a couple of different looks. One is commercial and the other is the theatrical look. Sometimes there is the comedic look too.
While acting headshots commonly fall within these categories, the specificity of a shot for any one individual can be very different. Put another way, though the shot categories are common from actor to actor, the look of each person is unique. So, it requires a collaboration between me as the photographer and the actor in terms of what essence they want to portray in their headshots.
That collaboration leads to distinct creativity with each session. It is very rewarding, particularly upon achieving success in creating images that help them in their careers.
What successes have your headshots helped actors achieve?
Well, a good headshot is one component of many that can help with an actor’s success, albeit a very important one. With that said, I can say some of the actors that have come in for headshots have gone on to be cast in TV or streaming series or movies with production companies such as A&E, BET, El Dorado Pictures, HBO, Lifetime, Netflix, and more. This is in addition to theatre roles and many television commercials.
What makes you a good headshot photographer?
There are four components to what makes a good headshot photographer. Imagine each of these components is worth a letter grade. So, if you have all four you get an A photographer. If one is missing, you get a B, and if two are missing you have a C, and so on. So, what are these four elements?
First, you need a photographer that is technically and creatively sound. By technical, this means they have a solid understanding of how cameras and lenses work, and they understand the laws of light. Second, you need a good camera and lens. This typically means at least a camera with a full-frame sensor and prime lenses. Third you need high quality lighting. All light is not equal. There are different qualities of light, whether for a given studio strobe brand or with natural light. Finally, you need someone good at post-production or retouching work.
A word on post-production. There is often advice out there that actors should not have their photos retouched. This is inaccurate. Every photo can be improved with retouching without outright manipulation. Sure, an actor should not change how they look but there are small things that can be corrected, or that can be retouched. These are usually impermanent things like acne, a stray hair, red eye, lint on a shirt, and so on. It is these things that can help a polished headshot stand out. So, post production is important to being a good headshot photographer too.
What should a person ask a photographer before they hire them for headshots?
There are a few things an actor might want to ask a photographer before setting out to work with them. First, ask to see their portfolio. You will want to evaluate how good their photos are. Do a comparison with other photographer headshots. Pay attention to sharpness and proper exposure. Also, pay attention to whether the backgrounds they offer distract from you or complement your face. When you review their portfolio, do not do it on a smartphone. Use a large screen. It is easy to hide imperfections on a small screen and casting directors will look at larger versions of headshots too.
Ask them if they have a commercial studio or a home studio. It can be fine if they only have a home studio. However, this should be mentioned up front, so you are not surprised or uncomfortable when you arrive for your headshot session and it is a house or apartment. Though a home studio can be okay, it can also be limiting in size and thus capability. A photographer with a commercial studio usually means they have a fully dedicated space that is often larger and affords more capabilities.
Be sure to also get clarity on what is included in a session and how much it costs. It is best to get this in writing. Some photographers post their rates online and some do not. So, if they do not have rates online, get them to message or email them to you so they are verified. This avoids surprises after your shoot is finished and it is time to pay or receive images.
Also, ask if photographers can pull off different looks for you. This does not just mean you in different outfits or different backgrounds. For example, if you are going to want a commercial and theatrical look, this is not just best done by smiling for the commercial shot and then not smiling for the theatrical shot. At a professional level, these looks require different lighting setups. A photographer’s portfolio should demonstrate competency in shaping light to suit the shot. Be sure to verify they can light for different looks.
What should actors wear to a headshot session?
Actors commonly ask what they should wear, and the simplest advice is to keep it simple. After all, the photo is about placing all interest on your face rather than what you are wearing. Getting more specific, stick with solid colors. Vibrant colors are often good too. Avoid plaids, busy stripes, or other such patterns. Try and stay away from large logos or brand names.
You will also usually want to avoid accessories like jewelry. This does not mean do not wear any. Just be sure any accessories do not steal the show.
As for your hair and makeup, some actors get their hair and makeup professionally done and some do it themselves. Generally, you will want to practice what you would do to go to a casting. This is because, as much as possible, you want your headshot to match how you will look in front of a casting director.