Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Vertical vs. Horizontal

Descano Photography
Descano Photography

Vertical styled headshots or horizontal styled headshots? Also know as portrait or landscape, these are two examples of both. Both achieve different results, let me explain.
The headshot to the right of this paragraph is an example of the classic headshot, where the subject's head is positioned at the top or middle of the frame. Any casting director from the late 90's to now will tell you this is a classic format.
The headshot to the left of this paragraph is an example of a "fairly" recent style of headshot known as landscape or just "horizontally shot". The subject is positioned to either side of the frame, slightly off center. As early as 2003, there was a growing trend for actors to get their headshots taken this way, mainly to stand out from the crowd. These headshots also provide actors the opportunity to come across a bit more "situational" in their photos, because from this perspective you can see more of the background and environment in which the actor is in. This can be a double edged sword. If you are submitting to Law and Order: LA but have your horizontal headshot taken next to a white picket fence, as opposed to a metal fence, that may not be the best "situational" place to put yourself in. Another example, you are submitting for a role of a wall street banker, but you submit a photo of yourself in a hooded sweatshirt next to a swing set, or you're wearing a flannel shirt sitting in a pumpkin patch, these are both good examples of how a "situational" headshot can go against you. Use your head, know your type, submit accordingly. Both styles of headshots are fine, and relevant. Just know what style you want before you start shooting with a headshot photographer. To see some great examples of both styles of headshots, visit to see how a professional headshot photographer can get you shots like this.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Indoor vs. Outdoor

Descano Photography
Descano Photography
This is a good one. A common question that I am asked everyday, "should we shoot indoors or out?" The answer to this question isn't as straightforward as you would think. The reason for that is because it truly depends on what look you are trying to capture. Indoor headshots almost always need artificial lighting unless the studio you are shooting in has an abundant amount of light coming in through the windows. Artificial lighting can be great for your headshots if the photographer you are shooting with knows how to REALLY use them. Unfortunately, I come across so many indoor headshots that look awful. Why, because there are so many photographers out there who don't know how to use the tools they buy properly. Great indoor studio shots should come across as more intimate, not blown out by over-lighting the subject. Less is more here. Indoor shots are also better if you want to convey a more neutral environment, such as white or dark backdrops.
Although I love my studio, if I had a choice I would shoot outside all the time for several reasons. The first being the use of real light. Natural lighting brings the skin tone out more evenly in my opinion. This results in a cleaner shot. There is nothing more natural than sunlight, however the way you manipulate it is another thing. Never shoot in direct sunlight. Try to shoot in the morning or late afternoon, when the sun is coming from the side and not from above. Having an assistant is key. Redirecting sunlight or spill light with a bounce board or reflector can add some nice secondary highlights. This can be difficult without some help. If your able to bring a strobe outside with you, even better. Then you can manipulate sunlight and artificial light to get maximum effect. The second advantage of shooting outdoors is that your free to find the best location for your client's needs. If they want a headshot with a city skyline behind them, well, I think you get the point. This can also be useful for clients who want their headshot to be slightly more metropolitan looking, they might also be models and want to use the shot for their book or portfolio. Simply, outside leads to more options, and options are good. Check out for some great examples of indoor and outdoor headshots.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Commercial vs. Theatrical

Descano Photography
Commercial headshots and theatrical headshots, whats the difference? It's actually pretty simple. Some people might tell you a commercial headshot is a photo where the person is smiling. Another person will tell you that a theatrical headshot is a photo where the subject looks serious. There is truth and fallacy in both of these statements, and ultimately it really depends on the individual shot. Let me explain.

Having your photo taken 200 times in 1 hour is not a natural, everyday occurrence. Similar to auditioning, it can for some people be an uncomfortable situation. Actors like myself have spent years of training to help alleviate the expected anxiety, increased heart rate, and general fidgety state of being that comes with being instantly judged by a group of strangers. You inevitably reach a point, if your lucky, where you just don't care anymore, in a positive way that is. However, unlike auditioning, there is no school or conservatory to teach someone how to be relaxed and be themselves while a photographer fires away shot after shot of them. This is why it is vital to shoot with a photographer who knows exactly how to get the best out of you. It is the responsibility of the photographer to capture you in a way that provides you with theatrical and commercial headshots.

A commercial headshot is a photo used to market you in the commercial market, whether it be for print work or actual commercials. Typically these photos frame the subject smiling, and create a sense of friendliness. Personally I have a rule when shooting my clients for commercial headshots: I have to see their teeth when they smile. If I can't see their teeth when they smile, then it's a wasted shot. The reason it's a wasted shot is because when someone smiles and doesn't show their teeth, the viewer wonders why. This creates questions, which in turn creates doubt. Doubt is the last thing you want to have a casting director have in their head about you. Does this person have braces? Does this person have crooked teeth? Does this person have any teeth? If the answer to these questions is yes, that's OK, but they need to know that because the client that hired them to filter out 90 actors out of 100 will want to know before the recall audition. Clients don't like surprises, especially when they pay casting directors big bucks to do it for them. So always smile with you teeth showing no matter what, it will save you time and money.

A theatrical headshot is a photo used to market you in the theatrical market whether it be for TV, film, or theatre. Typically these photos frame the subject not smiling, and primarily focus on the overall serious demeanor of the subject. This does not mean you should come across as angry. There is a big difference between angry, and determined. I like to use the word determined because usually when people think theatrical, they think opposite of commercial, which is totally inaccurate. I like my clients to always give me strong eyes when I'm shooting their theatrical headshots. When the eyes are the focus of the shot, everything else just falls in place, and sometimes everything else just disappears. If you have a theatrical headshot where someone just stares at it, that's usually a good sign. 9/10 they are focused on your eyes and still can't figure out why they like your photo so much. It's the eyes. I always instruct my clients to lower their chins, "chin down" is a common quote i say when shooting. Not because I'm concerned about their chins, but because I want to focus on their eyes. If you go to, and look in my headshot section of my portfolio, you will see that all of my clients theatrical headshots have their eyes as the focal point. Period.

Friday, February 25, 2011

What makes a good headshot?

Descano Photography
 They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so rather than talk about what makes a good headshot, lets focus on what makes a bad headshot.

The goal of your headshot, beyond anything else is to make you more marketable, period. Headshots are not meant to adorn your living room or mantle, they're meant to get you more work in the entertainment industry. If your headshot doesn't do that, it fails.
So rule #1, if it doesn't market you well, it's a bad headshot.

Another trait of a bad headshot is if the shot is confusing. If an agent or casting director has to wonder if the person is smiling or not, its confusing. When its confusing it sends mixed signals. Mixed signals are not interesting, they breed uncertainty. And uncertainty is something that casting directors are never comfortable with. So rule #2, if it's confusing, it's a bad headshot.

If your headshot is black and white, and makes you look like a realtor from the 80's, it's a bad headshot. Face it, headshots these days are taken in color. Yes, I am aware that in certain parts of the world, London for example, headshots are still done in black and white. However this blog is called " The American Headshot ", and that's what we will be focusing on. Black and white used to be the norm in the 80's and 90's, not anymore. NYC was the last stronghold for black and whites, but once LA switched the industry standard to color, NYC soon followed.
Your headshot should be full of character, like a reflection of yourself. It's possible you might be sabotaging yourself if your headshot is "basic". A basic headshot is one that probably cost $50 and was done at Sears in front of a white backdrop. Basic headshots are boring headshots, and boring headshots are not memorable. The goal is to have one that makes you stand out from the crowd, not blend in. Unfortunately, there are only a few photos in a pile stacked in front of a casting director that he or she will remember. It is crucial yours is one of them. When you spend the money to invest in great photos it shows. It makes you look more professional, and it exemplifies that you have a vested interest in your career, and you'd rather not take the cheap way out. Generally speaking, if you got it done at the mall, it's probably gonna look that way. The old saying, "you get what you pay for " usually rings true for headshots. So rule #3, if it's black and white, it's outdated. Therefore it's a bad headshot.

More to come......

Monday, February 21, 2011

Choosing a Photographer

Descano Photography

Choosing a Photographer

Selecting a local photographer to shoot you can be a somewhat difficult choice if you don’t know what to look for. This can be especially difficult if this is your first time doing a photo shoot. Fortunately there are certain guidelines that you can follow so that you make the best choice for you.

Look at their photos

Seems like an obvious step right? For some it is, but a lot of people don’t take the time to investigate the full body of work that a photographer has on their website. Do the photos look current? Are the photos relevant to what you’re looking for in your shoot? You should be able to tell within a few minutes whether a photographer has the types of photos you want for yourself.  Dig deep though. Look at their portfolio to make sure that they are skilled in a variety of areas in case you need multiple looks for yourself. Do the photos have character that bring the subject to life? Not all photographers take the same pictures, so do your homework.

Can the photographer adjust to my needs?

Whether you want to be shot outside, inside, in a studio, in your home, during the day or night, or any other scenario that you may request, is the photographer willing to give you what you want, while also offering their professional opinion to get the best shots possible? The photographer should have the capabilities, whether it be equipment or schedule flexibility, to work with you.

Talk to them

Yes, pick up the phone and call them for five minutes. Ask them questions. Talk to them about their experience and what you’re looking to gain from your photos. Will this photographer be able to make me feel comfortable in front of the camera and get the most out of me? Will this photographer be able to help me get my foot in the door at talent agencies? You might be an aspiring actor or model, you might be someone looking for corporate headshots, or you might just want some photos of your children. Either way, gauge their experience and determine how they can help you get what you want.