Headshots – How to Look into the Lens

Here in my studio in Vancouver, every time I begin a photoshoot with an actor, I sit him/her down and teach him/her about how to look into the lens.  Unless you are auditioning/working in a type of commercial where the whole point is to look into the lens, you are in fact trained to NEVER spike the camera!  So, in a photoshoot for your headshots, it is now your job to drop everything you have been taught, without moving or speaking, and stare directly into that soulless lens that just seems like it is judging everything you do while it can see right through you.  Okay, maybe I am going a little bit over the top here, but we all know how uncomfortable it can be to have your photo taken.

So many of my clients talk to me about how “pretty” or “attractive” they look in their current headshot, but then saying “it just doesn’t look like me!”  There is a fundamental problem with a headshot that does not look like you!  The major problem that just about any of you have with getting your photo taken, is self awareness.  When the photographer raises that camera to his/her face and you are told to look directly into it, all of a sudden you are aware of muscles in your face that you did not even know you had.  Your mouth starts to cringe, your right eyebrow stars to raise even though you never do that, and your cheeks start vibrating.  Yes, this has happened to me and I have seen it happen.  So how do we fix this so we can get past this and focus on getting photos of you that are filled with your character and tell your truth?

1.  Look into the lens like you are looking into someones eyes.  People often go blank in the eyes like a deer in headlights when a camera comes up.  Don’t.  Look with focus and engagement as though you are looking into someones eyes.  One of the major problems with so many headshots is that they are simply “pictures of faces.”  Who is going to look at your headshot?  Casting directors, directors, and producers, just to name a few. A great portrait is one of which where the viewer feels as though he/she is being looked at; it makes that director feel as though you are looking at him/her.  This can only be a good thing, as all of a sudden, they feel connected to you.  In my photoshoots I am constantly bringing my camera down so the actor can connect with me so it feels true when I bring the camera back up and press the shutter.

2.  The camera is not looking at you; you are looking into it.  I’m not sure if I’ve coined this phrase, but I certainly say it everyday.  If you are so bloody focused on actually looking into the lens, you won’t be worried about what kind of facial expression you are making.  If I need you to make a facial expression or have a moment of truth happen, I’ll just speak with you.  Our relationship is important, and truth will happen because of it.  Hell, I often hold the camera up for minutes without pressing the shutter to force the actor to stop from feeling looked at, and just feel comfortable looking into it.

3. Move into the lens.  This is more or less an exercise.  Some photographers call it “look away, come back,” but I like to use it as an opportunity to change the language and relate this to what you actually do for a living.  You move in a scene, you should move in a photoshoot.  If you are looking away and quickly move into the lens, that motion will often force you to forget about over thinking what you are doing.  I am just skimming the surface on movement with this and I will talk about it in my next blog.  It is directly tied to using it with Objective and Story, but since this blog is about teaching you how to look into the lens (and this is a way of allowing you to just “look” and not think), I figured I would touch on it a tad.

4. Do nothing.  There, I said it.  I have mentioned this before and I cannot stress it enough.  Actors have this classic habit of trying way too hard and bringing their work into the room with them.  You know you’ve done it; I have! Let’s find the truth and then throw it away.  Once we have it, just look into the lens and stop feeling as though you need to show me what you are thinking or feeling.  As said in number two, if I need something to happen, allow me to do it for you; if you are open and have a sense of play, it will happen.  Half way through a shoot when we are really in the zone, I always ask actors what they are doing and 9.9 times out of 10 times they say, “nothing!”

The quality of your truth, emotion, character, and story will all happen from the work we put in during our photoshoot.  Once the work is done, all you have to do is throw it away and trust that the truth of how you think and feel will come through to the other side of the camera; this is no different than working a scene.  If you can go into a photoshoot feeling comfortable just looking into a lens, half the battle is won and we can focus on the good stuff. Trust is important; just remember: I am here to help you succeed and I refuse to fail.

Here is a perfect example of Justin Rain looking directly into the lens with focus and doing nothing:

Justin Rain Actor Headshots

To book your headshot photoshoot, send me an email to mail@brandon-hart.com for more info!

Stay tuned for my next blog, The Three Big Things: Story, Objective, and Relationship

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