As part of Saidah Arika Ekulona’s two-day residency with theatre students, she and I did a theatrical headshot work-shop, first discussing the actor’s need for photos, then looking at the work of (well-paid) photographers in New York and LA, then heading upstairs to the Campus Center where I’d set up the studio. There, Saidah coached the sitters on the intentions and actions they should bring to each pose, and we did 5 shots each in both a “commercial” style and a “legit” style (for theatre, film, and television). The whole group then viewed all the shots by connecting my camera to the Campus Center TV, and picked our favorites. You’ll notice that the lighting and background are different from the PhotoHour look. Usually my lighting is more directional, and the background, seamless paper. Directional lighting reveals more of the face’s contours and the sitter’s character. Headshots are meant to illuminate the whole face evenly, and the eyes brightly, so as to let casting directors know what the actor looks like. The current fashion is to eschew the studio backdrop and look for a locale that fuzzily suggests an urban milieu. I used my large circular softbox, just slightly above the camera position, and I placed a large metallic reflector below the sitter’s waist – to bounce light under the sitter’s neck and chin and create a secondary catchlight in the eyes. I used my 85mm lens to avoid any distortion from a wider angle. The windows near Jake’s Java served as our backdrop, but I used a neutral density filter so that I could keep the f-stop low and the depth-of-focus shallow, making the eyes and mouth sharp and the background unrecognizably fuzzy. For PhotoHours, it’s easier to have a plain backdrop, to use a shorter lens, and a higher aperture, so that I can shoot both groups and individuals. But our workshop has convinced me to set up in the theatrical mode every so often.
© John Robert Pankratz