Taking Headshots Part 1

Headshots.

Boy, I wish they taught us how to do this in college. Taking great, specific headshots is not something that colleges teach.

It’s not about taking a generic picture.

It’s not about taking a nice picture.

It’s not about posing.

All of which I’ve been guilty of when I first came to LA. I didn’t know any better. I wasn’t properly informed.

Theatrical doesn’t mean that you just look serious in one picture. Commercial doesn’t mean that you’re just smiling in the other. What does that even mean to “just smile”? What kind of casting/character are you conveying? What is the subtext and inner life of the characters you’re portraying in your headshots?

Taking headshots is about specifics: Capturing your first circle of casting and the inner life of those characters. First circle of casting as in parts you can play right now. Parts that you naturally are and lead with. Are you the corporate lawyer? Or the public defense lawyer? Are you the quirky secretary or the sexy secretary? Are you the nerdy high school student a la Barb in “Stranger Things” or the it girl/mean girl a la Regina George in “Mean Girls”? We all lead with certain qualities that make us perfect for certain parts over other parts. First circle means we don’t have to reach so far or work so hard to play these characters.

When people look at your headshots, they should immediately get your casting by the wardrobe you wear and by your subtext/inner life. What is your character thinking?

I am currently in pre-production for a new headshot shoot. The headshots I currently have are not serving me anymore because I took those specifically for an HBO series that I was targeting called “Looking”. I did a headshot session in 2014 and in 2015 to target that particular series. I did extensive research on the wardrobe that the main characters wore, plus the wardrobe that the guest star and co-star characters wore: Colors, tones, where they possibly shopped, etc. I looked at the colors that the DP and cinematographer used in the series. I looked at the facial hair that many of the characters on the show had. I looked at what kind of character I could play on that show and what my facial hair would be like. I read interviews by the creators and executive producers regarding their concept for the series and for the characters in it.

Basically, I was zeroing in on this particular world. All my research was done to influence and inform my headshots. I wanted to make sure that my headshots reflected their world. I wanted to make sure that my headshots spoke the language of “Looking”. I wanted my headshots to look like I was literally on the set of “Looking” and someone took that picture of me. Like I just wrapped an episode of “Looking” and was taking pictures on set. The character I created could fit on that series.

I got really far with targeting this series: My headshots, reel and resume were personally sent to the creator and executive producers of the show. A year’s worth of work and building relationships with people connected to the show resulted in my package being sent to the powers that be. Unfortunately, the show was cancelled after 2 seasons.

However, I learned a great lesson in specificity.

So back to my pre-production. It’s time for new headshots. The ones I took for “Looking” were specific to that show. Plus, they are old headshots. This is what I’m doing to prepare:

Step 1: When I look at the roles I can play right now, that I have great mastery over, that I don’t have to work so hard at, my first circle of casting is this:

*Public school teacher (Drama, music, English)

*Cubicle worker (Not for a Fortune 500 company, but a regular company like Dunder Mifflin Paper Company, Inc.- the fictional paper sales company in the U.S. version of “The Office”)

*Fashionista/Interior designer

*Hacker

*Male nurse

Some of the qualities I lead with:

*I’m kind

*I’m empathetic

*I’m a listener

*I take care of people

*I administer tough love

*Intelligent and articulate

*I can be sassy and flamboyant

How did I come to this understanding of my casting? Through being honest with who I am and where my strengths are. By people telling me that I am good at this and they see me playing that. Now that I just celebrated another birthday on January 13th, and it’s been a while since I last shot headshots that were not targeted for a series, my casting has changed. I’m older. Where am I at now at this age?

Step 2: What is the wardrobe of the characters I can play? I did Google searches based upon TV characters I could have played like Marc St. James from “Ugly Betty” or Oscar Martinez from “The Office” or Mo Mo De La Cruz from “Nurse Jackie”. What is their wardrobe? Find that wardrobe in real life.

Step 3: I plugged my casting and picture prototypes into a headshot template Richard Lawson created. This template keeps me on point and it is something I give to the photographer in advance of the photoshoot so that we can be on the same page for the casting I’m going for, the subtext and attitude I’m going for and to determine which backgrounds will support the casting I’m going for.

Step 4: Shopping for wardrobe. Match the wardrobe of the TV characters I mentioned above. And once I find it, make sure it compliments my skin tone. Make adjustments as needed.

I have everything I need except for this wonderful, sky blue shirt I want for the public school teacher. I love the shirt that Charlie Day wears in the comedy feature film, “Fist Fight”. Charlie plays an English teacher and the shirt he wears is perfect. I found the shirt at TJ Maxx, but the top button was too tight! Bummer! I didn’t want to buy a shirt that would choke me. Since then, I went back two more times to the same TJ Maxx and I found other shirts, but they are not quite right. Either they are not the right shade of blue I want or the fit is not right. The fit has to be right. I have to feel good in the clothing and not fidget or be self conscious about it during the photoshoot. I went to another TJ Maxx, plus Ross and Marshall’s, but no luck yet. And I chose these stores because I don’t think a public school teacher would be shopping at any clothing stores on Rodeo Drive. It’s not an insult! I need to match the reality of a public school teacher and I am determined to find THAT shirt.

Step 5: Do test shoots at home to see how the clothes speak on camera. Do test shoots at home to determine the length of my hair. I’m balding, so do I want to go skin bald with these looks or do I want to get a buzz cut? If I go buzz cut, which guard do I want the barber to use? A zero? A one? Also, do test shoots with different lengths of beard. And test shoots with no beard at all. Cause at the end of the day, I need to feel good about the way I look. I want to feel confident in my headshots. But I’m also thinking about my brand. Yes, I’m honoring my casting, but who and what is Jorge Ortiz the brand? Do I want to be physically known by my buzz cut and facial hair? Are those my trademarks? Is that where my money is because my face and spirit pops the most under those physical conditions? What is my physical trademark and stamp?

I think at the core, as a brand, I am a rebel heart (Shout out to Madonna) I’m a rebel heart. I’m the everyday hero who cares and empathizes, but if need be, also administers tough love in the process. So that even as the fashionista, I can be sassy and cunty, but I can also have the capacity to care and administer tough love a la Nigel in “The Devil Wears Prada”. This branding is a merging of my castings, the qualities I lead with and my physical attributes.

Step 6: Research photographers. I asked my theatrical agent for a list of photographers that his clients love. I received a list and began research on every single photographer on it. I researched their websites. I paid close attention to the gallery of male headshots, and in particular, men of color. It’s important to find a photographer who knows how to shoot people of color. I’ve had a couple of experiences where I’ve come out looking less than favorable.

I read each photographer’s personal statements and their approach to photography. I read all the client testimonials on their websites.

I went with and listened to my instincts regarding certain photographers whether it was a yes or a no. For me, it’s about energy. I want to feel good in front of a photographer. There was one photographer that I immediately had a great feeling about. That photographer made my top three list.

I did a Google search and typed in “Backstage Magazine headshot photographers” to pull up their recent list of the top headshot photographers in LA.

Once I had my top three list, I looked them up on Yelp to see what others are saying about them. I then called my top three photographers to ask them questions, to get a sense of their energy and vibe, and to get a sense of their collaboration process.

Step 7: Make final decision on the photographer and schedule shoot date with them.

Step 8: Take final wardrobe choices to the cleaners and get them pressed.

I’m going to stop right here and continue with part 2 in the near future! Don’t want to overload anyone 🙂 🙂 🙂

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