Many headshot photographers at some point during their career have been actors or performers. I guess it’s a natural step for some. Many of my actor friends try to keep their ‘money’ job within the performing world, like photography, showreel filming and editing etc. I trained at Mountview and currently still perform in theatre and TV. So I, like you also need headshots.

Most of my clients tend to ask, ‘Where do you get your headshots taken?’ and ‘Do you take them yourself?’

Well, the reason for writing this blog is because I have recently had to have my own headshots updated. I didn’t do them myself. I just don’t think it works out well taking and editing your own headshot. I tried. I over edited. I looked perfect. Too perfect. Not what I look like day to day at all. In my opinion it takes two people to create a headshot, a photographer and an actor. You really need someone that is impartial to how ‘pretty’ you want to look. How many times have you picked the headshot that makes you look the most beautiful, sexy, attractive? I’m like anyone else I want to look the best I can, but sometimes that doesn’t work for your casting. It certainly doesn’t for mine. I also think it is vitally important that the photographer and actor understand each other, and create a rapport. Headshot photography is an art and as an artist we need to feel inspired therefore, without each other, neither the actor nor the photographer can thrive.

So who do I use to update my headshots?

Well, I graduated from drama school 8 years ago. Feels like yesterday. Since then I have had my headshots updated 6 times. For someone who hates their photo being taken I sure have spent a lot of money and time getting them done! Some will say that 6 sessions in 8 years is too many, surely I haven’t changed that much. There are a lot of reasons why you would want your headshots updating. New haircut. New image. New agent requests new shots. Wanting to keep things fresh. I don’t think I have changed that much until recently, but I am a go getter, someone that doesn’t stand still and someone that continually tries new ideas.

Even the progression of the headshots I take is evident. I continually update my website and my facebook page with new shots that I have taken. I recently went to visit The MTA School in Seven Sisters. I am their resident photographer and photograph all the student headshots as they head into their final year at college. Every student has their headshot up on the wall and you only need to look at them to realise how much my photography has changed. I cringe a little looking at the first ones… We have all got to start somewhere, right? The cameras I bought got better, my skill increased, my back drops changed, my lighting improved, my editing softened all this progression culminated in my headshots looking better and achieving better results. It’s the same with actors as we evolve, getting better at our art, you can see it in our headshots. I think it’s pretty easy to look at headshots and see who is starting out and who is a pro and that’s not down to age.

So without naming names let’s talk about my own headshots…

Headshot 1 – Although not my first ever headshot, it was the one I had taken whilst at Mountview. The one to sell me to agents. We were advised to pick our own photographer but to pay special attention to two photographers that Mountview suggested. Who was I to argue? I didn’t even look at any other photographers. My tutor told us to look at these two, so I did. First mistake. I picked the cheapest out of the two, even though I preferred the photo of the other photographer. Second mistake. Although, we were told to not worry too much as the chances are if/when we signed with an agent they would probably recommend someone and ask us to change our photos. Some agents like all their clients to use the same photographer, it makes their website look neat. I think that can take away some of your individuality. My headshots cost £90. Pretty Cheap. The session took an hour. She was nice. She wasn’t chatty, just quick and to the point. They were not bad, not good either but they did the trick.

Headshots 2 – Mountview was correct. My first agent asked me to change my headshots. They made me look older than I was. They recommended a photographer that I had heard of. He was pretty well known for taking photos of celebrities. His actor’s headshots were gritty, real and to the point. The cost of £200+ was a bit of a shock but, my agent told me I needed them. So I needed them. I arrived at the photographers East London flat. He was in the midst of an argument with his partner. I instantly felt uncomfortable. He took me outside and shot my headshots in a dark brick alley. I liked how edgy it was. Click, click, click. 20 minutes later we were done. I hadn’t even had time to change my top. I am British, so I didn’t say anything, just thanks and off I went back home. The headshots arrived for me to view. I hated them. My agent pretended to like them. I picked the ones I wanted edited. Nearly 3 weeks later I received them. When I send final edits it’s normally within 48 hours. I think anything over a week takes the pi** a bit. I looked at them… not edited. I emailed the photographer. No reply. I then edited them myself. Everyone needs that little bit of editing. Stray hairs, skin blemishes, dark patches. Very few of us walk around with the glistening eyes you see in a headshot. Long story short, I still hated them. 6 months went by and I decided it was my fault, I am not photogenic. I will find a photographer that will make me look amazing.

Headshots 3 – At approx. £500 this was my most expensive headshot session, this does include extra edited photos and travel to outside London. Another celebrity photographer. This time a studio photographer. High end equipment a make-up artist and a long session to get the best results. I had lost weight so was feeling good. The headshots I picked didn’t disappoint. I looked stunning. I looked 6ft. I am 5 foot 8. My skin glowed. My eyes pinged. The headshot reeked of success. My agent loved them. I got auditions for everything. Who wouldn’t want this good looking guy in their ad, show, TV programme? EVERYONE. Why? My feedback started to pour in. Great actor. Great singer. Nice guy. Doesn’t look like his headshot. ‘Shorter than I thought’ I ignored it, my height is on my CV, What’s the first thing casting directors see? The headshot. I looked tall enough, when in real life I appeared a lot shorter. But I was happy, I looked great in my headshots. After just a year my then agent asked me to get them updated to something more realistic.

Headshots 4 – I went back to the same photographer. I had told myself that this photographer was the only person to take a decent photo of me. By this time the photographer had moved into London, so I saved a bit more money on this session plus I wasn’t going with the make-up option as I told myself this was the problem with the last session. Again I was happy with the results. Still glossy, still pretty but a little more realistic. These had the desired effect at first and I wasn’t getting feedback saying I’m different in person to my headshot. Then I started to hear a rumour amongst friends that casting directors were not a fan of these headshots because they were too glossy… AGAIN. Time for another change.

Headshots 5 – Why? I don’t know. But I went back to the same photographer with a brief of something more gritty. Could we use natural light this time? The photographer agreed so I said goodbye to another £450. I loved the photos yet again, I looked great and because of the natural l
ight and less editing they were more realistic. Finally, I had found the headshots I had been searching for! I used these for three years and it wasn’t until my current agent said it was time to update again. The reason this time was that castings were beginning to slow down as I was getting to an odd age. 35 but I look younger. My agent encouraged me to again go for something gritty, it suits me and my casting. But this time try to look more my age.

HLeejay Townsend - headshotseadshots 6 – I have been sporting a beard recently and decided I would keep it for a while as I quite like it on me. This would help with ageing me a little. This time I researched and researched to find the perfect photographer. Something natural, something realistic. My friend had also used this photographer recently and I decided to give it a go. I loved the shots and the price was cheap! So after extra edits these ones cost less than £100. Bargain. Studio lighting, not natural lighting, yet the pictures look like natural lighting. Testament to a good photographer! The pictures are fine. The cost was great. The time in the studio was short. My agent loves them. Why? Because they look like me. I’m not so sure but willing to give them a go.

So what do you look for when choosing a headshot photographer in and around London?

Price – Headshots range from as little as £50 to as much as £500 – In my experience price didn’t affect the quality of the photos. All photographers used high end equipment. I charge £180 full price.

Location – The less you have to travel the more you save. I have travelled far and wide, and location hasn’t really made a difference in the headshot but it has made a difference to how much I spent. I am based in London, Zone 3.

Studio or natural lighting – Some photographers offer one or the other. Some offer both. I offer both, it gives you the best choice in the end.

Recommendation – Agents, CD’s, drama schools all recommend certain photographers. But do you honestly think that photographer would work for you?

If you have learnt one lesson from this article, hopefully, you will have learnt that headshots should look like you, you as you look at auditions, you on your best day.

Have a great start to the year and check out my current special offer of £120 for a full studio and natural light session.

Leejay