Drama School Headshots: What you really need to know (from a photographer who went!)
As Belfast’s most popular studio headshot photographer, the last month has been very odd for me. This time of year I am inundated with calls from actors applying to go to drama schools all across the country. Up until now, I have had to put off doing any photo shoots while we are in lockdown and there have been a lot of people left in limbo, not know what to do. I have a unique perspective and can sympathise with those who are apply to go to drama school – as I myself did, twenty years ago. I am very much looking to getting back to shooting from 1st June as we re-open our doors to the public.
I have a unique bond with the actors and artists I photograph, because all those years ago I was in the same position. There certainly not many photographers around in my position who can say they have got to live two dream careers – I am lucky enough to have. Twenty years ago I remember nervously applying to drama schools in London as I wanted to work in theatre as a stage manager. I was one of the lucky ones who got accepted – not just to a well known famous London drama school, but to my first choice, Rose Bruford (where the likes of Gary Oldman had gone before me). I flew over to the interview a nervous wreck and fell in love with “the old college”. I was over the moon (to say the least) when I received my admission letter telling me I had been accepted to join their very unique and prestigious Stage Management course. It was truly an honor to attend the college and I am still proud to be one of their alumni. You’ll find my degree certificate on the wall of our studio!
I specialised in stage managing musicals and operas and spent the next few years working in the industry on some truly wonderful shows touring around the UK and Ireland. It was during that time that I discovered a talent for photography and left theatre to pursue my current career, which I have been fortunate to work in now for 15 years. Most people get an opportunity to follow their dream career only once – I’ve got to to it twice. I would encourage anyone thinking of going to drama school to do it. Embrance it. It is a unqique training you just don’t get at any other university. You make friends for life and leave with skills you can use no matter what you want to do in the future.
One of the things you will be asked to provide when applying to any good drama school is a professional headshot photograph. I’ve shot hundreds and hundreds of them, establishing myself as Northern Ireland’s go to headshot guy. I enjoy meeting people and there is no better professions than theatre and photography to do that! Trust me when I say a selfie or photo taken by a friend with a camera against a wall will not cut it!
Here are my top tips on getting your professional headshot taken:
1. Think about what you want the interview panel to see
Drama schools are not looking the next Liam Neeson. They are looking to take you and shape you in to a versitile and employable artist. They don’t want know it alls. They want people willing to admit they don’t know what they are doing and willing to learn. To help show that, you will want a photograph that makes you look relatable and neutral. Avoid plastering yourself with fake tan or make-up. Your picture gets you in the door – and the people looking at it will only spend a second or so looking at it.
2. Going cheap isn’t always the best choice
There are more photographers out there than extras on EastEnders. Headshot photography is a specialisation, meaning you really need to know what you are doing to do it. Anyone can take a photograph of a person, but not everyone can take an amazing headshot… time and time again. So, although budget is important to everyone, going cheap can result in some truly shocking images that won’t help your case at the audition.
3. They’ll only see your top half!
The great thing about headshot photography is that it is a bit like presenting the news! The person looking at your pictures only ever sees the top of your body! So, make sure your top half is suitable and not distracting. At the same time, if you are more comfortable in jeans… wear those! No one will ever know!
4. Work with someone who makes you comfortable
Our studio is ideally suited for headshot photographs. It is private, unlike going to a park or a city centre. We can take time to get things right without you having to worry about someone looking over your shoulder. Trust me when I say, I have see it all before. Every headshot I take is for a reason and it’s not to grow my portfolio. It’s for you.
5. Everyone loves a bit of retouching…
Let’s be truthful. There isn’t a person on the planet who loves looking at themselves… well, very few people anyway 😉 There is also not a person on the planet who is perfect… apart from my wife (so I am told) 😉 That is why professional photographers use retouching… but with this skill comes great responsibility. Your headshot needs to look like you. It can’t be something you aren’t. The interview panel don’t want to see a plastic prince or princess. So we have to do things very subtly. A good headshot should look like you… just a little bit better without anyone being able to notice.
6. Bonus tip: Enjoy the experience
Having your headshot taken and going to the audition is part of a wonderful experience that few are fortunate to get the opportunity to do. If I could do it all over again, I would – in a heartbeat. I loved my time working in theatre and now I love my time helping those who want to work in theatre achieve their dreams. Enjoy the whole experience. You only live once afterall… unless you are James Bond that is!
Graham is Northern Ireland’s most popular studio headshot photographer and also attended drama school in London. If you are looking headshots that make you stand out, give him a call on 02890 99 77 98 or visit the headshot section of this website.