High on my list of recommendations is local photographer Brent Weber. Brent was an actor and a model in Los Angeles and we are so lucky to now have him in Texas taking amazing photos. He was generous in allowing me to interview him and get his perspective on what makes a headshot great!
First, thank you Brent for your time and expertise!
Brent: Thanks Theresa! Happy to share any advice on my end that may be helpful to your students.
Q: You were an actor and a model. When you did become a photographer and why?
Brent: A I actually started shooting when I was about 13. My mother was an amateur photographer when she was younger and one day she showed me some portraits she had taken of my grandfather. I thought they were some of the most beautiful photos I’d ever seen. Shortly after that, my mom bought me my own camera and I was OBSESSED. Granted, most of my first subjects were farm animals, neighborhood kids and my dog (my then muse) it was something that gave me so much joy and I knew one day I wanted to make a career out of it. At 16 I went to an open call with some friends after school that was in a nearby town and ended up with an agent in NYC. After traveling all over for a few years, doing the modeling thing, I decided I wanted to get into something more creatively stimulating and try my hand at acting. After a lot of hard work, I was fortunate enough to find some success as an actor. I had some amazing experiences as an actor, met and worked with some really talented people and am so grateful that I got to do it. But in 2008, I was coming off a two-year run on All My Children and I had come to the realization that (as fun as acting could be) I wasn’t feeling the same feeling that I used to get when I was on the other side of the camera shooting. A friend of mine represented photographers and told me that one of his biggest photographers (Yu Tsai) was looking for a new assistant, so I jumped on it. I worked next to him for the next two years and was on set almost every day, being hands on. It was such an incredible learning experience. I feel there’s no better way to learn than to just jump in and do it. In 2010 after two years of working with him, I was ready to go out on my own. I’ve been shooting ever since.
Q: Do you prefer in studio shots or outside with natural light? Do you let the actors choose?
Brent: Although studio lighting can be great for a certain style of photo (fashion/portrait) I much prefer natural lighting for headshots. I think it makes the skin and eyes pop more and really creates such a natural and raw feel to the photos. I’ve had some actors ask for studio lighting when they have a very specific reference in mind and that’s totally fine. But as for me, it’s all about natural light.
Q: What are some of the DONT’S you would tell actors when trying to achieve the perfect headshot.
Brent: I think one of that advantages that I have from my earlier career, is that I’ve been on the other side of the camera as well and I know what it feels like. I’ve worked with so many photographers over the years and I know first-hand how the energy of the photographer gives off can influence a shoot. I’ve seen photographers that come in and are in a terrible mood, barking orders at people and makes the shoot miserable for everyone involved. On the other hand, I’ve seen photographers be so fun and genuinely excited to be there doing what they do. It’s a night and day experience for the talent. I love what I do and for me, one of the most important things to achieve in a shoot (besides getting amazing images) is making sure the client has a great experience. I want it to be fun for them and most importantly, I want them to feel comfortable with me. The more comfortable the client is, the better the shots are going to be. It truly shows when someone is enjoying the experience. It’s always in the eyes. Also, MUSIC is always a must. As for the DONT’S the most important thing I can say is, DON’T OVERTHINK IT. I’ve had clients bring 5 suitcases full of clothes and are freaking out about what to wear. Headshots are about you… your eyes… your mood… your expressions. If a casting director is admiring your sweater and not looking at your eyes… that’s not good, haha! KEEP IT SIMPLE. My favorites headshots are usually when someone is in a simple T-shirt and jeans, relaxed and giving me all the emotions. It’s all about the eyes to me.
Q: Do you suggest a make-up artist for headshots? Do you have one you work with or prefer?
Brent: I do offer Hair/makeup if a client prefers to have on set. I work mainly with Amy Bjork and Joanna Hathcock. They both have great energy and do amazing work, so I always know when they are on set that I won’t have to worry about that part. I think having an HMU artist on set can be great if the talent isn’t really comfortable doing their own. But if they know how to do their own, then that’s great as well.
Q: What can an actor do before a sitting with you to ensure a great headshot?
Brent: It’s always nice when a client comes in knowing what they want. My client today for example, came in with wardrobe for 4 looks and knew the types of characters she wanted to capture. It’s always beneficial when talent preps beforehand and we can make sure and get those looks. I’ve had some clients come in and have no clue as to what they need, and that is totally fine for I always guide them in the right direction to make sure we cover all the bases. But, when the talent shows up with a good idea of they want, it’s always nice.
Q: What can an actor do during a shoot to get the best results?
Brent: I think it’s always best to not overthink it. I know that can sometimes be easier said than done, for a lot of actors get nervous having their photo taken, which I totally understand. But when an actor walks in with a great attitude and doesn’t get in their head about every little detail, it really allows me to make the process fun and do my thing. And the images will reflect that.
Q: What are some of the more common mistakes actors make when working with you?
Brent: I think the most common thing I find that can inhibit an actor getting that “money shot” so to speak is when they try too hard to get a very specific expression or look. Sometimes I can tell if an actor is trying to force it and starts making faces or expressions that almost look rehearsed. I think it’s great to do research and see photos that inspire you. To get a certain feeling or mood from a photo and that you like and think “that’s the vibe I want” But when it is forced it always shows. If you’re relaxed and really getting in a certain mood of an image or person that inspires you, THAT is when the magic happens. Let it happen naturally and the rest is up to me to capture it.
Q: What is your favorite kind of actor to work with?
Brent: My favorite kind of actor to photograph is one that comes in with a positive attitude and ready to have some fun. When someone comes in and is excited and looking to really collaborate then it makes a world of difference. It makes me feel I can really “play” and it’s going to be a very enjoyable experience. I’m all about having fun while shooting. I love an upbeat, positive energy on set for that’s when the creativity and synergy really pops. We, as creative people (actors/photographers) are lucky enough to do what we do, so why not have fun while doing it? And again, it really makes the photos that much more authentic and natural.
Q: What is your least favorite kind of actor to work with?
Brent: I think one of the most challenging kinds of actors I’ve photographed over the years are the ones that are over critical of every little detail. For example one that says “can I see?!” after EVERY click of my shutter. Or ones that are extremely neurotic about every hair being in a certain place. It really stifles the creative flow and process. None of us are perfect, therefore no photos are perfect. If you’re trying to get the “perfect” photo that you see in your head then it’s going to be a very grueling process. To me, that makes a photo beautiful are the imperfections. The realness. Granted I want my subjects to look like the best versions of themselves, but it’s the realness and what the eyes are saying in the shot that makes a photo great. NOT a certain piece of hair placed two centimeters to the left, lol.
Q: How often do you suggest actors get a new headshot?
Brent: I think you can use the same shots as long as you still look the same. Most actors that I work with get them every 1 to 2 years. Although, I’ve had clients shoot with me multiple times in one year because they changed their hairstyle/color. In that case, you definitely want to get them updated. You always want them to represent how you currently look.
Q: How many different looks do actors need and why?
Brent: I think it’s great to get at least 4 different looks if possible. We all have different sides to our personalities, so if we can capture a few different looks in one session then I think it’s great for the actor to have the options. If a casting director is looking for someone edgy and you only have shots where you look clean-cut and wholesome, then it can put you at a disadvantage. So, I think if you have shots that cover a few different moods/characters then your agents will have multiple options when submitting for certain roles.
Q: As one of the best photographers in Dallas, what do you think it is that sets your work apart?
Brent: Well first of all, thank you. That’s very kind. Honestly, I think what gives me an advantage is the fact that I’ve been in the actor’s shoes. I know how nerve-wracking shoots can be if the energy isn’t right. So, for me I really make the client’s comfort level a priority while shooting. Once we start shooting and get a good flow going, that’s when we can really work together in creating great images. All those little expressions that range from light laughter to intense and mysterious are what I try to capture. It’s all about what’s happening in the eyes for me. You want the eyes to pull you in and make you want to know more. If I can capture that, then I’ve done my job. And if the client feels comfortable and confident then that’s what they will give to the camera.
Q: As a model you’ve worked with some legends in the industry, among them, Bruce Weber and Herb Ritts. What did you learn from them?
Brent: It was really an honor to work with both of them but Herb Ritts was my all-time biggest inspiration as a photographer when I was growing up. I loved how effortless and timeless his images were. They were always so simple and yet so powerful. I loved the way he used light. So dramatic. I think what I loved the most was that you could see in the image that the subject he was shooting, trusted him. There was a comfort level that he formed with his subjects and you can see it in their eyes and body language. I had all of his books and I would study his light and images constantly. So, when I got to work with him as a model I was of course honored to be in front of his lens but it was really my inner photographer that was freaking out. He was very calm and soft-spoken. Very kind. You could feel a sense of peace on the set and it really made an impact on me. He was one of the biggest photographers in the world but he made all of us feel so comfortable immediately. And I remember having such an amazing day that day.
Bruce Weber on the other hand had a very different approach. I of course, loved his images and knew how talented he was. But he had more of a wildness to his method. I remember it was me and a brand-new model who had just arrived from Brazil and this was one of her first shoots. She was 16 and so nervous. We started shooting and he wanted her and I to dance. I started jumping around doing my usual monkey dance but she froze up and didn’t know what to do. He started SCREAMING at her to DANCE! I grabbed her and just started twirling her around and kinda took control to take the pressure off her for she was on the verge of tears. We ended up getting really cool images but I remember the process being very stressful. So, two great photographers. Two totally different ways of working. And two totally different experiences. I will always remember that.
Thank you, Brent! I have no doubt you will have saved many actors much time and money with your incredible insight and wisdom.
Please go to www.brentweberphoto.com to see Brent’s work and learn more about him!