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How to Take Professional Headshots – Yourself!

There's more to a professional head shot than just a camera.

There's more to a professional head shot than just a camera.

As a professional NYC headshot photographer, I like to pay attention to how actors find my website (through Google searches, from other sites like Reproductions, Facebook, etc.) . Recently, I saw a visitor (presumably an actor or actress) who reached my site through a search that I thought I could address:

  • “how to take professional headshots yourself”

What You Will Need to Take Your Own Headshot

On the surface, this seems like it could be a good idea– I’m a New York actor, in need of a new head shot, and I’m looking to save a few dollars. So, why not figure out how to take my own professional headshots?

First, you’re going to need equipment. In the headshot studio where I shoot, that includes:

  • Camera (Nikon D700)
  • Lenses (70-200mm f2.8 zoom)
  • Tripod (Manfrotto 804RC2)
  • Bounce boards (6ft x 4ft foam core)
  • Light stands (12ft extensions)
  • Flashes (Nikon SB-900)
  • Wireless flash controllers (Pocket Wizard)
  • CF cards (memory for the camera)
  • Computer (Mac running Photoshop CS4)
  • Monitor (capable of hi-resolution, color accurate output)
  • Color calibration hardware (Spyder2 Pro)
  • …and various other secondary devices

Second, if you’re an actress, you’re going to need a makeup artist. I only use makeup artists who work in the industry, as either strictly photography and actor headshot based makeup artists, or who work in entertainment (Broadway, Television, Film, etc).

Third, you will need a place to shoot. Since I shoot natural light headshots, that means a studio space with large windows (eight foot window banks are great, but smaller windows will work if your camera can shoot in low-light). You can always shoot outside, but I already have an opinion on why outdoor headshots are not necessarily the best idea.

Fourth, you will need experience. This requirement is actually the most important.

Why Equipment Doesn’t Make a Great Headshot

There is definitely a difference between a consumer grade camera like a Sony or Canon point and shoot and a Nikon Pro level DSLR, but the thing that makes a photographer a professional is not his or her gear–it’s the experience and knowledge he or she has accumulated, and how that knowledge is applied. Gear only comes into play once all other things are equal (that’s a subject for another post).

When an actor submits a headshot for an audition, or to find an agent, that head shot will be sitting next to head shots taken by some of the best headshot photographers in New York, LA, and even the world. In order for your headshot to be considered, in order for your shot to stay out of the trashcan, it must be just as high quality, and just as stunning as the headshots next to it.

Assuming you can afford to go out and buy the necessary equipment to take your own headshots (and even the least expensive options are going to quickly add up to thousands of dollars), you still will not have the most important, most valuable asset necessary for taking a professional NYC headshot–a history of producing quality photos for actors.

Not to be discouraging!

If you are interested in photography, already own the equipment, or just think the experience might be fun, you should absolutely take your own headshot. This is actually quite a good way to learn what your good angles are, how to relax in front of the camera, how your smile looks to others, etc. But don’t plan on using the results for professional purposes.

Are You Looking for Cheap Headshots?

When I have talked to other actors about taking their own headshots, it usually isn’t because they want to learn how to shoot headshots, or because they are interested in photography– it’s because they are looking to save money. It’s a simple fact that headshots–especially high-quality, stunning head shots–can be expensive. But most photographers (including me) have packages designed for budget conscious actors, beginners, and students. Most of our services are geared towards working professionals, but most actors do not become pro’s overnight, and we are sensitive to those needs. One of the things I talk about when picking a headshot photographer is that you shouldn’t make your decision based on cost. If you love a particular photographer’s work, open a dialogue about what you can afford and what you can’t– you might be surprised to find some flexibility on pricing, or packages.


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