I received the following message from a follower on my Facebook business page:
So first things first: I need to preface this post by saying that I have zero problems with the person who sent me the message and I actually appreciate it. In addition, because he mentions Tony Northrup and his YouTube video on the subject, I need to make it clear that I have nothing against Tony's opinions or expertise on the subject. I think he's a very knowledgeable photographer and have a lot of respect for him. I will say that at the 10:31 mark in the video, is where the video gets interesting and in my opinion, relatively absurd based on the example he gives. But again, It's all just my take on the data and very technical stuff regarding the subject.
OKAY...all of that out of the way...
The Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VRII has a focus breathing issue and at the long end is not truly 200mm. Here's a link to one of the many blogs/forums that discuss this if you are not sure what I'm talking about: FOCUS BREATHING.
That said, the Nikon 70-200VRII has been my workhorse lens and the ONLY lens I've ever shot my headshots with! It is literally the lens I've used from day one of shooting headshots and I have built my entire headshot business, brand with it. So whatever I'm doing, however I'm doing it and with whatever gear I've been using...it's been working in my favor and hasn't hampered my images or progress in the least. I have yet to have an issue with the "true focal length" and my headshots haven't suffered as far as I can tell. (if however someone wants to analyze my work and describe to me in details the issues with facial features and distortion and such, by all means please feel free.) . Whatever that TRUE length may be and whatever is going on technically has never been a factor to me. I set my lens to the maximum focal distance or....shall I say...I zoom the damn thing all the way out and I shoot. It varies sometimes - 200mm, 185 etc. as I zoom in and out some while shooting and I move back and forth changing the distance between subject and myself. (see image below) . So imagine, if I were starting out and came across Tony's video prior to purchasing my lens/camera set up. I may have thought "WHOA, according to this video, there's no way a headshot photographer could use that Nikon lens" and I'd NEED to go with Canon. Judging the way he is talking, it would seem that a bulk of his photography work is headshots/portraits. ? Now, I checked his website which is GREAT, however, not a single headshot on there. I'm not saying that he doesn't shoot headshots ever. I'm saying he's NOT a headshot photographer by profession in the least. The video and that particular segment seems to suggest that you'd be screwed as a headshot/portrait photographer if you used the Nikon. I am here to say once again...the lens has been the workhorse of my brand and has served me well and I AM a full time headshot photographer.
Now the real crux of this post has to do with getting caught up in the technical. To reiterate once again....the math, the science the data relative to this discussion, this lens.....is probably all correct. I get it. The person who sent the message informing me that I was misleading any of the people I teach/guide...is technically correct and perhaps I've been responsible for ruining a few people's photography work based on the incorrect data I've provided them. (Apologies!)
Here's the thing - I SUCK at math! I suck at all the little technical details of photography. Ask me about the inverse square law and I kind of know it instinctively but probably couldn't describe it to you technically very well. I don't know every detail about a camera sensor. I don't know every detail about a lens and it's elements. I don't get caught up in DXO ratings and all of that. Call me a professional fraud. I just know how to shoot! I know what I need to get the job done and that's it. That's not to say that I don't understand the basics and fundamentals, I just don't get caught up in all of the deep, deep technical stuff and analysis of things. I know what works, what looks right, what should be and I know enough to have a career. I've had conversations with "photographers" who can tell you EVERYTHING about EVERYTHING photography related in such detail you'd think they were the head of Nikon and part of the development/engineering/design team of Profoto!! YET....they don't shoot at all and/or...when they do....they're not even any good at it.
Getting back to FOCUS BREATHING...when I was looking into all of this I came across a bunch of discussions and debates on the subject, specifically for the Nikon's 70-200vrII. The following, from Bob Atkins seemed to sum up my own thoughts:
So in conclusion, because it's not something that's ever been pointed out to me and because it's not something I obsessed over when first getting my lens, I haven't even noticed! I agree that there most definitely is a lot to pay attention to when it comes to gear and photography. There are things that matter and it's important to have some understanding of the technical aspects of the craft. But please, know when to get beyond the technical and to not let it influence you too much. And more important, learn how to shoot, how to light and the art of photography without getting heavily invested in issues concerning gear and technical data.
So...here they are, our maternity images! Literally 2 days to go before the arrival of our boy Leandro! So what's the deal with these images and why so last minute?
For a few months now, the requisite maternity shoot has been on my mind and of course, Patsi has been eagerly wanting to get it done. I've put it off and put it off and put it off. So, when the final month or so came around, I had to get serious. So what to do? Well, I knew what I didn't want to do: A typical maternity shoot with the mom to be standing in beautiful light holding her belly and looking down. Or..any variance of said pose and set up.. (most definitely not a shot with me standing behind her, arms cusped around the bump. I simply didn't want a plain ol' portrait of any type. I needed something a bit more funky and fun. Convincing Patsi to NOT do the typical pregnancy type of shoot was another challenge but....she trusted me and we prepared for the day.
NOTE: There's nothing wrong with the aforementioned type of maternity shoots. I see incredibly beautiful work out there all the time and it's super DOPE!
So what to do? About a month ago, I came across the famous, somewhat controversial Esquire Magazine shot of Bill Clinton shot by Platon. In the image, Bill sits tall, proud and confident, legs wide open, crotch straight to the camera. For obvious reasons, the image implied a certain...arrogance and pride in a sexual sense. So I thought, well, what's more powerful and sexy than a woman with child? There's pure strength there unlike any man can know. And that's just sexy. This was the start. Turns out, that about 8 years after the Clinton shoot, Esquire and photographer Cliff Watts decided to recreate the cover using that year's Sexiest Woman Alive winner, Halle Berry. Again, power, sexiness and confidence but this time, a woman instead of a man. Was time to recreate it...and take the power theme and sexiness to the next level!
Examining the inspiration for my shoot, it was obvious the the original was shot with a fisheye lens. At least, that's what I researched and found out. Since I don't own a fisheye, I had to pick one up from my go to rental source in NY, Fotocare. Wasn't too used to using this type of lens and knew it required some skill to get the right angles and effects.
Once I was all set with the lighting and getting familiar with the lens, was time to get Patsi in place and start shooting. Keeping with my desire to not have a typical maternity shoot, I wanted to make sure the wardrobe wasn't something that took too much attention. To me, it's unrealistic anyway. Those long, lovely, flowing dresses and wraps work well for those type of shoots sure, but how many women 8-9 months into their pregnancy are running around wearing all that? I wanted Patsi to be 100% at home, relaxed and just...pregnant! Comfortable as she could be. So that meant barefoot in a tank and some leggings! Simple. We also wanted the expressions and the poses to be much more lively and fun so dresses and such wouldn't have worked.
So, we got into the flow of it all and within an hour about, we were wrapped.
We had a great time getting this all done and I had a lot of fun in post recreating the Esquire cover. Was such a pleasure as always working with my lovely wife. Working with her and my soon expected child in her belly was even better! Now I just have to come up with something funky for the newborn shots!! Hmmmm..... ~ Christian
I received a few inquiries regarding the above portrait of my wife. A few had questions regarding the lighting, the retouch and the background. A few just wanted to know how the hell I got so lucky having her as my wife! That's a whole separate post! But I can discuss the portrait.
While I'd like to make this seem like some incredibly artistic, grand portrait of master photography that involved a $3,000 hand painted backdrop, a medium format camera and a fancy light......in reality, this is nothing more than a 5 min natural light photo of her sitting in front of an ugly old painted piece of foamcore I keep around. In reality, the subject here is everything and fortunately....she photographs so well. I had little to do with it.
I sometimes shoot videos in my home studio and use that same piece of foamcore for my background. I originally purchased a couple of them and spray painted them black to be used as vflats of sorts. Over time, they got broken up and ugly. I keep only the one laying around and will use here and there for random whatever. Mostly to absorb or block light.
My wife was preparing to leave for work. I saw her in her soft cashmere sweater, her beautiful belly, full and round at 31 weeks so I asked her to sit for a minute. She was waiting on her UBER so literally, I only had a few minutes. We haven't shot any real pregnancy pics as of yet and may not even bother. As far along as she is though we wanted to be sure to highlight it, even if just a little and more casual.
There are a few large windows and a large set of glass doors on the other side of the room that I use for the natural light. She sat, I got my exposure, posed her and took a total of 10 shots before she had to leave.
Once I had her there, I immediately saw the vision of what I wanted and knew of course that I'd need to do some work in post to deal with that mess behind her.
A bit of clean up in PS, some color adjustments and some final work in Exposure 7 and I was done. If I were more skilled in my post work, I may have been able to come up with some even better looks.
So the point of this post? I just wanted to show that anyone, in a limited space, with limited gear and even the most random background can create truly beautiful portraits so long as the fundamentals of good portraiture photography are what lead your work. Would I love a custom Oliphant backdrop? Heck yeah! Do I really need one to get a decent portrait? Not at all. No lights, 1 light, 4 lights or 10...hand painted muslin, seamless or a crappy piece of foamcore....doesn't matter.
A portrait is all about the subject, the person. If you focus on photography fundamentals, understanding light and know how to pose people, you can pretty much shoot wherever with whatever in little time, with no prep or planning at all. Get in the habit of finding random, spontaneous moments to see what you can come up with and learn fundamentals of light/exposure. In addition, master the basics of your post processing including how and when to utilize the right tools when you need them to create your final image as you see it.
Here's one of my selfies while I prepped the set up for my video. My wife of course makes a far better subject!
Hope this inspires some to use whatever they have to work with and not feel restricted by the lack of certain things.
So I headed back to Atlanta for the 3rd time. 2nd time in 2 months. (Hey, they love me down there! I love 'em back! Well, they love my headshots at least!) No workshop this go 'round. This time nothing but shooting clients. 15 people paid their deposits and booked me for headshot sessions. Whoa! 4 days, 15 clients. Okay, I got this. No going back. Instead of putting this story down in typical blog format, I’m going to go with the good ol’ stream of consciousness writing and just…share my experience and all as pure streaming thought from my mind.....as it all happened.......
Here we go:
Packed gear and all 1 day before heading out and of course, still wasn’t sure I had everything. Think Tank makes a great bag. The Airport Security 2.0 is my first and I love it. Also, the Artificial Intelligence laptop bag is a nice addition. Configuring the contents of the bag and where to put what was a slight task.
3 camera bodies (Nikon) – 2 D800's, 1 D610. Lenses - 70-200mm f/2.8VRII, 50mm 1.4, 85mm 1.4. Flashes: 2 SB 910’s 2 SB800’s. Multiple Pocket Wizards – 4 Flex TT5’s, the AC3 Zone Controller and the MiniTT1, set of PW Plus II’s. Cables, cords, chargers etc. TONS of Eneloop batteries and chargers. Bunch of memory cards, Extra camera batteries. Gitzo blower. Wacom Tablet and accessories, Profoto 3’ RFI Octa, Profoto RFI Speedlight Speedring , Lastolite 24x24 Ezybox softbox. Etc, etc, etc. A bunch of other stuff and of course clothes. Most important – 10 black tees, 1 pair black Converse CTAS Suede, 1 pair black Vans SK8 Hi Reissues, 1 pair black Vans low top Authentics, 1 pair white Vans Sk8 Hi Reisssues.
I ordered 3 new Impact Heavy Duty lightstands from B&H and had them shipped to the hotel.
Uber pick up at 5am. Great driver. (although he was slightly late picking me up as he got pulled over by a cop for speeding!) The speeding thing worked out well though for my trip to the airport. Checked in, checked my bag. Decided to upgrade my seat for the flight. Hit up the security line. Pretty damn long but nowhere near as bad as last trip. They use dogs now and it sped the whole process up. No shoe removal. No removing laptop and sticking in another bin. Just toss the Think Tank on the belt thingy and walk through. Of course, they held my bag for a second check considering all the electronics and gear I was carrying.
On toward my gate. Stopped for quick breakfast and coffee. Got to my gate only to realize, I must have not completed my upgrade purchase as I thought. Must have missed something in the menu options. Ended up in group 5 (the last to board) Announcements were made explaining that by the time they got to my group, there would be no room to store a carry on in the overhead bin and my bag would need to be checked. Can’t have that. Spoke to agents at desk explaining I had over $20k worth of equipment in my bag and there’s no way I’m checking it. Charmed them....sort of. Madd attitude they had but they let me board with group 1! All is well. For now.
Scheduled to leave at 7:05. Plane sat on tarmac until 7:50. Flight was miserable. Like being on Denzel’s plane in Flight. TON of turbulence the whole trip. No snack, no coffee, nada. All good. Landed safe. Sped through airport like O.J to Hertz. Grabbed rental. Sped toward Buckhead. Arrived at JW Marriott. Upon check in, immediately explained that I needed my package which was confirmed delivered the day before. (my lightstands.) Took them 20 mins to get my package upstairs. WTF? Mind you, was a 60 year plus little woman that carried my package to the lobby. ? WTF ? There were no MEN available to bring that upstairs? Moving on. Running behind. First client at Noon. Shooting next door to the hotel in a parking garage of Lenox Mall. First client arrives…dope dealing begins. Next clients are women. My ATL make up artist, Naja arrives. (check her site out!)
My make up artist is talented. My make up artist is the truth. My make up artist is a trooper! My make up artist Naja! The rest of the day goes well. Wind is an issue for the clients with long hair. Wind is a pain in the ass with hair and with gear. Didn’t have the time to grab sandbags from PPR that morning. Wind is a pain in the ass. Lights blown over at least 2wice. Could have sworn things broke. Nothing broke. Nikon and PocketWizard...take a licking and keep on...flicking! All good. Back to hotel to back up images. Head out for dinner at South City Kitchen Buckhead. A bit overrated. They don’t serve mac & cheese? HUH? What? Long story from manager regarding this leaving me still like…”Huhhh?” “What?” Drinks later at Whiskey Blue with fam and friends. Back to hotel. Room upgraded to top floor with city view plus access to the executive club/lounge. (all that for the morning’s mis-steps and holding me up some.) Okay. Cool. Back up day’s images. Sleep time.
First things first. Head to PPR to rent some sandbags. First client at Noon. Wind was again a pain in the ass for the women with long hair. Mall parking lot security rolled up on us while shooting. Explained that I had obtained permission to shoot there from the management office on my previous trip. No go. He had to make some calls. 10 mins later…all good. All cleared. Back to shooting. Moved location to another part of garage to see if wind would be as severe. Sort of worked. Took me from my favored background though. No biggie. Back to hotel. Dinner alone at Houston's. Really good steak and a glass of Cab. Drinks with little brother. Off to bed eventually.
DAY 3. (shit hits the fan)
Set up at location for first client. Security rolls up on me (different than the day before.) I proceed to explain that all is well and I’ve got permission to be there. Several calls ensue via walkie talkie and phone. Feedback. Bottom line: The head security supervisor on duty THAT day is unaware of the previous arrangements made with the actual management office. And…the management office folks I previously dealt with aren’t in on weekends. SO…..was ordered to pack up and leave! 10 minutes prior to first client of day showing up. Start packing up gear. Stressed. Gotta find another location QUICK. Get a call that 2 clients (booked by the same person) won’t be able to make it that day due to unforeseen circumstances.) Deep sigh of relief actually. Get another call from my first client of the day….who tells me she’s got a flat but cabbing it to location. We all have issues. Cool. A bit more time to think. Call my mua – “The only spot I know about where I may be able to get what I want background wise and possibly be under shade is on the BeltLine! Please tell me how I get there!” She gives me directions. First client shows up…I proceed to explain the location change. I break everything down and pack back in the rental. We drive about 10-15 minutes to the new location. Entrance to the BeltLine behind Trader Joe’s. It’s 100+ degrees! I have no idea where I'm going. Whether the spot will work. I've got a client with me, another showing up later and 4 to shoot the next day. I'm fucked.
Get to Trader Joe's...park in back. Head to entrance of BeltLine. Find an overpass with shade. It may work. Take some test shots. This may work. Too much pedestrian traffic and bicyclists. No way in hell to set up and be out of the way. This won't work. Head back to car. It's 100+degrees. Stop to ask park officer about other locations on BeltLine. He tells me of a spot behind the skate park in Old Fourth Ward. I'll have to check it for tomorrow. Behind Trader Joe's...at the end of the shopping plaza...is a recessed corner. An abandoned store of some kind. Complete shade. Dark, almost seedy, homeless alcove of some type. Across the way is a bunch of other stores. I spot some mildly greenish, bluish glass. Do some test shots. This may work.
We're out of the way and could set up and shoot for hours. No issues. It's a 100+degrees but somewhat cooler in this corner. I set up shop. We shoot. We do dope. It works fine. Helps having an extremely cool and patient client.
My MUA shows up ahead of the next client. Slight problem - No where for her to pull her suv into with shade so she can lay out her tools and work. It's 100+ plus degrees. She's a trooper but how to get this done without her and the client both melting? The next client shows up. I make a decision to move the final client to tomorrow. Hopefully, I'll have some shit squared away by then. She's cool with it. We all head over to the Mexican bar for a drink and some nachos and some revealing and funny adult convo. All good. I gotta boogie to PPR to return their sandbags and get my $300 cash deposit back before they close at 5. I make it in time. I purchase 2 fifteen lb sandbags for the rest of my gigs and to just have when I'm in ATL. Hit the road. Head to the mall and grab some more Vans and some gifts for my sis, nieces and nephew. I'm off to my sister's an hour away. Great night with my nieces, nephew and my lil' sis' in her new house.
Up early to hit the road and go scout this possible location by Old Fourth Ward skate park. I get there.....it's 100+degrees already. Park the car and walk a bit to the BeltLine. Passing the park, I get nostalgic thinking on my BMX vert days. Find the spot I need. Not bad. There's shade from the overpass and it's out of the way of pedestrian and cyclists. Also, some decent backgrounds that might work. Talk to a cop parked. He gives me more suggestions and is madd cool. I decide this spot will have to do. Head back to the car. Naja arrives. We grab gear and all from the cars and head back to the location. It's 100+ degrees. Naja has no real place to set up. She can't use the back of her suv as usual. There's no tables or anything. On top of all...the ground is a mess. Dirt....not even decent grass. Just...dirt and dust and blah. In between all of this, I'm trying to text, call, email the clients scheduled for the day to tell them of the location change...all while realizing my battery is at 20%! I call my brother Patrick to make sure he's still coming through for the day to help me out. First client shows up. Gotta make this work and get shit done. It's hot. Cool cop directs us around a corner from where I'm setting up. There's a picnic table and benches there. Cool. That'll work. Naja and client head over. Table is a mess but will have to do. I get set up and prepare to do dope.
First client is ready. I get started. All good. Where to change tops? There are some large stone columns....she can go behind there...out of the way and undress. Works fine. Second outfit change....Naja and client discover a random folding table has been left leaning against one of the columns. Can't make this up. A table. A brand new long folding table. We bring it up place it where I'm shooting, open it and all is good. Naja has a place to work now and lay out her stuff. It's a freakin' miracle! SHOUT OUT AND THANK YOU TO WHOEVER LEFT A BRAND NEW FOLDING TABLE ON THE BELTLINE BEHIND THOSE COLUMNS! (hit me up...I owe you drinks!) It's freakin' HOTT out! Patrick shows up. Thank god. Needed the extra hand to make some runs back and forth to the car. He's a big help. Grabs case of bottled water, my sandbags and miscellaneous. Gotta get him to take my phone to the car and charge it some. Toss a few bottles of water to some local photographers across the way doing their thang who asked to "buy" some bottles from me. (shout out to those folks) Toss bottles to some skaters grinding in the park. Hey, I had a whole case of water....you gotta share! That ATL heat is no joke!
Clients show up, one after the other....all goes pretty well. A client, Terrence, from my first day shooting comes through for some quick follow up pics in between and hangs around to help me out some. I shoot 4 clients back to back. Naja has to leave soon. The last client is running late. She finally shows....Naja gets to work. Suddenly, the weather changes. Winds whip up, sky darkens and that smell of hurricane and rain is in the air.
Meanwhile...Naja works her magic. I inform the client...who brought her lovely mom, her boyfriend and her uncle to the shoot that we may have to reschedule due to the weather conditions. Then, I find out at that moment....they booked me and drove 4 hours from Alabama just to shoot with me. Can't just reschedule them for my next trip to ATL. This has gotta go down....NOW! Waiting for the sky to open and shit to get worse. Naja finishes and I we get to shooting. A few shots in....the wind is nuts. Sand, dust and whatever flying around. Lights tumble. Things get crazy. Not too much later....the weather just......chills. (not the temp though!). The wind stops. The sky brightens. Things calm down. All is well. We keep shooting and finally.........it's a WRAP! I'm exhausted to say the least. It all feels good though. Break everything down with my brother and Terrence and then hit the road. Little bro' and I hit up Little Five Points and had dinner at an Ethiopian spot called Kimi's. After, we headed to airport, dropped off rental and had drinks before my flight. Oh, and this time, I upgraded to first class! And this time....I got it right! Too tired to actually enjoy the flight and honestly....wasn't any big deal. I just wanted the extra leg room and to be able to board first!
So, that was my trip. Had a blast! ATL has shown me so much love and continues to! I'm still getting hit up with requests to return and people are still booking me in advance without even having a guaranteed date. LOVE YA'LL! I'll be back soon! Oh.....and now....it's all about dealing with all of those client shots and edits. I'm waaaay backed up but getting it done!
SPECIAL SHOUT OUTS: My brother Patrick, my MUA Naja, Terrance Davis, PPR Atlanta and most especially to all of the people who put their trust in me to shoot their headshots: Terrance, Nadine, Mitzi, Serwa, Robin, Cheryl, Amanda, Lamardea, Crea ("Meg"), Brea, Adrienne, Auburn and Amaris.
Someone asked me recently about my thoughts on competition to which I replied “What competition!?” Let me explain:
I don’t see competition. I'm in my own zone. I simply do what I do and do it the best I can. I strive to shoot the absolute best headshot my client can get and use for their career purposes. That has nothing to do with being better than other photographers, it’s just me….telling myself, committing myself to being the very best at my chosen profession and then, working at it to make it sure I deliver. If anything, I'm in competition with myself and my personal visions/goals. It all goes back to what I always tell people when they ask about how to market or get clients:
"GET REALLY F'IN' GOOD AT WHAT YOU DO! DO DOPE SHIT & THE CLIENTS WILL COME TO YOU!"
I shoot how I do, provide a service.... and if people like it and keep booking me…that’s all I see. There’s room for everyone to do what they do. Some will succeed a little, some a lot. Some won’t at all. None of that affects what I do. I just keep shooting, keep on my game and stay booked. One of the components to our own success, is putting out the right energy and wishing success for others. Anyone feeling that I’m competition for them or feeling a certain way about my success because it’s infringing on theirs…..isn’t competition, they’re usually just people who haven’t put in the same effort I have and are having a hard time finding their own success. So to those folks I say…”I wish you all the success you can imagine.”
You’ll notice that the truly successful are usually madd cool with each other while the less successful….will often just…be on the sidelines, throwing shade or being bothered. Think of it like this: If a band and artist has risen to a level and is to the point of selling a ton of albums and/or selling out arenas, all they need to do is keep up it up as long as they can. If a band isn’t selling records or selling out arenas in different cities, it’s not because of the other bands out there, it’s because…well…..they’re just not that good. So in closing I say to you….don’t worry about the next person doing what they do. If you want success….get better at what YOU'RE doing and focus only on that. If you find yourself still not successful……work harder and show more love! It'll eventually all come back to you!
In the words of Jay-Z:
"Respect the game, that should be it. What you eat don't make me sh-t!"
How do you see it? Let me know!
Below are some reviews from my latest workshop in Atlanta. The feedback from my students is incredibly appreciated and really means a lot to me as I want to know that I'm actually giving them their money's worth and truly providing my best. It still baffles me that people would show up.....even travel from other states....to come have me teach them. I wouldn't call myself an educator per se'.....but more of a person just sharing my passion and eager to improve the work of those around me. I'm looking forward to my next workshop. Headed to L.A. this time....stay tuned!
First, the course was very fun and very interactive. You had a group that had very different skill sets and capabilities and I thought you broke it down to the bare elements and built a fantastic headshot result around that. You covered the equipment and why you used what you did. You covered how to set up the lighting and why that set up worked and how to tweak it. You had very very high quality models there that were easy to work with and did an exceptional job. Than you demonstrated how to work with the model, how to fine tune your exposure and how to get the results you wanted. All in a very easy to understand format and one that everyone one could test. The only comment I really had on the shooting and posing side is that it would have been nice to have a full set-up (lighting) for Cannon shooters where we could have traded models and everyone could shoot their own gear. Not really a big deal but the more time with the set up and the model the better prepared the student is going to be to leave with the skill set to replicate what you did there. The shooting side was so well done. Anyone that understands lighting with speed lights at even a beginner level should be able to replicate that lighting set up very quickly and produce a very professional image. Without exception. Only a real true beginner with lighting and posing would struggle and I don't really think your class was trying to cater to that type of student or photographer. You had to have a little background in lighting to really get everything you wanted out of that class - and even than it was a super simple and easy to set up lighting set up.
You did a great job Christian. I am 100% sure I have been to more photo work shops and seminars than anyone there. I started going to PPA and WPPI when I was 20 years old and assisted and work with some amazing people like Don Blair, Dave Newman, Don Busith, JP Morgan and Dean Collins. Some names you have heard of and some I am sure you have not. You have very friendly and relaxed teaching style that encourages people to ask questions and interact with you without the fear of being judged or criticized. I was really impressed. You are a true professional and I am confident could be a name in the teaching world if you want to do that one day - you have the personality and the skill set to do that. Thanks again for letting me be a part of the class. It was a true pleasure to meet you and learn fromyou. I wish you all the success and prosperity in this great profession you have chosen. I don't know if I will ever make my full time living in Photography again, but it will always be a passion of mine and something I will never stop trying to improve my skills in. Talk with you very soon.
Very Best Regards, David
Taking Christian's workshop was absolutely wonderful! He instantly made us feel welcomed and as if we were talking to an old friend. He took the time to let all of us get to know a little bit about one another, and how we came to be at our current place in our photography journey. From the jump it was clear this wasn't the typical photography workshop. This was a forum for us to improve. We weren't just given some lighting recipe and left to flounder. There was a dialogue about what we wanted to achieve both in the workshop, and moving forward. We got information and practice on setting up our shots, from background selection, gear/camera/lighting settings and placement. And most importantly we got practical experience interacting with clients. Finally we moved on to an in depth look at his workflow and retouching methods. By the end of the day, not only had I taken some new images for my portfolio, but I was able to better analyze my previous work, and knew how to make it better.
This experience was exactly what I needed to take my work to the next level! The time and financial investment in this workshop is an investment in oneself and ones craft!
Christian, I wanted to let you know how very much I enjoyed your workshop, your great delivery, down-to-earth style and just YOU! I left feeling inspired and rejuvenated~and I thank you for just being REAL!
I want to give a “Shout Out” to Christian Webb, an outstanding NYC photographer who orchestrated a great actors headshot workshop in Atlanta last weekend. It was a great opportunity to learn hands on how to get that film still look that I love in his work. I’m always up for learning new techniques so I packed up and flew to Atlanta. It was DOPE (as he would say) It was a bonus that Christian was such a class act guy. Loved his humor and the honest straight up talk, no chaser. It was a great experience, everyone in his crew was so professional and on top of their game. It was a comfortable environment so everyone felt free to ask question. The hands on shooting portion really helped.
Thanks Christian for the tools, advice, real talk, techniques and guidance. Looking forward to shooting DOPE actors headshots in Tampa Florida.
Your workshop was nothing less than AMAZING! Everything was perfect! It was hands on and step by step. I've watched videos, attended workshops and worked with a few photographers but the way you put it all out there has made me excited about shooting my next client. More importantly, I am confident that I will be capturing a headshot that both the client and I will be proud of. I couldn't have hoped for a better experience. Thank you for sharing your talent with me.
Thanks Christian, I truly enjoyed the energy you brought to the Atlanta workshop. It's always educational and spiritual for me to be surrounded by talented and passionate photographers like yourself. I look forward to staying in touch with you as well and applying the techniques I learned. If you're ever here again look forward to reconnecting. I will also recruit a few for your next Atlanta session!
Thank you Christian Webb. I have to say this class was Well Worth Taking! I have taken workshops and when it's over you say to yourself what a waste...You took your time, explained step by step the how to's. You could feel your passion and energy you gave to your students. All I can say is I want more!! Next time you're in the A!
Thank you so much Christian Webb for coming down & showing us how to create DOPE Headshots and such a great experience! It was so great meeting you! Until next time!
"Christian Webb's workshop is a must. Loads of practical information. He saved me a year or two worth of experience in one sitting (day). "
I think it’s important to choose your mentors / instructors wisely these days. Besides making sure to find professionals who are actually qualified to teach you something, it’s vital that they truly commit to your learning by giving nothing less than 100% truth.
I’ve been hard at times on a few friends, fellow photographers looking to learn and get better. Not mean or malicious and never discouraging, but always real and always to the point. It’s not always received well by those who don’t actually know me. But those who do know me, know that my toughness truly comes from a place of caring and wanting others to achieve success. I don’t bullshit people or sugar coat my assessments and approach to teaching. I’m not the “politically correct” dude who will kiss your ass and give “positive feedback” just to keep one happy and not hurt feelings. I think it’s terribly irresponsible to do that just as it’s ridiculous to treat everyone as if “they’re a winner” no matter what. Especially when you get to a point where others are looking up to you and you take on a mentor type of role. This doesn’t mean getting down on anyone and making them feel as if they CAN’T do something. I’m just really to the point when it comes to letting them know what it’ll take to get better. If a photographer is asking me questions and wanting to learn, I’m always going to give them my time, advice and guidance. However, if they’re not putting in the time themselves to get better and are not passionate about what it takes to advance….at some point I let them know:
“If you want to do this…HERE’S WHAT YOU GOTTA DO and THIS is the ONLY way to get better!”
I think it’s important to encourage, support, show love and be as giving as possible with people when it comes to teaching others. However, I find it more important to truly be honest with them and never short change their learning by worrying about whether they can handle truth. Nine out of ten times, those who can ‘t handle it will run and accuse you of being too hard when in reality, they’re just not strong enough to face real challenges. I’ve always believed that the strongest types of people will always gravitate toward people stronger while the weaker types will always avoid and resent those stronger than them. To get stronger, to get better, people HAVE to work with, surround themselves with people better and stronger than themselves and they have to find people who will always keep it real with them. Finding a few friends to support your efforts and kiss your ass no matter what you do, is not the way to make sure you’re actually improving and really getting good at what you do. Claiming that your friends, family and your clients all think you're a photography genius doesn't actually make it so. You gotta check the sources. You have to get realistic appraisals and feedback on your work from qualified and respected professionals who will give it to you straight. Or, you can tell yourself whatever you need to tell yourself in efforts to discredit those trying to keep it "real" with you and make yourself feel better. You can look at those keeping it "real" with you as being the bad guys when in reality, they're the best ones to help you get to the next level. But, I find that it's easier for most to avoid the truth and reject any attempts to burst their bubbles. That act can go on publicly and on social media, but all alone, truth sets in and the reality of their skill set will plague their minds. Now, for some people, this is good. It's motivating and empowering. But for some, it just causes them to be miserable.
A photographer that owns lights and barely knows how to use them, has a decent dslr and hardly knows it's settings, has little understanding or skill with post production and standard programs like PS and LR, has limited understanding of photography in general and yet...has a studio and sells themselves as a professional photographer.......well........this is a person that needs a serious reality check. Do I think it's cool to "make fun of" or not encourage them? No. But I think sometimes these are the types to put themselves in the situation for ridicule specifically because of their attitude and inability to let go of their pride and to accept truth and reality. They actually get defensive and lash out at those who they know are way more professional than they are. It's as if they their only remedy to feel better is to tell themselves that they're great and keep themselves surrounded by folks who will help to empower their inflated and often fictional assessment of their skills. This doesn't help them in the least and at some point, reality will catch up. At the end of the day, you kind of have to let those type do what they do and wish them well.
That said, I just want to share the following passage from Robert Greene’s book MASTERY. It pretty much sums up my thoughts on the subject and most certainly does a better job:
To reach mastery requires some toughness and a constant connection to reality. As an apprentice, it can be hard for us to challenge ourselves on our own in the proper way and to get a clear sense of our own weaknesses. The times that we live in makes this even harder. Developing discipline through challenging situations and perhaps suffering along the way are no longer values that are promoted in our culture. People are increasingly reluctant to tell each other the truth about themselves, their weaknesses, their inadequacies, and flaws in their work. Even the self help books designed to set us straight tend to be soft and flattering telling us what we want to hear, that we are basically “good” and can get what we want by following a few simple steps. It seems abusive or damaging to people’s self esteem to offer them stern, realistic criticism, to set them tasks that will make them aware of how far they have to go. In fact, this indulgence and fear of hurting people’s feelings is far more abusive in the long run. It makes it hard for people to gauge where they are or to develop self-discipline. It makes them unsuited to the rigors of the journey to mastery. It weakens people’s will. Masters are those who by nature have suffered to get where they are. They have experienced endless criticism of their work, doubts about their progress, and setbacks along the way. They know deep in their bones what is required to get to the creative phase and beyond. As mentors, they alone can gauge the extent of our progress, the weaknesses in our character, the ordeals we must go through to advance. In this day and age you must get the sharpest dose of reality that is possible from your mentor. You must go in search of it and welcome it. If possible, choose a mentor who is known for supplying this form of tough love. If they shy away from giving it, force them to hold up the mirror that will reflect you as you are. Get them to give you the proper challenges that will reveal your strength and weaknesses and allow you to gain as much feedback as possible. No matter how hard it may be to take. Accustom yourself to criticism. Confidence is important, but if it is not based on a realistic appraisal of who you are, it is mere grandiosity and smugness. Through the realistic feedback of your mentor you will eventually develop a confidence that is much more substantial and worth possessing.
The relationship with clients begins as soon as they contact you with an inquiry. From there, it develops and hopefully grows...all the way through the shoot. It's so very, very important to have good energy with who you're shooting. It can’t just be a business thing. You need to get to know your clients. You’ve got to be friends with and develop a trust of some kind. It’s vital to having a truly genuine, productive headshot session. I got a call yesterday from a young lady who is very excited to be shooting with me. (my favorite type of calls!) That of course...makes me excited. That translates into....."we're going to do DOPE!" As we spoke, she shared with me some of her previous headshot session experiences and just how MISERABLE they were. The photographer's lack of personality. The ultra, business like, factory type approach in their studio. The mechanical, robotic way they told her to pose. I always cringe when I hear those stories. How the f—k can anyone work that way? There must be a relationship! There has to be chemistry. There has to be an exchange of personalities. When it comes to my men clients, we have to be cool. We have to be buddies for that brief time. We’ve got to relate to one another on things and hopefully find common interests and beliefs. With women, it’s the same but there has to be a brief love affair of sorts. It’s hard not to fall in love with subjects during the time I photograph them. How can I not? I shoot gorgeous people. German fashion photographer Peter Lindbergh upon being asked whether he falls in love with his models…even though he has a wife and family said“Of course I do! I’m in love from 9 to 5 and then I go home and am happy to be there!” Makes perfect sense. I can’t expect a woman to sit in front of my camera and “be sexy”….”show a sexy expression”….if she’s not feeling…sexy….loved, desired. It’s a fine line to walk so that it’s not inappropriate but….this is why it’s so critical to develop that relationship early on….andtrust. People will give themselves to you, to your lens when they feel they can trust you. Otherwise….they’re uncomfortable and reserved…and the resulting photos will lack their true selves. You can’t tell someone to physically be sexy. It comes from the inside. It’s the same for other emotions as well. Ask someone to smile and it’s ….ehhh. Get them to laugh and it’s genuine. I’ll end with another Lindbergh quote that sums up everything above:
“What you see on a negative, or a screen these days…Is not the person you’re taking a photo of….or the architecture of that person…or their physiognomy….in fact…it’s the feeling of the two people who were present to create the photo!” ~ Peter Lindbergh.
As a headshot photographer, I tend to look at the faces of people I find interesting and/or good looking. Both women and men. It’s just what I do. I speculate as to whether someone is an actor, a model or both. I sometimes see people and think howI’d LOVE to photograph them. So, not too long ago, while at my local Trader Joe’s, I'm ready to check out and this 6’5” fifty something year old gentleman guides me to his register which was just opening. Now being 6’5” myself, I tend to notice other tall people. This guy though looked as if he just stepped out of a GQ issue featuring mature, smooth dudes. Or some type of prescription drug commercial or something. He just had that…look. I figured, he must have been a model/actor probably back in the day. Who knows. I definitely thought to myself “wow, be great to shoot that guy!” Speaking of actors at Trader Joe's, about a year ago, I was making small talk with a different cashier that I was familiar with. On that day though, I found out she was an aspiring actress. Of course, I explained what I did for a living and gave her my card. We've spoken a few times about her headshots but she hasn't scheduled yet as time and travel have had her wrapped up.
Moving right along. A few weeks back, I get a call from a guy named Doug. Normal call from someone inquiring about headshots. He and his fiancée talk to me about wanting to take pics and maybe get into modeling and or commercial print/television. He had no clue what to do or where to begin. It was really his fiancée that initiated the whole thing and wanted to pursue everything. She was convinced he could be and should be doing something with his height and looks. After a discussion about how the business works and what he needed photography wise and explaining what it is I do specifically….we settled on shooting his headshot and maybe setting up a commercial, lifestyle type of shoot another time.
A week later, we spoke to shore up the details and schedule his shoot. During this discussion, his fiancée was speaking more about his look and she mentioned how tall he was and that he had white hair and all. He then speaks of his co-worker at Trader Joe's and how she gave him my info. Then, suddenly…it hit me. At that moment I finally put 2 and 2 together and realized exactly who I was speaking to. It was the white haired smooth gentleman cashier. I explained the whole story about how I had wondered in my mind if he actually did model or act at some time and we all had a good laugh at the randomness of the whole thing.
So, we scheduled and I shot him this past weekend. Even though he had zero experience and was a bit uncomfortable at the start, after some coaching and explaining what we needed to get, he settled in and pretty much knocked it out of the park.
The best part of this story for me, beside the sort of…serendipity of it all…is that I offered to try and get him an agent through my connects. Sure enough, I submitted a few photos from his shoot to my contact at an agency in NY. She got back to me right away and now he’s scheduled to meet with them in a few days! I recently wrote on my Facebook page about people sometimes thinking that as photographers, we’re not “saving lives” or having any “real impact” on the world. I spoke about how I like to think that what I do as a headshot photographer definitely has impact on my clients and their careers. Most likely the agency is going to sign Doug. From there….who knows. We have no idea. I’d like to think though, that in some way, if this all turns out positive and he finds some true calling or even just has some fun for a while, I had some type of impact on someone’s life in a meaningful way. Hey, you never know!
UPDATE: Last week, June 25th and 26th 2016, after being signed to an agent for only a few weeks....Doug booked his first job. He's playing a medical doctor in a pharmaceutical ad! This is only the beginning. Not bad for a guy with no experience ever!
If you're a Brooklynite or someone who at least keeps up with the Caribbean dancehall and Reggae music scene, you no doubt know the name DJ Ron Don. For the last 25 years, Ron Don has been a staple in the music scene dj'in numerous parties across the globe and putting out probably THOUSANDS of "mix tape" cds and party mixes. So, having the opportunity to photograph him for some recent promotional materials meant having to capture Ron Don as the only way I could imagine - Capture him as...a Don!
The location was a lounge in Canarsie called Trendz. I had zero opportunity for pre location scouting and the only available images to give me a sense of the place were from their Facebook page which didn't give me too much. So, we hit Brooklyn on a cold NY Sunday and just figured we'd wing it as best we could. Had 2 hours in the place and had to work quick.
The lounge wasn't too big of a space to work in but there was enough room for me to try and get the shot I needed. The walls were all white, stucco and had a few round mirrors hanging. For furniture, there was a bunch of faux leather red chairs and two seater love seats. The tables were painted black wooden boxes with some dark tile of some sort for tops.
What was I going to do with those empty walls? There were of course a bunch of large speakers sitting around. My first thought was to create a wall of speakers right behind one of the 2 seater chairs and sort of surround Ron with the speakers. Figured that would be great but as the speaker count wasn't what I thought, we couldn't get get it to look uniform enough for it to work. So, I scrapped that idea and instead, figured....."hmmm...perhaps I can make a wall of tile using the tops of those box tables!?" Okay, let's try that. Dave and the other dude from Trendz who was helping us out gathered every table there and arranged them as I wanted behind Ron. Wasn't as easy as we thought but we ended up with something that may in fact not be too bad.
Got down to business and started shooting. Few adjustments here and there wth Ron and we were jamming.
Was a good day overall. Ended up getting pretty much exactly what I wanted to get. We did do some work on white seamless but I decided to scrap that stuff for now as the main shot nails it. Got out of there and hit my old neighborhood of Ft. Greene for some seriously needed food! Many thanks and shout outs to my assistant David Mack for the hard work and the bts shots. Had him moving mad furniture around in addition to the photo stuff.
If you're an aspiring photographer with or without any formal training, one of the best ways to gain experience and learn the craft as well as business of photography is to assist an already established and professional photographer. For students coming out of photography school (do people still go to school for photography?) seeking an internship or assisting gigs with pro photographers is a good way to put their classroom training to practical use as well as get their foot in the door of the industry. But what if you're already an established professional photographer, do you ever actually assist another professional? Is that taking a step down? For me, the answer is no, that's not taking a step down and yes, you should most definitely assist if you have the opportunity and the situation makes sense to you.
Last year, I had the pleasure of connecting on social media with editorial photographer Brad Trent who's work I very much admired and have been following for quite some time. If you don't already know who who I'm talking about, I suggest you go see for yourself and discover the dude behind Damn Ugly Photography. While I do follow a bunch of other notable photographers, most aren't following me back. So, imagine my surprise to get an Instagram notification that read: Brad Trent is now following you. Cool. I kind of figured for a minute that perhaps he just had a bunch folks running his social media and by some random chance, they added/Followed me. To my surprise, that wasn't the case. I contacted Brad via messenger and he actually confirmed that yes, he followed me and the reason was because he admired my work. Well I'll be damn! Cool! We corresponded a bit more and I insisted that I shoot a headshot for him. While he sort of agreed, it still hasn't happened but it's an on going campaign that I assure him will eventually take place. More important, I made the offer to assist him if he ever needed anyone. Wasn't too long before I received a message from Mr. Ugly himself asking if I was available for a shoot! Heck yeah!
Meeting Brad and team was quite an experience to say the least. I tried to explain to my wife what it's like by telling her "Imagine being a decent guitar player, relatively successful and you're asked by John Meyer or Jack White or Paul McCartney to do some gigs with them?!" Yes, for me, it was like that. What can I say, I'm not so egocentric or too proud to admit being a fan. You should find photographers, mentors or whomever in whatever industry you're in and admire them, study them, learn from them and respect them. On that note, let me move this conversation beyond Brad Trent being a rock star and focus on the real message behind this posting. (sorry man!)
As I expected would happen, a few friends and such asked about me "assisting" and wondered "why?" Their take on it was that I was pretty damn decent of a photographer and knew a whole lotta stuff about shooting, lighting and most things photography related. I didn't need a job and I have assistants working with me sometimes. I'm the one teaching. lol. Why on earth would I go and spend time assisting a photographer as if I were some photography freshman? Well, here's my answer - Because I'm still a photography freshman! Regardless of how much I know or THINK I know and regardless of any tiny amount of success I have managed to achieve so far, I'm still just a guy learning, staying on my grind and eager to get to the next level! That is something that will never end and it shouldn't. If you talk to any real worth while photographers, successful photographers, the ones cool enough to keep it real, you'll find that most are always in a state of learning and continuing to grow. Old saying - You can never know enough! As artist, we'd be dead if we knew it all anyway.
Another major reason for me wanting to assist has to do with a philosophy I live by which is to always try and surround yourself with greatness and the people in your field who are much, much more advanced than you. MUCH MORE! I say it all the time to people - If you're a a tennis player, you don't keep playing tennis with people who are as good as you or who you can beat regularly. You find tennis players much better than you with much more experience and much more skill who can whoop your ass with ease. THAT'S how you achieve greatness with your work eventually. So it is for ANY sport or whatever, so it goes for photography. Now, anyone reading this now may be thinking "but wait, Christian Webb shoots headshots, not editorial stuff like Brad." Yes, true, however, there's still much to be learned and the experience flows the same way regardless of the genre. And, truth be told, outside of headshot photography, one of the only other types of photography I'd ever be interested in would be editorial. So, with no question, I'm in incredible company. Brad's been in the game for over 30 years. His experience as a photographer and the work he's done serves not only as an inspiration but as an educational resource unavailable to most.
Since first assisting with the Damn Uglies, I've been privileged to work with some incredible people and be part of some amazing work. The highlight of which I'd have to say would be the day we were in the Richard Rodgers Theater to shoot Lin-Manuel Miranda for Amtrak's Arrive Magazine. Need I say more? Hamilton! Every bit as cool and personable as one could imagine. An absolutely bad ass day and a true privilege to be amongst such company and part of an incredible shoot.
Let me add one more story about assisting before closing. The Friday before the latest snow storm, Jonas here in NY, I got a call from Brad asking me if I wanted to assist. Not him, but some other photographer. It would be a favor sort of as there was no budget and obviously, they weren't paying an assistant. Okay, no problem, I'd be in the city anyway and fortunately was available. I made it to Go Studios early where I met some of the team. It was a fashion shoot for Ubikwist Magazine. Soon, the photographer, Patrick Ibanez arrived and we immediately got to talking. Took seconds to realize what a great guy I'd be working with and how incredibly cool he is. We worked a good 8-10 hours that day and it was a great experience. Funny thing was, the studio put together a Nikon D810 kit for Patrick to shoot with. He wasn't familiar with it at all and immediately told me his concerns and shared some of his anxiety. Being an experienced Nikon shooter myself, D800/D810....I ended up being just the person he needed to work with that day. Best part, I met some great people and connected with a fellow photographer who's really solid with his work and has an awesome eye. You can check Patrick's website here: Patrick Ibanez
Overall, for me, it's about passion and loving photography. Doesn't matter if it's me shooting or helping someone else out. The experience, the immersion into the world and commitment to stay learning even the smallest things far outweighs ego or whether I'm being compensated. So long as the opportunities arise and so long as I have the availability and the photographer is someone I deem to be a true professional and whose work I admire, I'll always be open to lending my time, skills and experience. If you're a photographer, successful, semi successful, experienced, just starting out, finding the right photographers to align with and to learn from is one of the absolute best ways to enhance your own skills as well as build solid relationships within the industry.
"Art, is the elimination of the unnecessary."
~ Pablo Picasso
As a headshot photographer who shoots primarily on location outdoors, I often have to contend with the environments I'm in and how they affect my backgrounds. Because I shoot on a NYC street, the random cars and such passing by provide for some really nice highlights and bokeh here and there, especially when I'm shooting at later hours and car lights, street lights and such become more prominent. Those lovely orbs of blurred reflective light of bokeh are what many photographers even strive to intentionally get in their photos. Now I'm sure most reading this know what bokeh is but just in case, there are probably thousands of articles you can pull up to study more about bokeh and get more in depth with it. For our purposes here, just know we're talking specifically about the points of light that get blurred and appear in an image background/foreground as blurbs of round light. Also, for purposes of this article, I'll be speaking on how that bokeh affects an actor's headshot only.
First thing first: Background! The background for a headshot is nothing more than the space your subject is framed in. I shoot actors, not environments and backgrounds. My focus is the subject in front of my lens, the actor. To that point, there are many notable photographers today and through history who shoot their subjects on plain white or grey backgrounds to isolate them on a an empty canvas. Peter Hurley of course being one of the more famous these days. It's clean, non distracting and the focus is 100% on the subject. There is absolutely NOTHING competing with the actor. If however you're shooting without a plain background and are indoors or outside on location, you'll need to give some attention to the direction you'll be shooting and what, even when blurred, appears as background with your subject.
Real quick, let's talk about casting directors. They get tons of headshots. TONS! Whether submitted and viewed online or actual physical photos. TONS. They browse through them rapidly looking for what they're looking for.
Headshot Rule 101 - Make them interested in the actor IMMEDIATELY and GET THEIR ATTENTION as fast as possible.
They look at headshots for a few seconds at most and all they want to do is know whether the actor in the shot COULD be the one...or not. They don't care about the photograph overall and they could care less about the tiny details that other photographers may look at when analyzing a headshot for "perfection." (perfect white balance, random hair out of place, the button or zipper on a jacket etc, etc.) This doesn't mean though that they're not affected by a bad headshot / bad photography. If an actor's headshot has a ton of other things going on in the image, it'll distract the person looking at the shot. Could be just bad framing and too much negative space, random things in a background that stick out, overwhelming colors and objects and/or.....what I call BAD BOKEH. That's not because casting folks are perfectionists and judging the photo by it's quality per se'. It's because it's science pretty much:
Photography 101: The eyes will always be drawn to the brightest parts and usually colorful parts of an image first.
Now this brings us back to the bokeh. While those orbs of light in a headshot may work well to provide a certain drama and beauty to a regular portrait, in a headshot they really are nothing more than distractions that will instantly draw attention away from the subject. Especially if you're talking about multiple colors and especially if they're bright. I don't want ANYTHING else in my headshots to be looked at other than my actors! Period! There are entirely too many variables as to why someone will toss a headshot and not give that actor the time of day. A bad morning. Bad night. Fight with the girlfriend, boyfriend. Doesn't like this. Doesn't like that. Can't stand their job at the moment. Haven't had lunch. Not feeling well. Whatever. Nothing and no one can nail it down to the point where we can figure it all out. Think of it this way, if the logic is that a casting director only gives a shot a few seconds, then I don't need ANY of those seconds wasted by having their focus immediately drawn to a bunch of colorful, bright balls of lights behind my actor or anything else for that matter. Especially if it's a random mess.
That said, let me be clear, if in fact there is bokeh in the shot, so long as it's subdued and not glaringly obvious and it's relatively unobtrusive in relation to the actor it can work fine. (as in the shot above.) I do in fact have headshots where the blurbs are light are present, it's just that I try to keep them to a minimum and if they're too out of hand or prominent, I take them out.
Alright so look, all of this is really nothing more than me rambling on about some of my peeves when it comes to headshots. These are all just my humble opinions and my personal taste and take on headshots. Some may disagree. To each his own. In closing, just keep in mind, you don't want any messy distractions or random things competing for attention with your main subject and it DOES MATTER. Hopefully this has shed some....light....on the subject or given you some useful info. If so, feel free to LIKE, COMMENT, SHARE...and all that good stuff! Much appreciated!
Recently received my first piece of “hate mail” or…whatever you’d call it. (the screen shot above.) Probably doesn’t qualify as hate mail per se’, but wasn’t very positive. I take that back – it was quite positive. I think the intent was to be negative but apparently the anonymous person who emailed me via a dummy email account had no idea that what they said was actually quite complimentary. I feel truly honored.
Let me first reiterate “many thanks” to the person for their recognition of my work. It’s interesting that this subject comes up as only a few weeks back or so, I posted a blog with some similar subject matter addressed.
But, rather than just completely rehash that blog, let me take on this subject with fresh perspective and hopefully make some sense of it all.
One of the top and certainly most popular headshot photographers out there at the moment, and someone I’ve learned a good deal from and respect, Peter Hurley, has built his entire business and brand on shooting headshots that all look pretty much the same, "just insert new actor!" People on white backgrounds, same basic light, same set up each time. The lighting, the set up and all inspired a TON of followers, students and other photographers to shoot the same look. Peter has even built his own mentoring program where he teaches all about headshot photography and helps a TON of other headshot photographers with creating the same look for the most part - white background (or grey, but most of it’s white) and just “insert actor!” His work is bad ass awesome and the whole repeated set up and style works!
"Drops mic, walks away!"
I could end this blog post and response to my fan mail with just that bit there. But let’s get into it.
As any good headshot photographer knows, getting a great headshot isn’t just about a lighting set up and what the background looks like. It’s working with subjects and being able to get the right pose and expressions to best represent the client. With that said, let me get to addressing the main issue and why we’re here.
Headshots are SUPPOSED to basically all look the same EXCEPT for the actor! A headshot is a basic tool, the main tool for selling an actor! The absolute single most important thing to look at in a headshot is THE ACTOR! Not the wall in the photo or the variety of gorgeous blurred backgrounds or whatever. With a headshot, a photographer is shooting one thing - A tight shot of someone's face/head. It's a shot to represent the person and their personality and to get an actor work. While there are different opinions on landscape vs. portrait and studio vs. location, natural light or artificial, either way it’s a pretty basic set up each time and it's not about fancy or elaborate lighting set ups or clothing or shoes or jewelry, hair or styling. It's about that one person in front of the camera.
In contrast, shooting fashion can involve no lights, one light or twenty lights, a plethora of modifiers, tons of gels, reflectors and flagged off sections of studio or location space. The actual job itself and/or the photographer's vision/client's vision dictates the lighting and overall look. There's a heck of a lot more room for creativity and you're not always shooting the same thing. Not to mention the post processing, color grading and all sorts of stuff used to create the final images. With fashion and even editorial photography, there’s much more room for artistic interpretation and style. In fact, it’s encouraged. And with fashion especially, it’s NOT all about the model/subject, it’s about the story, the clothing/styling etc. In addition, fashion photography seriously relies on having an entire artistic team who all bring their expertise and vision to a shoot as well.
A headshot photographer who takes “artistic license” and adds red and blue gels to the lighting set up and frames his subjects off in the background with a soft spotlight hitting their face is most certainly in the wrong genre of photography and most definitely not serving his clients well. That was an extreme example obviously but I have seen photographers shooting what they call a “headshot” and it’s entirely inappropriate for real world use because they wanted to add their "artistic" vision to the shot.
Moving on, I’m not saying there's a one size fits all set up or formula for every photographer but, I should think that within the realm of shooting headshots, even with different styles of lighting, the overall look isn't going to vary too much. If you browse the portfolio of a headshot photographer who only shoots natural light headshots for example, you’ll find that the shots all pretty much look the same…. except for…you guessed it THE ACTOR! Sure the studio setting may differ, different windows, doorways, the backgrounds may be slightly different, perhaps a different colored brick wall… but overall the images will have an identical look. The look that that particular photographer has is why clients may book him or her to begin with.
Quick question: Anyone every do any casting work? I have. I had to cast a small film I was working on and received HUNDREDS of headshots via the mail. (This was back in 2004!) Flipping through them, they ALL looked alike…EXCEPT FOR THE ACTOR! (Back then, I got a TON of black & white shots so they REALLY all looked alike!) And guess what? It didn’t matter! I was looking at the person in the picture, reading the name, flipping it over and then looking at their attached resume. I didn’t spend 20 minutes analyzing the photography. (probably due to the fact that I wasn't a photographer at that point either.) Granted, there were some obviously bad headshots sent but that just meant I couldn’t take that person seriously or I just had to wonder what the hell they were thinking.
Look, I’m not suggesting that there aren’t photographers who have a particular style that’s part of their brand, in fact, that’s the ENTIRE point really of this post. My particular style involves blowing out blue, cool tone backgrounds with my subjects cinematically lit in very close up, tight crops. Period. I studied headshot photography. I learned a style of lighting, mastered it and have tried to develop my own look and style on top of it. (might I also add...I've been shooting this way and focused on headshots less than a year) People see it, they like it, I book clients, end of story. It's consistent. More important than my backgrounds and lighting though are my subjects and how I capture them. When it comes to doing that, I can shoot in studio on white, black, grey, purple or whatever color someone wants. I can shoot natural light or use one speedlight and a point and shoot camera…either way…I’m going to nail a dope headshot that kills and brings my clients work.
Headshot photography isn't for narcissists. It's not about "oh look at my incredible, artistic eye for portraiture and how good I am with using light!" It's about providing a service to clients and making sure the final images serve their purpose.
More than likely, the person that sent me that email is probably another photographer. I’d bet anything on it. Only an amateur photographer so caught up in the wrong thing and with little understanding of the headshot business would bother to pen such an email and attempt to belittle my work. (I’d most definitely bet anything that it’s a headshot photographer for sure!) So, with all of that said, I’d like to close with another “thank you” to my admiring fan and wish him or her all the best. And to everyone else, I certainly hope this read gave you some insight on the matter. If you’re a headshot photographer, I hope to have made sense regarding all of this and maybe even helped you some. If you’re an actor, I definitely hope that this has provided some insight on how to examine headshots and what’s most important in how they’re shot.
If anyone has more to add, please feel free to Comment below as well as LIKE, SHARE on social media.
I've gotten a lot of questions lately about my images being so sharp even when uploaded to Facebook. I promised to post a blog on the subject and as long as it's taken to get this post up, you'd think I had some super secret, complex technique that would take ten pages to write about. Well, that's not really the case. I've just been tied up lately and just a bit lazy with my blogging. So, here we go, the big reveal to how I get my headshots so clean and sharp:
An unsharp mask followed by resize to 2048 width. Voila! Done!
Okay so, that's really it. I even have an action for it now so, at the end of my retouch, the very last thing I do is click FACEBOOK RESIZE AND SHARPEN and it's done. ( pretty sure you can Google search and find a bunch of options available.) Here's a screen shot of the action:
Now, I think it would be irresponsible and kind of silly to suggest that this one step will make all of my images sharp and clean. It obviously starts with a having a well focused, sharp image to begin with. And this is where the work comes in.
QUICK NOTE REGARDING SHARPNESS:
The following is written with the assumption you're shooting headshots/portraits of some type. There are PLENTY of types of images where the sharpness thing isn't too big of a concern depending on the content of the image and it's intended use. For headshot/portrait, most of what I'm referring to though is the sharpness when it comes to the eyes. Even then, it's a subjective thing. If shooting at low apertures like 1.4, 2.8 or 3.2 as I do...you're not always going to get completely sharp faces and in fact, both eyes may not be sharp. They don't need to be usually. However, it's important to remember that the eye closest to the camera should definitely be sharp and in focus. If the rest of the face and features are soft....that's fine and a matter of taste, choice...artistic vision.
That said....let's move on:
I shoot with a Nikon D800 which is a 36mp BEAST of a machine. My lens of choice is the Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8VRII which is a BEAST of a lens! The two together give you one hell of a starting point to some serious images....IF...you know how to handle them. I see a lot of photographers uploading images to FB where the clarity/sharpness is just poor and not tack sharp at all. And it's not because of the upload to FB. What's worse is, some of these guys are shooting with PhaseOne cameras, Hasselblad, Nikon D800/810 and Canon 5DMkIII! It's crazy! That's a whole other convo. I don't want to make this a long post about shooting technique and all sorts of technical stuff. I just want to say that it's imperative to learn to get really good, clean sharp images from the get go. Especially if you're shooting portraits of people up close. It's something that takes a lot of practice especially when using these high megapixel cameras these days as they're not so forgiving when it comes to mistakes. Whatever method of focus you have, make sure you master it! (there are TONS of blogs and articles out there on all of the numerous methods of AF.) I personally shoot hand held in manual mode. (for headshots on location. In studio, shooting a portrait or beauty I'm on a tripod and higher apertures so...clarity is a given.) That sounds crazy to some but that's just my preference and I love the feeling of knowing that I have 100% control over my focus. If I mess up, it's on me and my eyes, not my AF system. I also shoot at shutter speeds anywhere from 200 to 1250+ depending and of course use VR so, the hand held thing isn't so much a factor. When I upload my session to LR and start going though images, I have some images that aren't sharp. Oh well, it happens. Sometimes it pisses me off as that particular shot may be so damn good save for the fact that the focus is soft. For the most part, I nail most of my shots though and it's not so much an issue. I do adjust clarity and contrast some in LR before exporting to PS but still, I make sure to have a clean, clear, sharp image prior to even doing so.
In addition to my focus techniques, my lighting of course makes a difference. Getting my key light positioned correctly in both height and distance from my subjects is obviously a major factor prior to even shooting.
So that's it. I know I didn't get into a bunch of stuff regarding how Facebook resizes and handles images upon upload. I believe there are tons of articles on that out there I just wanted to share exactly what I do and give some insight and guidance on getting sharp images to begin with. The unsharp mask and resize definitely contribute to my final image upload and how sharp it is. I recommend experimenting a bit with unsharp mask and definitely resizing to the 2048 size for upload to FB. I have heard other sizes as being optimal such as 1200x628 but that's a matter of preference I guess. Pretty sure 2048 gives you the fullest size. In the end, nothing beats having a clean, sharp well focused image to begin with! Hope some of this has been helpful. If it has, feel free to Comment, Like and Share. If you have other methods and suggestions, feel free to share in comments.
Let's dive right in here folks!
Much of the fun and participation for the actor takes place during the headshot session. (well, it should be fun and they should be participating but, that's another blog!) But when the session is complete, the job is only half done. Now it's time to actually go through the 200, 300, 400 plus images and narrow down the choices that will be ultimately used for your headshot. This of course can be fun too but it's a lot of work and requires a certain eye.
If you don't have the option to sit down with your photographer and go through images together, you're left to figure it all out for yourself and then get back to him or her with your choices to be retouched. Or, if they don't do their retouching, you're left to choose your shots and then send them out to be retouched somewhere. Perhaps your photographer will correspond with you via email and send you his choices and even discuss options via the phone (this is the second best option next to actually sitting with him) This is all going to depend on how your photographer works and what their process is. Some actually charge you to sit and go through your images. I don't quite understand that but, that's another story.
So, let's just say you're left basically pick your best images. Pretty simple yeah? I mean, it's YOU, your shots, you know what's best yeah? Well, not always. Let's take a look at what I mean.
The image above is from a recent session with an incredibly gorgeous and talented young lady named Nicolette. The shot is SOOC (straight out of camera) and it's literally the 14th shot of the session. I was still tweaking the light here and had barely gotten started. Actually, this was also a shot where I specifically directed her to keep her head up and sit natural as she would if posing for a picture on her own. Now, it's not a bad shot and she's of course.....gorgeous. However, it's no where near what I would consider even useable as a headshot. But, guess what? She picked this shot as one of her selections to use. It was nothing more than a still warming up shot and we hadn't even really started getting into the groove. Let's move on to the very next shot that was taken right after this:
In this shot, I coached her to drop her head/chin some and to lean in a bit. It's a subtle move but look at the impact it has on the shot. This is also a SOOC shot. Other than the car lights being gone in the background, it's basically the same shot but with a drastically different effect just based on that head move. Still though, expression wise, this doesn't cut it and she's looking a bit blank yeah? Let's move on to the next shot:
Here we have Nic' just a few shots later after some coaching on how to use her eyes and mouth to get great, engaging expressions. Personally, I didn't pick this shot as a final image but looking at it now, it's most certainly a useable shot for her purposes. It's not my favorite but, it's got personality, she looks engaged with the camera, she's got that thing in her eyes, that slight smile and she looks confident.
So, why did Nic' choose that first shot above? Well, she looks beautiful. It's a bit of a serious, nice dramatic look and mature. We spoke about it and these are some of the things that she looked at and liked. That is where the issues come in. Actors, and people in general will look at their photos and assess them based on how "good" they look in the photo. They look at their features and decide if they like how their nose looks or their hair or their ears. In fact, most people by nature look at a photo of themselves and are immediately drawn to their flaws and the things they DON'T like about themselves. You are studying your beauty and making a decision based on that pretty much. What's more is, when selecting images to use as headshots, most actors show their pics to their friends, family, boyfriend, girlfriend and whomever and ask their opinions. Most of those people will judge the photos by the same criteria; how gorgeous you do or don't look in the photo. In Nic's case here, there's no denying how beautiful she is. I could have shot her under exposed, with bad lighting and out of focus and she'd STILL be fine! But, it's not about that. You need to be mindful of what will work as a headshot. You want casting directors and the like to come across your photo and be interested in you. Being really pretty won't overcome a blank expression, no personality, nothing to say, boring look on your face.
As a photographer that works with actors almost exclusively and works with agents, I've learned the things to look for and I know what will work and won't. It's part of my job. As an actor, your job isn't to study these things necessarily but it's worth while to do so. Start to understand expression and personality in a shot. Work with photographers who hopefully understand these things and more important, can coach you during your sessions to get those shots. If you're apprehensive about choosing your shots, make sure your photographer offers you assistance with doing so and really can guide you. In the end, that headshot has to go out and get you work. Make sure that it says something and grabs someone's attention! As I always say:
"They should look into you, not at you!"
For more tips/guidance on your headshots, feel free to join me at The Actor's Headshot group on Facebook! And feel free to share this with your actor friends!
"Happy New Year!"
As I start out this new week, the first of the year, I wanted to quickly talk about a new direction I'll be going for 2016.
Most of my blogging efforts, my social media posts and interactions in online groups/forums is geared toward other photographers. I'm usually posting random pieces of advice and guidance on shooting headshots. For the most part, I truly love sharing and helping others. It's one of the greatest rewards for me as a professional. Over this last year, as my work has improved, I've gotten a lot of new followers and friends and I receive comments, emails and messages asking me about techniques, gear and the related. Most of these come from other photographers both new to shooting as well as more experienced photographers looking to get more into headshots. I'm a huge believer in surrounding yourself with others that share your same passions and are in your same line of work. Being part of a few photography groups has allowed me to share my work with others and receive feedback/critique and has allowed me to learn some things while also being inspired by others. It's been great interacting with so many other photographers, especially headshot photographers but....at this point, it's time to move another direction.
Shooting headshots is my primary business. It's my passion. I do professional work here and there outside of that and some personal projects once in awhile but shooting headshots is my thing. More specifically, I shoot actors! And that's what has motivated me to make a slight change. This year, I'll be focused on providing actors with guidance on their headshots. Instead of addressing other photographers and talking shop with them, I'll be working with actors to help them improve their game when actually getting in front of the camera. Working with so many actors, it's shocking to hear some of their stories about their experiences with other headshot photographers. It's sometimes funny but overall, really sad. What I want to do is prepare actors for getting the most out of their sessions no matter who it is they're shooting with. Contrary to popular belief, most actors really can't stand sitting for their headshot. In fact, some hate it. That said, if they're not dealing with a seasoned, professional photographer that knows how to handle them, chances are the shots are going to suck. We can't have that! #nobadheadshots!
I ultimately want to know that an actor anywhere, in any big city or even small town is educated and savvy on how to handle themselves in front of the camera to get the best headshots they can get. I want them to know posing and angles even if the photographer doesn't. I want them to know the small tips and tricks that the photographer should know in order to get great expressions and flattering looks. What's more, is I want actors to have the confidence they need to sit in front of any photographer and not be apprehensive or worried about their session.
To that end, I'll be posting here on my blog and on social media random guidance and such for actors. I'm also working on a series of video tutorials that will demonstrate posing techniques and some basics to keep in mind when sitting for headshots. I'll also continue to offer feedback on and give honest assessments on actor's current headshots if they want.
None of this means I won't be working with other photographers if they seek my guidance. I still very much love being able to help others with their work and help them to reach new levels. I've had a bunch of requests to do more workshops and I may be entertaining that during the year as well. I'm still very much a student myself and look forward to improving my game and reaching new heights.
So, that said, I'm really looking forward to this year and working with everyone. I created a Facebook group some time ago called The Actor's Headshot. Feel free to join the group. This is where I'll be posting most of my content and tutorials.
Hope to correspond with you all soon! Feel free to SHARE this post and the info with other actors.
All the best to everyone and may this be a GREAT year for you all!
I want to take a quick minute to discuss a few things when it comes to positioning of a subject for a headshot. So by now, if you're familiar with my work, you see that I shoot everything landscape orientation and I tend to shoot very tight. As I primarily shoot actors, I like my headshots to look like close up television or film stills. Television and film of course is all about action. But how do you create or convey action in a still image like a headshot? Well, it's all about avoiding "pose" per se and focusing on what I call the "poised position!" If you look at the shot above, she looks as if she's about ready to spring into action as opposed to just standing there in a nice pose looking gorgeous. The slight lean forward and position of her shoulders suggest that she's coming at you and engaged with you. This is what's most critical for me when shooting a headshot. Casting directors and the like will go through god knows how many headshots on a daily basis. What I want is for them to get to my clients shots and feel as if the actor is coming toward them. I have seen many headshots out there that more or less look like modeling shots and the focus tends to be on the pose and capturing the clients good looks. I'm guilty of having some shots like that in my portfolio as well. While we most certainly want to capture the look and personality of a client, it's really important to not forget that within that tiny fraction of a second that someone looks at the photo, they need to see more than just....a pretty picture. A headshot needs to grab attention and pull someone in. A headshot for an actor needs to get them work on television, in film or theater and all three are mediums of action.
In addition to the actual pose, the expression needs to convey action as well. How is that done? Simply by having your subjects truly interacting with you and creating the action. Try this experiment - Have a conversation with someone and just notice how their face looks and changes as you speak. You'll notice the slight changes and movement in their eyes, eyebrows and mouth as they listen to you. They're "in action" as they listen to you. (assuming of course you're not boring them with a cat story or some kind!) They're interested in what you're saying and even if not genuinely interested, they're hopefully at least trying to "look" interested. Besides that, many people are just waiting for their turn to actually speak which naturally puts them in the "poised" mode mentally which eventually translates to their physical expression. Sometimes it's subtle and sometimes, it's very obvious that they can't wait to chime in and speak their mind. This is basically what you want to work toward in your headshots. Each shot should almost look as if the subject has something to say, something to offer and something worth finding out about. There are of course many different types of expressions/emotions to convey but which ones you're going for will be determined by the goal of the shot.
The combination of a really genuine and interesting facial expression with just the right amount of lean in toward camera can make all the difference in your clients getting looked at with consideration or being tossed aside with all the other...pretty pictures.
If you want to know more about positioning your subjects in headshots and some more on expression, feel free to visit my Facebook page and leave me a message.
I belong to a few online, social media photography groups, mostly headshot oriented. It's interesting to see the numerous set ups and variety of gear used by a lot of headshot photographers just starting out. I see people wanting to pull off one particular style of headshot but going way overboard with their attempts. Then, inevitably, they struggle with why they're not nailing their shots and or....their work is not consistent. Why? Simply because they're over thinking it sometimes and getting too caught up in trying to get fancy with their work. Now obviously, there's no one size fits all set up or formula for every photographer but, I should think that within the realm of shooting headshots, even with different styles of lighting, the overall look isn't going to vary too much.
Shooting fashion for example can involve one light or twenty lights, a plethora of modifiers, tons of gels, reflectors and flagged off sections of studio or location space. The actual job itself and/or the photographer's vision/client's vision dictates the lighting and overall look. There's a heck of a lot more room for creativity and you're not always shooting the same thing. Not to mention the post processing, color grading and all sorts of stuff used to create the final images. That said, if you're shooting fashion on the regular, chances are you've got a variety of gear that's used based on need and what look you're going for.
With a headshot on the other hand, you're shooting one thing - A tight shot of someone's face/head. It's a shot to represent the person and their personality and to get an actor work. While there are different opinions on landscape vs portrait and studio vs location, either way you're pretty much going to have a basic set up each time and it's not about clothing or shoes or jewelry, hair or styling. It's about that one person in front of your camera. Give or take a few personal preferences, it's a pretty basic set up - Your key light to light the subject, some fill and possibly some type of kicker/accent light. That should really be it for the most part. (In studio, if doing the high key, white background thing, you'll have lights to light the background.) The type of lights you're using, which modifiers and how you set it all up is of course, up to you. Even if you're strictly a natural light headshot photographer, you've got one consistent source of light (the sun) and chances are you'll have some sort of fill via a reflector. All of that said, the main thing I want to get at in this post is that you truly need a consistent, go to set up for your work when shooting headshots. There really shouldn't be the same experimental, freestyle, artistic license thing going on as there may be for fashion, editorial or a random portrait.
While you can always play around and have 6 to 10 lights , 3 oversized, octagon shaped reflectors and miscellaneous contraptions and set ups to light one person for a headshot, it may not be the best idea and probably overkill. You should keep it simple and not go overboard with trying to do anything fancy other than lighting your subject the best possible way. You need to consider what style of headshot you want to shoot, learn how to do it, what you need and then...stick with THAT set up on a regular basis. THIS is how you nail consistency. And consistency is what ultimately will serve to make your brand. You can always make a few adjustments/changes here and there and possibly experiment once in awhile, there's nothing wrong with that. But, you should commit to your main set up, know your gear, master that set up and repeat it over and over and over!
Just a quick post regarding catch lights in headshots. I've seen some headshots where the catch lights become the most dominant thing in the photo. Using multiple lights, a variety of shapes and different sizes to get all sorts of funky things going on in the eyes. I'm pretty partial to natural looking or classic catchlights whether round or square. However, I know that there are some lighting set ups that have become pretty regular where a rectangular lighting set up in one way or the other produces that same rectangular or square catch light in the eyes. Cool. I think it's gotten to be a pretty specific, contemporary look and for the most part, it looks great when done right. But what happens when it goes overboard? I'll tell you what happens: You end up drawing way too much attention to the eyes for all the wrong reasons and the catch lights take on a creepy effect making your subjects look like androids. First and foremost, any use of lighting and the arrangement of such lighting needs to be specifically for ONE thing - To effectively light your subject according to the goal in mind. Specifically, I'm referring to headshots more than anything. With a headshot, you light and photograph with the intent of capturing your subject and conveying their look and character in a shot. Trying to purposefully design "cool" catch lights with a superfluous amount of lighting or elaborate placement of those lights serves as nothing more than a distraction. I guess if you're shooting an artistic portrait of some kind then anything goes yeah? But for a headshot, try and let the catch lights just be as they are without obvious manipulation of the process.