My last head shot had been getting a little long in the tooth. So on a whim the other day, I redid it.
Gotta keep things fresh, I always say. So I try to redo my head shot every seven years, whether it needs it or not.
As photographers, we only get to see one side of the equation—and that does not involve looking down the barrel of the gun, either. So being on the receiving end is always a learning experience. Even more so when you are on the shooting and receiving end.
So, show of hands: how many of you are on social media? OK, a couple.
A head shot, AKA avatar, is your immediate first impression on other people. And in theory at least, you have the ability to present your first impression pretty much the way you want to. After all, it's not like you need to go out and hire a photographer to do it.
That said, from my position on Twitter (with lots of upstreamed questions/mentions coming from photographers) I see a lot of photog head shots. Some are great, and very conscious of the power of that first impression. Some… not so much.
And there are even some eggs. Eggs. Are you effing kidding me. Seriously.
A new head shot had been on my to-do list for a while, but there had been plenty of reasons to put it off. As a one-man band, my to-do triage list usually keeps anything that is not on fire or bleeding on the back burner.
But that time on the back burner allows time for ideas to percolate on non-urgent projects, just like a long-term assignment. So in the end it works out pretty well. And in thinking about what kind of a head shot I would want to do, the following thoughts had risen to the top:
Black and White
That's a photographer thing, I think. This would get heavy use as a visual brand for my social media channels, as well as a mugshot for any external publication for which I was a subject.
I wanted black and white rather than color. And to avoid the trap of thinking in both genres at once, I shot it only in B&W. Besides, Fuji (I used an X-T1 for this—more on why later) does really nice B&W files in-camera.
I am not generally slick or polished. (Or long-trousered, for that matter.) So the feel of an avatar/headshot/visual brand should be consistent with that. B&W, simple light, organic background, etc. Heck, I didn't even shave. Which is kinda of interesting and pretty spot-on in retrospect. The idea to actually get up, walk across the room and do a headshot hit me totally on a whim.
Which, I figured, was the ideal time to do it. Stream of consciousness.
It would be most-used as a square, so I wanted to compose and shoot it as a square. In a pinch it could tight-crop to a vertical. But it should want to be square.
This is where the photog and subject thing collide. As photographers, we want to show people in an authentic way. As subjects, we wanna look good. That to me was the most interesting of the collisions that resulted in playing all of the parts in this production.
In the end, I figured I am 49. Sure, I can give myself smoother skin. But every wrinkle, every acne scar, every sunspot and every gray hair are well-earned. (No warts yet, but give me time.)
The photographer in me won out and I am glad it did. Having gone through that balancing act and come out squarely on the photo end, I hope to bring that experience to being better able to encourage my own subjects to go full-bore real. Or at least to move the slider a little more in that direction. In general things are way too plastic these days, IMO. I understand it, I guess, but I don't like it.
Neutral Expression, Camera Conscious
Again, going for real and direct here. Aim a camera at someone and the eight-year-old inside them hears their parent yell, "Smile!"
It's reflexive. Even so, I have always maintained that a neutral expression is far more versatile. It is a mirror expression. It will reflect whatever the viewer puts into it.
Ditto with camera conscious. I use the technique of, "Look over there for a second" all the time when I shoot people who are not making a good connection with the camera. It's a device. Maybe good for a manufactured visual moment, or a little variety in a shoot. But it will never have the impact of someone staring straight into the camera.
Technical Stuff: Again, Simple
I used one light on a stand right behind the camera, bounced into the white suspended ceiling. At first it was an LP180 speedlight—pleeeenty of power for this. But while I am good at sensing how light will fall from a no-model-light flash onto a face when viewing from camera position, being the subject itself made that much more difficult.
So I swapped out to one of the LED monoblocs we bought for filming the Lynda Travel stuff. That way I could see myself in the context of the light, realtime.
How? Because of one little awesome trick.
Fuji Camera Remote
The Fuji X-T1 is the first camera to include access to the Fujifilm's Camera Remote App. It's free, but it only works with the new X-T1. (Presumably, other future Fuji cameras will include this capability.)
The app allows you to not only view a near real-time (seriously, the lag is almost nil) thru-camera image on your iPhone, but also to control the camera and shoot frames, too. You can remotely change many of the settings just as you would on the camera. You can even tap your screen to whatever you want to focus on and the AF point will jump to there.
I am only beginning to explore the app, but I know one thing: it makes the X-T1 pretty much the ultimate selfie cam. Zack used it to shoot close-ups of a cobra. (Meh. Weenie. I eat them...)
But seriously, I can see lots of cool possibilities for this. It's not fully baked yet, IMO. But it is a V1.01, and it is freaking free. So there's that.
And it worked great for this shot.
As for post production, as I said I tried to resist the temptation to Barbie-fy my skin. In fact, I even jacked the contrast a little. Even more so in the wood grain of the basement closet door I used as a backdrop.
I duotoned it a little bit—warmer in the highlights, cooler in the shadows—to get the faux richness of the old Kodak Elite B&W paper, when you left it in the Dektol for a full five minutes. Again, old guy. Whaddya want.
Seriously, Do a Real Head Shot Already
It's your first impression. It's your brand. You have everything you need to do it, for free. Just do it, okay?
Discussion, via Twitter: use hashtag #StrOA166, and add "@Strobist" at the end of the tweet if is important that I see it.
And if you know of a photographer who has really pulled off the head shot/avatar thing pretty well, shoot us an URL.
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