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.

1 comment:

  1. Great article!

    I've also written an article detailing the differences between commercial vs theatrical headshots, with some photo examples: