Annual Headshot Issue in Backstage featuring Jinsey
Dauk strives for the active rather than the passive at a shoot.
“A lot of actors don’t like having their picture taken because they think it’s about posing,” says Dauk.”But it’s not like that at all; it’s doing and being. Actors are really at home with doing and being because that’s what they do on stage, and it’s what I’m trying to do with my head shots.”
By Jill Charles
All Photos by Jinsey Dauk
Dauk’s method of getting an actors spontaneity stems from the fact that she never uses a flash, relying instead on the natural light in her studio (with perhaps some fill light). “Because I don’t use flash I’m able to catch action a lot faster, and catch a lot of spontaneity. That’s why every one’s eyes are so alive and awake. A flash makes it really difficult for people to feel at ease. They’re sitting there with a smile thinking, ‘Okay, when is she going to take the picture,’then there’s the flash, and they think,’Phew it’s done.’ ” The way I shoot,”she continues, “it’s a succession. I make them laugh a lot, because I’m goofy and so is my assistant, and when they break into that laugh, I just put my finger down on the shutter, and it will click five or six times. So from the beginning of the moment-whether it’s a sexy and seductive smile or a more serious or legit look–to the end where they warm into the big happy laugh, I get that progression of a laugh. And that’s why it’s so much more alive and awake, rather than having to stop and smile, stop and smile. That stopping, which happens with a flash, is the opposite of just being and doing.” A film major in college, Dauk compares her method of filming, only using a still camera. “If you saw a contact sheet of mine,” she says, “it’s sort of like watching a movie of somebody; you see it go from a small smile to a big smile for about five or six shots, and then maybe change the shirt and do something else. It’s a great way to put people at ease.” Dauk insists, “My whole theory is that the eyes are the most important thing in a head shot. You want to be warm and approachable. You want to grab people, to become three dimensional.”
FOCUS ON SOUL, NOT STYLE
Ever walked into a drugstore “just to buy toothpaste” and been overwhelmed by the hundreds of brands, types, styles, flavors, and packaging? Go into a photo reproduction house and look at the myriad of photos on display: head shots, portraits, three-quarters, full bodies; border less, narrow borders, wide borders, grey Backgrounds, mottled backgrounds; indoors, outdoors; smiling, serious, silly… you get the point. But stop looking at the packaging, and look at the “product.” Look again at those photos on display. lots of attractive people…Lots of happy smiles…some aggressive glares or broody stares. Look closer: which ones say more than just “this is my glamorous look” or “this is my smile for those commercial agents”? Quite simply, which one of those photos make you want to meet that person? That, ultimately, is what your photograph needs to do for your career: It must make the casting person or director who sees your photo want to bring you in to meet you in person. Further complicating the process of selecting a photo style, many actors fall into the trap of believing that their head shot has to represent them as somehow different from who they are in real life. “They may feel they have look “glamorous” or “dramatic” or have that toothpaste smile” or “perform for the camera.” on the contrary, in talking to two theatrical photographers and a talent agent, Back Stage found the constant theme “be yourself!”
Barry Katz of the Dulcina Eisen talent agency was emphatic: “We want something that looks like the actor, of course, so when the actor walks in it looks like that person, but it should be an interesting moment. I like a photo that really represents the person, not just pictorially, but some thing about their spirit. If a picture is too bland, even though it may look like the person, it’s just boring. On the other hand, if actors do too much ion a photo, it types them: a big smile types you, a big action types you.”
Tom Bloom, who is not only a theatrical photographer, but an actor himself, differentiates between a theatrical shot and one that a model might use. “A model photographer is arranging a still life, something that doesn’t reveal a personality. the emotional input is added by the photographer. This is just the opposite of what we have to do for a theatrical photo. No matter what the outside technical aspects, we have to be sure the emotional life is coming from inside. The emotional quality is imposed on a model: the emotional quality has to be revealed by the actor.
Another New York photographer who has spent some time on the other side of the lens as well is Jinsey Dauk, who’s actually worked as a model with the Ford agency. She too draws the distinction between actor and model in a theatrical photo. “You’re an actor-not a model who trying to be an actor-and so you want them to think when they get the picture, ‘Yes this person’s an actor; yes they look really confident, warm and approachable. This is somebody I want to call up.’ And then once you get there, then you impress then with you personal style.”
The Eyes Have It
How do you get your “soul” to show through whatever style photo you wind up using ? Well, “the eyes are the mirror to the soul” certainly holds true in photography. It is the eyes, more than anything else, that will “pull” the viewer into your photo and reflect who you are really, beyond the physiognomy of your face and the shape of your body.
Katz phrases it this way: “To me the eyes are very important in a head shot, I want to see if they have life there, if something’s going on behind their eyes. The sort of expression I like on a picture is ‘I know something you don’t know and you won’t know that until you meet me.’ So there’s an air of something slightly mysterious that will draw me in and make me want to see you.”
Dauk insists, “My whole theory is that the eyes are the most important thing in a headshot. You want to be warm and approachable. you want to grab people, to become three-dimensional.”
Bloom also emphasizes the eyes as he talks about capturing a moment in active time, not a passive pose. ” If the actor can learn to truly include the camera, the result will be a vital photo , inviting the viewer to come in to the world of the actor, and implying there’s something very special there to share. In order to truly share with the camera, it is crucial to endow the camera with being of a particular person from your own experience; this will automatically bring life to your eyes.
Photographers’ Trade Secrets Revealed
What are the methods a photographer uses during the actual shoot, to help an actor achieve “something going on behind the eyes” that Katz and other agents and casting people look for?
Dauk talks about helping the subject relax for the first half hour of the session in her studio-living room with two nine foot windows overlooking the Hudson. “It’s an atmosphere where they can explain their style to me. I find out what they want to get out of this, how they define a legit and commercial shot for instance, which might be different to them than it is to me, and I offer them the chance to collaborate with me.” Dauk explains that she enjoys getting to know her subjects, “because each person is different.” Dauk reaches rapport with her subjects with the help of Camille Hickman, her assistant, whom she describes as “wacky and fun to be around,” and also with a video which has created specifically to help prepare to help prepare the subject for the shoot.
Bloom also shoots in his bright, windowed studio and establishes a rapport with the ease of one actor talking to another. When he begins the shoot, he “coaches” the subject, but it’s very different from the stereotype of a fashion photographer yelling “yes, yes, give me more!” It is much more along the lines of a director working with an actor in a very short improvised scene. “A human life can be just as lifeless as a still life if it’s not engaged, and therefore revealing,” Bloom says. “Anyone who’s engaged, even just listening, to a certain extent revealed, vulnerable. Where the fashion photo covers what the model is thinking, a theater photo must reveal a thought that’s really happening.”
Bloom might ask an actress to imagine a close friend she hasn’t seen in for a long time. ” You hear the voice just outside the doorway, and you’re planning something wonderful that you will do together,” Bloom will instruct the actress. Having her look up at the camera just as the person “enters the room,” Bloom will snap several moments as the actress smiles in recognition and anticipation for the fun they will have together. For a commercial shot, he likes to use a similar scenario but with a child. “We all open up with children,” he insists, and he’ll encourage a subject to imagine a child they know and then offer a special treat: “Wanna go to the beach?” or “Come see what I have for you!”
Similarly, Dauk strives for the active rather than the passive at a shoot. “A lot of actors don’t like having their picture taken because they think it’s about posing,” says Dauk.”But it’s not like that at all; it’s doing and being. Actors are really at home with doing and being because that’s what they do on stage, and it’s what I’m trying to do with my head shots.” Dauk’s method of getting an actors spontaneity stems from the fact that she never uses a flash, relying instead on the natural light in her studio (with perhaps some fill light). “Because I don’t use flash I’m able to catch action a lot faster, and catch a lot of spontaneity. That’s why every one’s eyes are so alive and awake. A flash makes it really difficult for people to feel at ease. They’re sitting there with a smile thinking, ‘Okay, when is she going to take the picture, then there’s the flash, and they think,’Phew it’s done.’ ” The way I shoot,”she continues, “it’s a succession. I make them laugh a lot, because I’m goofy and so is my assistant, and when they break into that laugh, I just put my finger down on the shutter, and it will click five or six times. So from the beginning of the moment-whether it’s a sexy and seductive smile or a more serious or legit look-to the end where they warm into the big happy laugh, I get that progression of a laugh. And that’s why it’s so much more alive and awake, rather than having to stop and smile, stop and smile. That stopping, which happens with a flash, is the opposite of just being and doing.” A film major in college, Dauk compares her method of filming, only using a still camera. “if you saw a contact sheet of mine,” she says, “it’s sort of like watching a movie of somebody; you see it go from a small smile to a big smile for about five or six shots, and then maybe change the shirt and do something else. It’s a great way to put people at ease.” The photographers agree. Dauk insists, “My whole theory is that the eyes are the most important thing in a head shot. You want to be warm and approachable. You want to grab people, to become three dimensional.”
There are several style of theatrical photographs which are equally acceptable in New York (indeed, all over the country). The “head shot” is an 8″x10″ enlargement of an actor’s face, showing hair and neck, to the collar or just below it. These are generally printed without a border on matte or pearl finish photographic paper; the actors name is usually set in black type on a light area. The “portrait” style shows the actor’s head and shoulders at least, but may include down to the waist, or lower, even as much as a full body shot. (These types of photos may be referred to as “three-quarter” or “full body,” accordingly.) Portrait style shots are posed in many ways, seated, face leaning into one’s hands; standing casually; perched on a stool; leaning against a wall; kneeling or sitting on the floor-each one is unique. These photos are printed showing the uneven black line which marks the edge of the photographer’s negative frame-or the reproduction house may drop in a narrow black line-and then set within a wide, white border. Again, the preferred paper is matte or pearl finish, with the name inside the white border. With a myriad of choices, it’s easy for an actor to feel overwhelmed. However, during a photo session, the photographer will allow for several changes of clothing and poses, and it is simply a matter of pulling the camera back a few feet to change the head shot into a portrait style. The result will be contact sheets which are filled with various shots, taken from various distances, so the selection of which style to use needn’t be made until after the shoot.
Everyone Back Stage interviewed agreed that the range of acceptable styles was greater right now than at any time in recent memory, but they all voiced caution to actors. When asked if he preferred head shots or portrait style, Barry Katz answered, “It depends on the actor; it’s one of those things I can change my mind on, how much body I like to see. Basically, if there’s something about the body that you want to show off, then a body shot isn’t bad. If you’re an unusual physical type, or towards an extreme-very tall and thin, or short or heavyset, then it’s good for the body type to show is your photo. It’s also good for dancers and actor-dancers. But keep it simple, and make sure the head doesn’t get lost, that’s the most important thing.”
After 20 years of shooting mainly head shots, Tom Bloom enjoys the freedom of shooting a slightly longer shot because it tends to help the subject relax more. Something happens in the session,” he says, “when you know you being shot uptight, and there’s greater scrutiny on the face. But when you know it’s your whole body.” However, he too warns that the further away the camera gets, the smaller and less important the face and eyes become. For this reason he frequently will set up a table in front of the actor fro them to lean their elbow on. He can shoot “down to the table” and show a good deal of body language without losing the eyes and face. At the other extreme from full body shots are head shots where the top of the head is cropped off. Katz complains, “It’s recently become a popular style, and it’s really silly. It’s called a head shot, so I don’t know why you’d cut the top off. Stylistically, it makes no sense to me whatsoever. Put your whole head in there.” Katz called this his pet peeve, and said other agents he had spoken to agreed. “Another no-no is pictures that are misleading-making you look much better or worse, than you do when you come in the door. Or if you never smile but the photo has a big toothy grin.”
Dauk too takes the middle of the road when she discusses her preference of how much body should be shown in a photo. “When you get too close up with the old fashion tight, tight head shots, you can’t really tell one person from the next because it’s just too close-you see these bright eyes and that’s about it. But if it’s pulled back a bit, then you see each picture as an individual. However, when you pull back even further than that, your eyes get smaller and they can’t see that much about you, so that it becomes more about the style of the photograph, rather than the person’s eyes.”
Another problem with showing a lot of body, Dauk pointed out, is that pulling the picture all the way to a three-quarters view may be giving too much information. Dauk hypothesizes that a casting director might think, “she has a wedding ring, she won’t leave her husband to go do a rep in Kansas, or she’s wearing jeans so she can’t be an upscale mom.”
A last caveat from Katz: “Don’t do anything too fancy. people try to be clever and artistic with pictures, and it doesn’t need to be clever and artistic, it needs to show you. Some people have fancy backgrounds, which are distracting. Some people do unusual poses with their body; it becomes about the action or the background rather than about you.”
Researching and Selecting Your Photographer
Remember that in selecting a photographer, you are not looking for the “best” photographer, but from the photographer with you can achieve the best photograph of yourself. The most expensive, best-known theatrical photographer in New York may not be the right choice for you, if you are intimidated by the reputation, or feel no rapport with him or her. Remember, you are hiring this person, paying hard earned money for their time, skill and expertise. The photographer is not doing you a favor in allowing you to pay him or her for shooting you. And yet, many actors go to a shooting session filled with dread and feeling completely inadequate, almost quaking in front of the “The Hottest Photographer in the City.” If you feel that way at your shooting session, how can you possibly produce a photo that captures your audacity, your sense of fun, your self-confidence? You can find out about photographer from ads-in this and other publications-and from other actors as well. When you look at other actor’s head shots, ask them how they felt at the shoot: Were they made to feel relaxed and not rushed? Did they achieve a real rapport with the photographer? Did they enjoy the shoot? After you made a list of at least six photographers from all your research, call each to set a time to see their book and meet the person who would be shooting you.
When looking at a photographer’s book, remember that you want a photo to capture your essence: Beware if you see a book of photos which all look very similar, no matter how good the work may be technically. Look at the eyes in particular: do the subjects invite you into the frame with their eyes, so that you want to learn more about them? Notice the technical facility of the photographer: Are skin tones (textures) realistic? Does lighting show features clearly, neither washing out portions of the face nor hiding any area in shadow? Can you tell which actors are blondes (the hardest hair color to light in a black & white photo)? When talking to the photographers you visit, ask for complete details about fees, number of shots, guarantees, retouching, makeup artist, etc. If the price range is right and you like what you’ve seen in the portfolio, then ask: how does s/he about styles; what poses and clothing does s/he feel would work best for you; how does s/he run a shoot? Most important, do you feel this photographer wants to photograph you, is s/he excited by the prospect of capturing your being on film? Finally, go home and forget about the whole thing for day or two. The “right” photographer for you will pop into your head as the obvious choice.