I remember when I received my first cell phone with a front facing camera. It was a bright blue Motorola Razr that had a battery life of maybe 5 hours. I spent hours looking at the photos that I was taking of myself: trying to find out what angle worked best for my features. Sure, the photos were pixilated and the color was washed out, but I could tell that if I held phone at a specific angle, I could hide the unflattering shape of my chin, I could make my Asian almond-shaped eyes look bigger, and I could make my smile look completely straight. I made myself look awesome. It was my “pose”.
As phone cameras became more sophisticated, I discovered that finding that flattering angle became more and more appealing. You could take hundreds of photos, choose the best one, and post that one photo as if it was just a moment in time: completely unplanned. I began to gauge my own attractiveness based upon my “pose”. I started trying to apply it to all my pictures because it made me look awesome. I found that I was doing it in all my photos: from the posed group shots on Myspace at some club in Hollywood and that budding “Facebook” thing that everyone was talking about, to my newest headshot session that my commercial agent had advised me to do. However, I learned quickly that my “pose” isn’t what the industry wanted.
Let’s go back a little bit.
I had recently sent out a huge mailer of submissions to agents and managers, hoping to get new representation. I had been with a mid-level agency for a little bit of time with very minimal success. After my submissions got me only 2 meetings, I was fortunate enough to meet with a decent manager, and she took me on, if I got new headshots. She even secured me a meeting with a great commercial agency, whom I got signed with as well. They agreed: I needed new headshots. Up until that point, I had only had amateur shots and one horrible headshot session (see “The Worst Headshot”) so I was hesitant. After a good amount of research and a few referrals, I found a photographer that I liked. Finally, I had a 3-look headshot session with an established professional headshot photographer. The photoshoot went extremely smooth (However, that’s a story for another day.) We took over 300 photos and I went on my merry way, extremely anxious to get my proofs back.
A week later, I went to pick up my proofs. When I received the proof sheets back from Argentum, I found a lot of good looking shots. I had hit my “pose” well! My chin, my eyes, my smile looked absolutely amazing. My manager told me to get select choices from my agent first, so I made an appointment, came into my agent’s office smiling, dropped off the proof sheets, and set up a meeting for the next week. My commercial agent was going to absolutely love them, I was sure of it.
The next Monday I came into the office and sat down at her desk. “Well, there are a few that we can use…”
My agent pointed out 5 photos. None of them were my “pose.”
My jaw went completely slack. There were over a dozen that I had seen that looked amazing. My “pose” made me look fabulous. These ones that she had chosen made me look HORRIBLE! These were not my “pose”. These were not the photos that made me look my best. I looked nothing like this.
My commercial agent smiled and calmly said, “Listen, you’re going to be brought in based upon these photos, right? Well, what happens when you show up at casting, and you look nothing like the photo that submitted? How do you think that looks?”
She had a point. I had been so concerned with looking good and perfecting my “pose” that I had completely lost track of the fact that my “pose” looked nothing like me.
I didn’t know it at the time, but my agent was right. It was a bitter pill to swallow, and I had some trouble believing it. I refused to believe that I wouldn’t be called in and book a job based upon my “pose”. I had a hard time believing that I looked anything like these horrible photos and not my “pose” photos.
I went to my manager with the same proofs. She chose 6 shots. 3 of those were the same as my agent, the other 3 did not have my “pose”. None of the photos they had chosen had my choices in them. I was beginning to worry that my newfound representation didn’t understand me. I didn’t realize that it was the opposite.
We ended up agreeing on 3 photos, one of each wardrobe look, that I would put online. Two of them were my agent and manager’s choices and one of them was mine. My agent warned me that she would not be submitting me using my choice of headshot. I told her that was fine. I was confident (arrogant?) that I would get work from it and prove her wrong.
Over the next six months of self-submitted auditions, using my “pose”, I got myself 4 auditions, none of which I received a callback, booking, etc. I walked into those auditions and I could literally sense how casting looked at me differently. My agent and manager were right: I didn’t look like the photo that had been submitted. I wasn’t right for the roles. I walked into every single one of those auditions not knowing that I had the odds stacked up against me before I even walked in the door.
On the other hand, I had received over a dozen commercial auditions, had many callbacks, and I had even booked 2 national commercials using the headshots that my agent had chosen. When I walked into those auditions, I was exactly what casting was expecting.
We live in a generation where “selfies” are now the new normal. You’ve seen them on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter: people posing with their food, their dog, their car. They look perfect. However, just like a photo shoot, we never see how many shots it took to get that post. Who knows how many photos they took to get that perfect “pose”. Dozens if not hundreds of photos just for one post. Who knows what they look like in real life?
A professional headshot photographer is going to find the perfect shot for YOU. It may not be the most flattering shot, and it may not be of that perfect downward “angle” that casting directors hate because it makes the subject look thinner than they are: but it will be YOU. After all, when you walk in the room, meeting someone for the first time, they want to see what they expected to see. Not a selfie.