You’re most likely here, because you’re in or near Kansas City, and you need a headshot, or a general purpose portrait photographer. You may be an actor, or you may be a professional looking for a new LinkedIn profile pic, or a shot for their business card. I’ll take some time here to break down my process, share plenty of opinions, and try to answer some of the more frequently asked questions.
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Full actor headshot session – (2.5 hrs) - $250
First off, a little tidbit you should know about me:
I’m not just a “photographer who does headshots”. I’m also a professional actor, and card carrying member of Actors Equity Association and SAG/AFTRA. My first Equity show was in 1993, and since then, I’ve worked on countless film sets, and trod the boards of just about every professional stage in Kansas City (view my resume on IMDB). Headshots are as vital to me, as they are to you. I’ve spent years humbly walking into exactly the same sorts of auditions you do (unless you’re in musical theatre or “adult” video – you wouldn’t want to see me in either). I’ve also sat in auditions from the other side of the table. I understand what makes a good headshot, and what casting directors, and theatrical directors are looking for in a headshot. If you want to be a part of the industry, you don’t just need a great picture of you, you need an industry standard actor headshot.
Plenty of photographers claim that they do headshots. After all, what’s a headshot? A shot of your head, right? Wrong – on so many levels. I can’t tell you how many times I hear about (formerly local) actors who’ve had their headshots done here in Kansas City, or another such regional city, by So-and-So Photography, and as soon as they land in LA or New York, they’re told they need to be replaced with “actual headshots”. If you’re planning a move, let’s help you avoid that, shall we? (Granted, some agencies on the coasts may – regardless of the quality of your current headshot – require you to use their in-house photographer, upon signing with them. This is part of how they make their money… and may be a red flag that it’s an agency to avoid, but that’s a WHOLE other discussion.)
How my Actor Headshot session works:
Due to the nature of headshots, I try to keep things as simple and laid back as possible. My typical full session is $250, booked in 2.5 hour blocks, with no limit on looks or clicks. Some photographers will place a limit on the number of “looks”, and I’ve never quite understood that. Changing a shirt only takes a minute or so as far as I’m concerned, let’s play around with as many different looks as we can. Over the years, I’ve found that most people get to that “OK, I’m done, can’t pose anymore” stage after about 1:45 – 2 hours, so I settled on 2.5 hours as the standard booking length to give us a bit of a cushion.
Location choice is ultimately up to you. We can shoot out at a public location, or in the studio (or a combination of both). For solid, industry standard actor headshots, I typically recommend (and get best results) shooting at my studio, using primarily natural light, but can bring in the help of studio lighting if needed or desired. For “actors” who are perhaps more accurately described as commercial models, our best bet is a location shoot (downtown KC makes a fantastic setting).
I spend a lot of time in post. After our shoot, I remove unacceptable shots (blurry eyes, awkward facial expressions, blinks, etc…), and then do basic levels/color/contrast work on all remaining shots. I then upload them all to an unlisted gallery where you can mark (and unmark) your favorites, and narrow down your options in a nice orderly fashion. I do advanced retouching on a handful of your favorites (up to 3, for the standard full length session, 2 for the 1-hour, or 1 for the half-hour). Retouching aside, you get access to all full-resolution files. ALL OF THEM. This is important, because at some point along the way, you may find that you’re going in for a role that calls for a different look/feel. Let’s say your primary headshot is a warm smile, but you’re reading for the part of a serial killer. Some actors find that they can go back to their full gallery and grab a shot that they’d initially passed over, and it’s just perfect for the audition at hand, and the basic levels/color/contrast work I’ve already done has made it perfectly usable for that audition.
I don’t keep digital negatives to myself, or force you to order prints through me. You’re welcome to do so if you’d like, but that’s not my focus. I’m a photographer, not a printer.
What should I wear? What about make-up?
In general, try to imagine your typical appearance at a typical audition, and do that. Men – you don’t need make-up. If anything, perhaps a bit of powder to even out your skintone, but even that isn’t really necessary. Women – don’t go any heavier with make-up than you would for your typical audition (specifically, please don’t go too heavy on cheek rouge). Again: You want to look like you will look, walking in to the audition. My job is to capture the best possible version of that “typical look”. If anything is required beyond that, and you don’t want to (or can’t afford to) book a stylist to come in and help, I’ve got a dynamite make-up artist on site, and his name is Photoshop. (Old-school film shooters who’ve invested heavily in airbrush equipment will cringe to read that, but… welcome to the 21st Century folks)
That said, I do frequently work with stylists, and if you’d like to have one on hand to help with changes in looks between setups, or even if you’d just like to feel a bit more pampered than you would by doing your own make-up, speak up. I’m more than happy to help you find a great make-up artist for the shoot.
As far as clothing goes, bring several options with you. When in doubt, keep it simple. We want them to connect with your eyes, not your clothes/jewelry. Try to avoid anything that could be distracting (e.g. intricate patterns or crazy jewelry can sometimes draw the eye). Solid colors are great. Layers are great. Bring lots of options, and we’ll play around with them while we hone in on the right look for you.
Do I need to bring anything else?
YES – a good attitude, and whatever helps to get you there! The best headshots always happen when people are relaxed and comfortable. If there’s music that always puts you in a good mood, bring it! If you know you won’t be able to fully relax until you’ve had a glass of wine, bring a bottle! (I might have one with ya!) Whatever it takes to get you relaxed and happy, so that it shines through in your eyes.
These are all great tips, but I don’t live anywhere near Kansas City, so I can’t use you!
No problem! Glad to help fellow actors in any way I can. As you search your local area for a good headshot photographer, here are some things to keep in mind while trying to decide if that “headshot photographer” really knows headshots.
1. Too much retouching
This one is huge. And frankly, it’s the most frequent mistake of non-headshot photographers who attempt to do “Actor Headshots”. This is not a glamour shot. It’s not even a model comp shot. Sure, we all want to look pretty. But if you don’t LOOK LIKE YOUR HEADSHOT, you will (speaking very frankly) royally piss off whoever is doing the casting. If they called you in to this audition based on your headshot, you have just wasted their time. Before you even open your mouth, you’re done. Even if you’re not right for that part, but perfect for another role they’re looking to fill, you may have put yourself out of the running because you’ve irritated them. Now, don’t get me wrong. Some retouching is OK. Anything temporary can be eliminated (blemishes, scratches, etc…). A good headshot retouch makes the lines in your face less noticeable without eliminating them entirely. I’ll retouch a shot as far as a client asks me to, but I’ll also warn them against going too heavy (sometimes an unheeded warning). Bottom line: If you look like an other-worldly goddess without a single line on your face in your headshot, you better be prepared to somehow have zero lines on your face at the audition.
Don’t feel bashful about asking to see high resolution headshots in their portfolio. A shot that looks great as a small thumbnail on a website, can often reveal bad post processing techniques when you look at a larger version. Look for things like blurry eyes, strange skintones, over-use of Noise Reduction (manifests in a mush of pixels that resembles a watercolor painting when looking closely). Many of these things will not be noticeable at low resolution on the web, but once you get that shot printed as a high-res 8×10, you’ll definitely notice.
2. Non-headshot composition, or too much distraction from your face
This is another frequent mistake made by general photographers. A headshot is not a senior portrait in the urban core, or a family session in the park. It’s also not a Lifestyle shoot for a modeling portfolio. All of those styles of photography have their place, but that place is not a stack of photos sitting on a casting director’s desk. If you’re in need of an actor headshot, you want them to connect with your eyes. Period. You want them to be intrigued by YOU. Drawn to YOU. You don’t want that casting director to say to him/herself “Oh my, what a lovely sunset.” “I wonder if that’s the café downtown where we had lunch last week.” ”Holy cow, look at that gorgeous background.” I spend a lot of time following industry standards of headshots on the coasts, and at no point in the last 10 years have “environmental headshots” become the standard for working actors. The standard is, very simply, YOUR FACE. That’s what they want to see (as they’re flipping quickly through a stack of hundreds), and that’s what you need to give them.
3. Overly strict session limits
Sometimes you hit gold in the first few clicks, but sometimes it takes a while. If this is the shot you’ll be relying on to get jobs, you want to be sure that you get the best possible shot, and the best way to ensure that will happen, is to get a ton of options. You want a huge well to draw from. If their portfolio speaks for itself, a strict session limit can be OK – they’ll probably know how to guide you to the right pose and the right facial expression quickly. If you’re on the fence as to whether or not they know what they’re doing, be wary. If there’s any question, ask to see what they’re getting as they shoot. I have all the respect in the world for photographers who still shoot on film, but between you, me, and the wall, if they’re still shooting on film, they’ll likely limit the session to a number of rolls, and you’re going to have VERY few options to choose from. Only go with a film shooter if they’re a big-time headshot photographer, HUGELY respected, and obviously know what they’re doing.
4. They’re a good photographer, but have no experience with “headshots”
Lets face it. Someone can be an AMAZING photographer, but know nothing about what makes a good “headshot”. If it’s a friend, who’s just starting out in photography and offering to do it for free, LUCKY YOU! Give them a shot, let them know what you want, show them some great example headshots, and see what they can do. If they’re trying to charge you an arm and a leg, and have no good ”actor headshots” in their portfolio, run away.
Corporate headshot session – (30 Mins) - $100
For a single person, my typical corporate headshot session is 30 minutes of shooting for $100. Group shoots (multiple employees, for example), are typically based on a per-person fee, depending on the total number of people, and the number of distinct set-ups.
As with all other types of sessions, after our shoot, I cull out all unacceptable shots (blurry eyes, awkward facial expressions, blinks, etc…), and then do basic levels/color/contrast work on ALL remaining shots. I then upload them all to an unlisted gallery where you can mark (and unmark) your favorites, and narrow down your options in a nice orderly fashion. I then do advanced retouching on your final choice and prepare it in both color and black and white, and give you access to all full-resolution files. (The B&W version is processed slightly differently than the color headshot. – e.g. You’ll be featured in a directory of Key Note Speakers for a convention program, and they need a corporate headshot. Ask if it will be printed in color or B&W. Submitting the right version will help to ensure that your shot will pop on the page.)
Environmental or Pro-Studio Shot? What’s the image you want to convey?
The choice here is up to you. Most professionals have an idea of what they’re after, but unless there’s some established look you know you need to match, don’t rule out the possibility of an environmental shot. We can either shoot in front of a solid background, for a very straightforward pro-studio corporate headshot look, or we could shoot at the location of your choice, and add a hint of your environment – your role. Are you a Lawyer? A studio shot would work, or perhaps a shot of you in the lobby of the Courthouse, with a case file under your arm would be even better…. the shelves of your law library, trailing off into background blur behind you. Are you a powerful king of industry with a corner office and a dynamite view of the skyline? Don’t be afraid to use that. Think about the image you want to present, and let’s find a way to make that happen.
The key difference between an actor headshot and a corporate headshot is that an actor doesn’t know what role they’ll be auditioning for, so it needs to convey a lot of possible personality types. A corporate professional has already been cast in their role. Your corporate headshot could be a standard portrait, or it could be specific enough to leave no doubt exactly who you are, and what you do, on first glance.
Modeling Portfolio Photography
So, you want to be a commercial model, but haven’t landed any gigs yet, so you don’t have a portfolio. How do you build a portfolio, if you can’t get the gigs? You can’t get the gigs because you don’t have a portfolio… It’s a chicken-or-the-egg sort of dilemma. We can fix that.
First, you need to have an idea of what sort of modeling you want to pursue, and we work together to find ways to emulate that style – to show prospective clients that gig is right up your alley.
Session fees for Fashion / Lifestyle shoots vary widely, depending on what you’re hoping to accomplish, and how many set-ups are involved. If you’re looking for a “ballpark figure”, around $150 per set-up is a good starting point. If it’s exceptionally simple, and only would require about a half-hour of shooting, including set-up – it could be less. If it’s obviously a very complicated shoot that we’re trying to tackle, it could be more.
Bottom line, you need to decide what kind of shots you want for your portfolio, and we will both need to put some planning and forethought into it. Unlike an actor headshot, we can’t just pick a time and say “OK, let’s do a lifestyle shoot”. Well… I suppose we could, but you would not get what you deserve, and I’d be doing you a disservice. The best portfolio shots are shots that look like you’ve already been hired for real gigs, not shots that look like you paid some photographer to follow you around the West Bottoms, and take pretty pictures of you.
This doesn’t really need much explanation. Dramatic, evocative, highly styled… Sexy. Sometimes in a studio setting, sometimes at a location. Let me know what you’re hoping to accomplish, and we’ll find a way to make it happen. I highly recommend having a stylist on-site. If you have one in mind, great – if not, I could make recommendations.
Perhaps the agency you’ve signed with, has asked you to get them some “Lifestyle shots”, so they can submit you for jobs.
One of my most frequently asked questions: What the heck is “Lifestyle” photography? Contrary to what some people think, it’s not just a headshot showing at least 3/4 of your body. You see lifestyle photography all the time, in magazines, on billboards, brochures, and on the internet. By definition, lifestyle photography is what it sounds like – an image that depicts a moment or scenario from “real life”, and it conveys a certain feeling, mood or situation. For the purposes of a commercial modeling portfolio, however, “real life” can’t be taken too literally. It obviously can’t just be a snapshot from your smartphone. Good lifestyle photography is very well executed, and the people in them are typically attractive, or at least better-than-average looking people (or, in some cases, styled or dressed like a distinct type of character, e.g. the slightly nerdy guy in an office setting). Different from fashion photography, lifestyle shots are usually not in a studio setting – they’re in a real-world setting, and the model is typically not looking at the camera or ”posing”.
Lifestyle shoots are all about scenarios. Think of advertising scenarios in which you think you might be a good fit. Look at your wardrobe, and what sort of clothing options you could use to fit into that scenario, and/or buy outfits specifically for that scenario. Think you’d look be a convincing businesswoman? Get a power suit. Would you be convincing as a better-than-average looking nurse for a hospital ad? Order some scrubs on Ebay. Spend time looking at print ads in magazines or even stock photography catalogs for inspiration.
Then, when you feel like you have an idea of what you want to accomplish, let me know, and we’ll knock it out.
Family Photography, Events, Groups & Senior Portraits
Have a graduating senior, and want to get epic portraits that truly capture their personality? Looking for a Christmas card photo that’ll knock your friends’ socks off? Perhaps you want to get a collage of images for a wall in your home, or even just looking for some dynamite shots to post on Facebook and make everyone ooh-and-ahh. Planning a corporate event, or an epic birthday party, and want professional photos to document the occasion?
- Extended Session: My typical extended session is 2 hours of shooting, at the location(s) of your choice, for $300. (For longer sessions, let me know and we’ll work it out).
- Mini Session: If you’re just looking for one well-staged portrait (e.g. a Christmas Card photo), I also offer a half-hour session for $100
- Hourly Events: Need shots of a corporate or family event? $175/hour
After any of the above sessions, I cull out the gems and do basic post processing on all your shots to make them look their best. This is a bit more time intensive for Event shooting, because unlike a studio session, almost every shot can be a unique setup with changing light and colors. I then upload them all to a private online gallery where you can either download full resolution files, to use/print as you desire, or you can order prints directly through the gallery itself.
For family/senior portrait sessions, I typically recommend shooting outdoors, in a scenic natural setting. For senior portraits, we’ll talk ahead of time and figure out what your grad’s interests are, to find the right locale to match their personality. Magic hour (around sunset) is usually the perfect time of day to get stunning shots of you and the ones you love.
Theatrical Promo and Production Photography
Another specialty of mine is theatrical photography. I’ve been shooting live theatre for years, and have it down to a science.
I typically shoot full runs, strapped with 2 camera bodies (one for wide shots and one for tighter telephoto close-up shots). I shoot with top notch wide aperture lenses designed for low light performance. I move fast, sweat like crazy, and get great shots. Some photographers will tell you it’s impossible to get good shots during an actual run of a show. They’re just doing it wrong.
- Full Run Shoot: $300 – Duration of Show. My most frequently requested type of shoot, ideally done during a final dress rehearsal (after all tech elements are in place). I shoot the entire run of the show, getting a good mixture of wide and close-up shots.
- Staged Photo Call: $200 - One Hour. If you can’t have a photographer present during a dress rehearsal, a staged photo call is the next best thing.
- Pre-Production Promo Shoot: $150 - 30-45 Minutes. Imagery for a poster or other promotional purposes.
- Rehearsal Shots: $100 - 30 Minutes.
For all of the above, after the shoot, I cull out the gems and do levels / color / contrast processing on all the keepers. I then upload them all to an online gallery, and/or when necessary, prepare ZIP files for bulk download. Full run shoots typically result in 2x – 3x the number of final keeper images, over staged photo calls.
Pre-Production photo shoots also include advanced retouching on one final image of your choice. I can also do print layout design for your intended output (e.g. a poster) for an additional $50.
I have shot for Kansas City Actors Theatre, The Kansas City Rep, UMKC Theatre, JCCC Theatre, and many others…