Those that have shot with me or even met for coffee have probably heard me say how we are trying to work from the inside out. That what you are feeling on the inside is a big part of what the camera sees on the outside. I usually mention, “being connected,” which I suppose means something different to different people.
There are some philosophies that believe that we are all connected with one another and with the world around us, and I can definitely see the truth in that. But for me it’s a little less esoteric. For me it means being in a place that is completely genuine and being totally present in the moment. In a shoot yesterday I learned to see this phenomenon from a new perspective.
I was shooting headshots with an actress that has made a living as a fashion model. Her true passion is acting, but her training as a model is strong and her experience vast. The question on both our minds was how we would successfully break away from her model training, which is all about creating a façade, and get to something that runs deeper.
I should give a bit more background.
I’ve shot quite a lot of fashion and commercial photography over the years, and it’s the exact opposite of headshots. In a commercial shoot, you want the model to seem like they are having more fun and are more excited about whatever the product is than they have ever been in their entire life. But how excited could you really be about toothpaste? They are faking it big time. In the case of fashion, it’s a step further removed. In fashion we want the model to seem unapproachable and distant. We put them on a pedestal. In both cases, we’re not interested in what kind of person is in the photograph. We don’t want to know them well. They are the embodiment of an idea; the personification of happy or cool, and that’s it. A successful model can produce this on command, and they can sustain it for as long as it takes to get the shot. Talk about a façade!
But if an actor tries to pose a smile in their headshot, it comes across as totally fake because it’s the person behind the smile that we are interested in. We want the total truth about this person. I’ve shot actor’s headshots for models before and I had an idea of how to go about getting beyond the façade and capturing something that’s real, but it was in the shoot yesterday that I gained a deeper understanding about what it was that we were really doing.
The girl never really was able to shed her model training, yet throughout the shoot, I felt like she was completely present. She was 100% the real article, never faking something she didn’t feel. And it hit me. There was no disconnect between what was on the inside and what was on the outside. She was connected.
It takes a certain amount of self-awareness for anyone—model or not—to allow themselves to simply be without any pretention, and without trying to show the world what we think it wants to see. So maybe being connected is at least partly about connecting with ourselves. And this is the work of an actor, regardless of what their “day job” might be. The connection is about honesty and being true to yourself. If you allow yourself that, the rest of it takes care of itself. From that genuine place all the intangibles magically fall into place. It’s what makes a good headshot, and I think maybe it’s what makes a good life too.