While on a plane last weekend I began to re-read the great comic book Watchmen. Since I already knew where the story was going to twist and turn, I was able to sit back and enjoy the sheer mechanics of the comic’s storytelling. Many elements come together in that story to make it great, from the visual artistry to the dialogue to memorable characters to the episodic plot structure. From all of these elements, something bigger emerged: the feel of Watchmen. Alan Moore gives us a dirty, bleak New York City, the nexus of a world ready to spin out of control and eat itself alive on a dime. Watchmen’s New York has a personality of its own, one far different from, say, the New York City found in the Disney film Enchanted. They’re both New York, but they’re not the same thing. Their feel is different.
Like comic books and Disney movies, many elements contribute to a successful head shot: lens and camera choices, composition, lighting, expression, facial and body positioning, backdrop, and styling of the subject. Using these elements a photographer can create an entirely different “world” for his or her subject. The photographer can craft a feel to the shot.
Consider two portraits of Jennifer Lawrence (they're linked because of copyright reasons).
Portrait One has an entirely different feel than Portrait Two. Both head shots are of Jennifer Lawrence, but she’s not exactly the same person in the two shots.
In Portrait One she looks mature, elegant, artistic-- like something out of a modern art museum. Note the soft lighting, the styling of her hair, the black turtleneck and the marbled grey backdrop. This is prestige awards season Jennifer Lawrence.
Although Portrait Two was undoubtedly taken when she was younger, the photographer clearly wasn’t going for an older, more mature look. The Jennifer in Two looks rebellious, a little dangerous, definitely young, definitely sexy. The position of the light creates shadows on the sides of her face, accentuating her facial structure (rather than softening it as in Portrait One). This is edgy action star Jennifer Lawrence.
Whether you are a business person, a model or a medical student, consider the kind of feel you’d like your headshot to have before you have it taken. What kind of you do you want to be? What kind of image do you want to project? How can the photographer utilize his or her available elements to craft the ambience you’re looking for?
Meanwhile, let’s keep our city more like Enchanted than Watchmen.
x Lee Ann