Thursday, April 26, 2012

Lessons in headshots... and rants. Mostly rants.

In my quest to dabble in every type of photography; to understand different aspects of and approaches to lighting and composition, I am now engaged in headshot photography. Why? Good question. Our film industry in Vancouver is wilting and heading to Toronto, we are in a recession, and broke actors are not about to shell out for an unproven photog. So I'll put together a portfolio, on the cheap. If I get good, the money will follow.

I quickly encountered my pet peeve: flaky people. I setup a doozy of a shoot with 4 men and 4 women in one day. The goal, to develop a consistent and effective portfolio. One of my early influences being Peter Hurley. I think he gets it. The highest paid headshot photographers in Van generally have dreamy, over-makeuped, over photoshopped images. A casting agent wants to know what you as an actor will look like walking into their audition, not what they will look like in a scene from The Chronicles of Narnia or Lord of the Rings. In my opinion it should be naked, just the talent, their expression, and the camera. All other peripherals are erroneous. We are interested in the person, the mind behind the eyes. The film production team will then imagine them in the role they have, we don't need to impose a role on them.

Oh yeah... flaky people. I had a hair and makeup artist was stoked to work on the project and to have it for her portfolio. Until she got offered money for another shoot. So she pulled out and 9 people had to re-arrange their lives so she could make $100. While bitching, my girlfriend said: "fair enough" and I was inclined to agree, but it irked the professional in me. There are a million photographers just like me out there and there are a million models, hair stylists, and makeup artists out there. None of us are making any money. So how do we set ourselves apart? By being absolutely indispensable to the people who may hire us, regardless of the compensation. Because a career is bigger than any one shoot or any one relationship. It is a professional persona, separate from your personal self, that exists in a very small and fickle community. We must be technically impeachable, passionate, personable, available, hard working, and most of all reliable. I would not hire someone for $200 a day if I knew there was a chance that she will pull out last minute because she was offered $250 the same day elsewhere. Nor would I ever work again with someone who has shown they will put their own meagre personal gain ahead of an entire creative team working towards a purpose. To be fair this rant comes at the end of a laundry list of models etc. who have pulled the same shit. Such is life before you get off the ground and separate yourself from the overnight industry participants who will be gone tomorrow. The irony is that I later realized she flaked to work on a promo shoot for two good musician friends of mine. I had to laugh.

So I had no shoot for the women but I was going to shoot the guys and make the best of it. Then the day I was going to email and schedule the guys I cut my arm open very badly while demolishing a tile shower and had to get stitches. I was released just in time to head to my music gig that night.

Now for every 25th flaky person, there is one person who really gets it and is a complete joy to work with. There are two people I will count among them thus far. The first is Rhi Yee who also has another port HERE. She has pulled double duty for me before as both a model and hair stylist, and she's a sea of calm in the frenzy of a shoot. The second is Joshua Genkai. He was on me to shoot a headshot and  was the one person who followed through on being available for the shoot and showed up as planned. He's a young soccer player from France of congolese parents who is now modelling and acting. He works great in front of the camera and took direction perfectly.

I wanted to rim light him, and have a large soft box as a main light and have a dedicated background light. The rim light was both for dimension and to accentuate his great symmetry. Alas, I have but 3 lights. So I moved the rim lights back closer to the background and there was a bit of spill onto Joshua which provided a softer, more pleasing rim. The main light was at 45 degrees over his head, straight in front and a reflector sat at his waist on a stool. I wanted more light under his chin but we always want what we can't have. I also wanted 10ft high ceilings for my boom stand but I was in my apartment's living room.

Here is the first shot I've retouched from the shoot.