Okay so maybe there isn’t a silver frame involved but I was struggling to think of a lyric that would lead into a post about headshots. Anybody? No? ‘A My Name is Alice’ will have to do then. I was lost on what to do a post about this week and then headshot day reared its ugly head and somehow the inspiration came. If you are yet to experience headshots please don’t let my fear of them put you off. I imagine that you’re all beautifully photogenic and your personality will jump through the lens. I, however, freeze up between the moments laughing before the shot and the serial-killer-eyed shot itself. I am hoping I am not alone in this inhibiting habit.

I had my first ever headshots taken earlier this year by the incredibly talented photographer Christopher Mann. Prior to the day, and on the day itself, I was terrified at the prospect of having my face being captured in a photograph that will ultimately aid/hinder my career. I took on my teacher’s advice (selection of tops, second day hair, not too much flesh on show, take a pot of Vaseline, beware of too much make up) and took on some so much that I got scared of make up and consequently wore NO MAKE UP. In Musical Theatre, I think this is fairly unheard of and at the time I didn’t know if it was a stroke of genius or a set up to fall. Still, off I went make up free and terrified. The concepts of leaning far forward, chin down, looking up, just a millimetre more to the left etc were so alien to me and I can only imagine that I was a nightmare to work with. Kudos and snaps to Chris for being so generous with me and helping me through it. He was fantastic at making me feel at ease (have a look at the ‘Testimonials’ page on his website – genius). That was the first step done. Then comes the choosing of the photos.

Looking through hundreds of photos of your face will always be a very surreal experience and my biggest advice is to be objective. You’re looking at yourself as a product, not for a nice picture of yourself – if I had gone for vanity I would have picked something very different to my final headshot. I would also advise that you don’t put them all on Facebook for a free for all of all your friends – especially  to avoid people not in the industry. As much as your aunty would love to look at pictures of you and offer her opinion, she will choose the picture that is the ‘prettiest’ or ‘handsomest’ (I had to Google to see if I had made that up) rather than something that resembles an actor’s headshot. If you’re going to put them on Facebook because you want some help I’d advise a private album shared with a few people who you think will know what to look for. Too many opinions are just confusing and at the end of the day it is down to personal choice – one casting director will love your shot and the next may not. If you can make the decision on your own (or with your agent) then do it. If you can picture yourself holding it up in front of your face, donning a leotard, a la Chorus Line then you’re done.

As a hater of photographs of my face, I was very pleased with what Chris had managed to get out of me. In an unexpected, make up free, way I think some of them are beautiful.* They were, however, all very serious. As much as I like to think of myself as a serious person –  albeit, a serious actor – I did need some photos of me smiling (ugh) and showing some personality (HA). So yesterday I had a new headshot session with the, again, very talented Simon Mayhew.

*May I just stress that I am not vain – I am the least vain person I know. I’ve just been reading some feminist books recently (‘Be Awesome’ by Hadley Freeman and ‘How to be a Woman’ by Caitlin Moran) so I’m trying to embrace what I’ve got. Thank you for understanding.

As happened earlier in the year, I felt slightly nauseous heading to the session. I can’t help it, it seems I am terrified of my own face. This became apparent throughout the shoot and Simon did his best to get me to “embrace” and give a “committed smile”. Like Chris, he used things to think of whilst having the photo taken and, like Chris, he was getting the same useless face off me – so much so that he asked if I actually enjoyed acting. I tried to explain that I do, of course, love acting and that normally I’d be fine pretending to be a naughty housewife in a supermarket who’s hiding a cheeky secret. I love the theatre because it is transient so in that moment I can be a Disney Princess if needs be, or my “go to” Mary Poppins, but knowing that a photograph will last forever puts a barrier on that. Anyone with me? Anyway we soldiered on and Simon seemed to think he had got some good shots.*

*I have now seen my contact sheet after writing this blog post and I can safely say that Simon is fantastic and that he did get some great** shots of me at, arguably, my most vulnerable (smiling).

** See previous explanation that I am not vain!

I think I can pinpoint the moment where I softened up yesterday happening when I started singing a song in my head as the photographs were taken. I also (think) I gave my best “committed smile” when I thought of a patronus moment and felt some butterflies (of the positive kind) in my tummy. So if, in my terrified of photos state, I had any advice to offer on how to get through the session those would be my gems (if you can call them gems). I wonder if those moments will be spottable in the final collection of photographs – I look forward to seeing them. I’m sure if you follow me on twitter you will also see them at some point.

I hope that some people who read this share my fear of headshots or at least understand my pain! If you haven’t had your headshots taken yet then I hope there are some things you can take from my experiences or at least some ‘how not to’ advice. If you’re one of the many who are actually secret pros at having your photo taken and are confident with your headshot then please please let me in on your secret ways! I do not want to live out my days practicing my “I really need this job” eyes so that they’re welcoming rather than threatening. Just think of the poor photographers that have to deal with my terrifying eyes until I learn that lesson! Help the photographers, headshot pros, help them. Also, next time you see me I want you to strike your best ‘hire me’ headshot face as a greeting. This would please me greatly. Happy headshot practicing!

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This clearly isn’t the look I, or any of you, should go for.

“Look at that face – Just look at it. Look at that funny old face of yours.”

– Rebecca Ridout

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