Shooting and thinking about headshots

Dramatic soprano Dawn Fahnestock.

In my day job as an arts journalist for the Lexington Herald-Leader, I often look at and publish headshots – the visual calling card of artists, as well as many other people whose profession or avocation requires something of a public profile.

I delivered this image to Dawn in color, black and white and this version, black and white cropped to 8X10 dimensions.

Last weekend, I found myself shooting a headshot for dramatic soprano Dawn Fahnestock. Now this is something I won’t get to do much with artists, because as a local arts journalist, I am ethically barred from working for most performers who would need a headshot. But Dawn is a friend from way back I would recuse myself from writing about anyway, so this was a fun chance to try shooting one. And it got me thinking about Dawn’s shot and headshots in general, particularly when it comes to presenting them to the press.

So while, as I have said before, this site is not part of my day job, I’ll put on my arts journalist cap for a moment and offer some free advice to artists when it comes to getting headshots, particularly when it comes to using them with the press.

Color: I cannot tell you the number of times in recent years I have had a performer tell me they only had black-and-white headshots. This is not the 1950s, it isn’t even the ’90s. It’s the 2010’s, and it’s a Technicolor  – or, should I say Adobe RGB? – publishing world. Look at most publications and, of course, websites and at least their primary sections are in color, if not the whole thing.

So, if all you can offer is a black-and-white image, you are severely restricting you chances for good play in a publication. Yes, I am aware some casting agencies and the like still require black-and-white headshots (I would refer them to the stuff I just said about the ’50s), and I know black and white is often an artistic and aesthetic decision. But in the publishing world, we have color, and that is generally what designers want to use.

With Dawn’s shots, I delivered all images to her in color and black and white – and a lot of photographers do that. So make sure you get color and send that to the press. Remember, we can always turn color into black-and-white, but not the other way around – we don’t do that Ted Turner stuff.

Dawn got all dressed up for this, so, of course I wanted to deliver one head-to-toe image.

Think beyond head and shoulders: Of course, for many reasons, even in publishing, you need that solid shoulders-up headshot. But when you go to have that done, either in the context of that session or another session, see about getting something or a few things more along the lines of environmental portraits that would be more conducive to being used in everything from press feature stories to attractive advertising campaigns in venues where you are booked. I see goo-gobs of advertising brochures and flyers, and the artists who are getting the most prominent display are the ones with the most compelling images. That’s why I wanted to make sure Dawn walked away from our session with a few images that went beyond the headshot, and we have discussed possibly shooting some more when the weather gets better and outdoor locales are feasible and attractive – for some reason, classically trained singers don’t want to stand outside in 15-degree weather.

Having a variety of images is also important for …

A website: Probably even more than I encounter artists with headshots in only black and white, I encounter artists without websites. If you are looking to get booked, get publicity or do anything substantial these days you have to have a website. Even if you cannot afford to have one built for you, there are now numerous programs in Google, WordPress and other providers that will help you build at least a basic website for free. And nothing helps make a website look smashing like an assortment of attractive photos.

Finally …

Embed your info: Really, your photographer should embed information about who is in the photo and who took it in images before they are released. In Photoshop programs it’s done through a tab under “File” called “File info,” which opens up a screen that lets you fill out pertinent information about the image. Even free editing programs like Picasa at least have captioning options. This is so important to making sure information about photos is correct and everyone gets credit they deserve. And it is far, far easier than finding that perfect white balance or magical contrast, but I have to tell you – particularly after three weeks of editing duty – a majority of photos we get at the Herald, even from professional photographers and publicists, do not have embedded information. They all should.

As an artist, you want to put your best face forward, and often, whether they’re casting agents or ticket buyers, people’s first look at your face is a photo.


How did I forget this? Digital delivery: Maybe even more than I am amazed by artists with only black and white images, I am stunned by how many seem to only have hard copies of their headshots. These days, publications don’t want your 8X10, but would love a digital file of your headshot. As has been reported too, too many times, particularly in print media, our staffs our shrinking, and scanning those 8X10s in is something most publications do not have the time or personnel to do. So being able to send in a high res (300 DPI or bigger) JPEG will help the publication, and probably help you have a better chance at some exposure.

One thought on “Shooting and thinking about headshots

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Shooting and thinking about headshots « Rich Copley Photography, etc. --

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