The Actor

I recently met a fellow improvisor, who is also an aspiring stage and film actor. (He also has a PhD in Applied Physics, so the guy’s talents are diversified!) I photographed him for my Improvisors project, and afterward he asked me to do some actor headshots for him sometime. I hadn’t done many actor portraits recently, so this would be a fun change of pace. We met for his photo shoot this past weekend.

My client wanted candid, natural light portraits (which is the type of look most popular for actor headshots these days). There are lots of good urban outdoor locations near my studio that I had yet to try, so the day before the shoot I scanned the neighborhood with fresh eyes, looking for something new. I found a couple of good locations, and the next day the weather was great and we got a ton of great shots.

Our first look was a bit dressy, bordering on corporate, but with just a little edge. We shot on an exterior walkway outside a modern low-rise office building. We got a bunch of winners, but this is my favorite image:

After we had the polished professional look in the bag, we changed to a more casual outfit and a more casual locale—this time under an overpass, down by the railroad tracks. Again, we got lots of great looks, but here are my two favorites:

I liked my model’s look a lot, and it reminded me of an idea that I had a while back for a lighting test. The look was moody, with a noir vibe. Since things were going well, I asked if my client would be interested in coming back inside the studio to model for a little experiment. He wouldn’t have to pay for the extra time (since he was modeling for my concept), and if I got a good shot, he would get a free bonus image for his portfolio.

Back at the studio, I quickly set up the simple but dramatic set-up: A blue-colored light hung up high, washing the subject and background in a cool glow from behind. From the front, a harsh, direct light, cast through an narrow opening in a black panel, designed to create a crisp, narrow beam of white light. Here is the result:

The lighting test came out exactly as I had envisioned. My model made the perfect ruggedly handsome subject for the cool noir look. I’m glad I went for the extra shot. It will make a nice addition to my portfolio, and my client gets a dramatic portrait that contrasts with his primary headshots.

Hey, actor headshots are fun! Actors are so expressive, and good at taking direction. Maybe I’ll focus more on this type of work in the future…