Sunday, July 20, 2014

headshots for women :: the progression

I'm somewhat in a state of sheer disbelief when I find, in this day and age of communication, where your professional headshot, be it theatrical, corporate or personal, looks like it was taken by your 12 year old sister - in your mom's bathroom.

Today, is a recent shoot with the awesome Sandy Koppelman. The progression. This is how it's done my friends.

The Headshot

Without going in too much depth as I've done that [here], I want to touch a bit on the headshot.

Those in need are many; actors, comedians, corporate executives, salespersons, doctors. . . you get the point. With this little thing you're reading the blog on, as we speak, known as the internet, it's hard not to have the need for a professional headshot in some shape or form.

With the explosion of social networking sites, personal or professional, headshots are everywhere. Let me tell you this: if you think the world of professional photography is an over saturated market, think again. With a rough estimate, as I surf my LinkedIn connections, I'd say, eh, maybe 10% have a professional headshot flying out there. This is to say that the other 90-some% are posting poorly shot mobile photos, taken at random or a horribly planned selfie. Look, unless you are a 16 year old dude, looking to land chicks on Facebook, then your headshot is your calling card. Like it or not my friends, we do judge books by their covers.

Look awesome and worry no more.

Introducing Sandy Koppelman

Sandy arrived full prepared just after noon. She brought along with her what resembled a hockey players bag, you know, one of those giant duffle bags. Large enough to stuff with a Mini Cooper. As She pulled it from the trunk of her car, I quickly offered my assistance. Knowing the contents to be a variety of outfits, I explained that it's always better to have too much rather than not enough.

Waiting on the arrival of the always awe-inspiring Sonja Century Zeigler, our MUA (makeup artist) for the day, Sandy and I got to know one another. Working as an I.T. specialist for Penn Medicine, why on earth would she need a professional headshot?


You wouldn't think a BTS grunt running Cat 5 cable all day would need a bad ass headshot would you? Ok, first let me get a take back in regards to the grunt Cat 5 comment. I was just trying to add color to the context. But I think you know what I'm getting at.

Sandy was in need of a versatile headshot, something she could use for her professional networks, such as LinkedIn, as well as her personal networks such as Facebook. Today, the line between the two, in my opinion, has really blurred.

The world's eyeballs are on you and you better be on your toes, at your best, at all times.

Sonja had arrived, wheeling her ginormous gear cart. It amusing to see, like myself, that everyone always packs to the max. Shit, I've arrived on locations where I've used nothing more than one lens and a reflector but lugged damn near 100 pounds of gear nonetheless. I digress.

We all decided on some Thai for lunch. Baan Thai, over by The Piazza in Northern Liberties, is the go to Thai spot delivery in the Fishtown neck of the hood.

While enjoying lunch, it was full blow preparation time. Sonja working on Sandy, like a painter taking to a fresh canvas.

In the meantime, I went to dial in the set, upstairs in the studio.


Walking on to set would be intimidating to anyone, including myself. As Sonja was dialing in her hair and makeup under the studio lighting, I was tweaking the strobes. At this point, which is very common, I sensed Sandy's stress levels rising a bit. This is where, YOU, the photographer, need to be awesome; part photographer, part director, part therapist.

The common misconception is that a person would look best in a photograph as they are feeling most at ease, most comfortable. Do you know how I look when most comfortable? It sure isn't pretty, just ask my wife.

As a great coaching tool, I like to shoot tethered so that the client can see how they look and how each technique they learn will help to improve frame by frame.

The lights were dialed in and it was showtime. Without any direction, I had Sandy give me what she thought would be her money shot. Bam. Classic. Sure, her smile is legit but look at that chin action. That's a big no no in my studio. I don't care if you arrive with a dozen chins, YOU LEAVE WITH ONE!

At this point, while trying to lighten the mood (no pun intended), I began to explain how Sandy would be posing. Basically, I was coaching her how to contort her face for photographic awesomeness.

Sandy, in rapid time, learned a new word, the Squinch. A term coined by Peter Hurley. The Squinch is a method in which the model squints, raising the bottom eyelid. A tough move but highly effective.

She also learned how to tilt and shift her head and body for the camera.

Some clients have big difficulties with these directions but Sandy seemed to grasp and execute the combined concepts in record time.

You have to applaud that. Think about it. You have me, a big camera, the MUA, and a room full of lights. Then you hear me directing you to turn your body at a 45 degree angle this way and drop your shoulder that way while twisting your forehead the other way and oh, don't forget your squinch.

She rocked it.

The bottom line here? Direction, more important than all the gear in the world.

Nerd File ::

I wanted to go to my lighting diagram creator but thought it would make better sense to write about as the angles on the creator wouldn't be accurate.

Let's build out the studio, front to back, with some nerdy details to boot.

Furthest back of the room would be this guy, yours truly, me.

I was working with Betsy (Nikon D4) as she was perched a top the ever excellent set of carbon fiber sticks by Feisol.

This studio space isn't of behemoth proportions but I still use the longest lens possible to compress backgrounds and facial features. Typically, in this room, I work with the gorgeous Nikon 85mm f/1.8G.

The exposure was like this ::

Aperture :: f/4.0. Not too deep as to suck up my recycle times but not so shallow as to only focus the eyes. I like some facial focus for this type of headshot.

Shutter :: 1/200. Betsy syncs natively at 1/250. So why not work there. Hmmm. Sometimes, not always, I get a super tiny bit of bottom banding. I think it may actually be a bit of vignette but I decided to reduce any chance. Seriously, in studio I could work at any damn shutter and get the results I'm looking for. I'd be happy at 1/2 as long as there's no ambient contamination. Remember, the point of a studio is a controlled lighting environment.

ISO :: 50. Yes, 50. Now, at 1/200, f/4.0 and ISO 50, even with a large ass covered window, there is zero ambient. Beautiful blackness. Oh, have you seen these files at ISO 50. Almost too clean. Jeez. So clean that I've added noise to [images] past.

The lighting for the day was of Beauty or Clamshell style.

I had, boomed overhead and just about touching the front of the 85 1.8, was a 28 inch Westcott Apollo softbox. Simply lavish light from that baby. Another go to tool for any studio headshot session. Cranking the protons in the Westcott mod was a Vivitar 285HV, big, ugly, cheap, awesome. The 285 was nuking at 1/4 power, triggered by a set of Plus ii Pocktwizard transceivers. FYI, if you don't know by now, Pocketwizard is the industry standard. Period.

That being the key light, think about why it's called clamshell lighting. It's all about the catchlights in the eyes which resemble an opened clam; top and bottom.

Saving on the battery acid, I brought in the Westcott 40 inch 5-in-1 reflector from below. Nice and tight, just out of frame.

When I tell you these mods were that tight, I mean so tight as if I moved the camera back an inch, both the softbox and reflector would have become visible in frame.

Going back, we now hit Sandy. Hello Sandy! You keep posing, you're doing great. I need to squeeze past you to discuss the things that lie behind you.

I know. I'm a strange person.

Ok, behind Sandy, camera right, I had brought in a touch of rim for some depth. Another 285HV, bare. At 90 bucks a pop, these heads are awesome. I have a bag full of them. Crazy, the Pocketwizards cost twice as much as the strobes they trigger. This light was firing at, I think, 1/4 or 1/16.

Last but not least, the background. Simply a roll of 54 inch Arctic White seamless from Calumet Photographic (I so hope they open again in Philly. Insert sad face.). Why does it look gray? It's all about the Inverse Square Law. I'm sure you can find a post around here in which I discuss it in full detail. I'm sure as hell not going into those physics here today.

Almost forgot! Speaking of Calumet, all of the stands for the shoot, lighting and background, were from Calumet Photographic. Spigots, swivel heads, cold shoes and clamps - All Calumet.

Got it? Good.

To Wrap Up.

Sandy was a rock star. Her transition upon entering my place until the final frames? Super impressive and just as fun to work with.

You will be seeing more of her around here.

I also want to throw a bit shout out and thanks to Sonja Century Zeigler. For hair and makeup, she's the bomb diggity. Yes, I really said that. I reached way back into the 90s to pull that one out as a descriptive.

You can find Sonja at Danger Salon, 108 E. Girard Ave, Philadelphia, 19125.

As for me, you should know how to find me by now. My number is at the top of this page. Text or call. You can also email to for details about your next headshot session . . . that doesn't suck.

Your selfie's not cutting it people!

Until next time...