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The Ethics of an Actors Headshot

By December 19, 2015September 27th, 2017No Comments

Question: When is an actors headshot not an actors headshot?

Answer: When it doesn’t look like them!

Digital post-production or as it’s more commonly known retouching, is constantly evolving with tools and software programmes allowing us to manipulate a photograph beyond reality. The question is ‘where does this start and stop?’ And more importantly how does it affect the ethics of an actors headshot?

The World Press Photo (WPP) runs one of the biggest, most prestigious photography competitions in the world and they recently stripped a first prize winner of his award because they felt, in their wordsit was revealed that he misrepresented the location where a photo was shot” read more here.

Now in the photo-journalism world this was a ‘big thing’ and led to them issuing a code of rules for future competition entrants. I think it’s crucial that when we look at a photograph by news or reality photographers like photo-journalists we need to believe that what we are seeing is the truth. Some of my favourite photos are from the best photo-journalists but to think back and look at those photos with uncertainty makes me feel cheated, in fact hoodwinked.

I recently found out that an iconic photo celebrating the end of WW2 in 1945 taken by Alfred Eisenstaedt has had much recent speculation about it. Now, just in time for its 70th anniversary, physicists at Texas State University have brought science to the debate and found a major piece of the puzzle: the exact time the photo was taken. They don’t match – does this mean the photo is a fraud or that perhaps they remembered the time it was taken wrongly?

Alfred Eisenstaedt’s image of a sailor kissing a nurse in Times Square on V-J Day in 1945.

Alfred Eisenstaedt Kissing Sailor

It doesn’t stop my enjoyment of the photo or others like it such as Robert Doisneau’s “The Kiss by the Hôtel de Ville,” one of the most famous, most romantic photos ever taken. It was also revealed that it was staged by Doisneau, it doesn’t detract from the fact it’s a stunning image but it does leave you feeling slightly cheated as it wasn’t what we’d been led to believe it was.

“The Kiss by the Hôtel de Ville,” taken in Paris in 1950. (Photo: Robert Doisneau)

“The Kiss by the Hôtel de Ville,” taken in Paris in 1950. (Photo: Robert Doisneau)








The Ethics of an Actors Headshot

Applying this kind of thought process to actor’s headshots and you see we are faced with a slightly different but similar dilemma; are we looking at the real actor or some digital manipulation of them? Imagine how a Casting Director feels when an actors walks into the audition room looking yen years older and 20 pounds heavier than the headshot they sent it. Here’s a quote from Marci Liroff a well-known American Casting Director, she tells it like it is and states categorically that ‘an actors headshot must look like them’ Is it worth the trouble and expense of having your headshot make you look ten years younger – no. Accept your age with grace and apply for roles that your casting age suits.

I’ve recently written a book called 50 Tips For A Perfect Headshot and in one of those tips I talk about this subject in detail but here’s a brief snippet that’ll give you a feel for my approach to the topic.

Photoshopping the removal of temporary spots and blemishes – the key word here is temporary. If you have a red spot on the end of your nose fine, no big deal, remove it. However if it is a wart, mole or birthmark then leave it right where it is as it’s a part of you. The same goes for stray hairs crossing your face or sticking out, they are ok to remove. However filling-in thin or darkening a receding hair line is a definite no-no as it’s fundamentally changing the way you look right now.

Growing old isn’t something we can stop, sure we can help slow it down by living a healthy active lifestyle and if we don’t like the fact we’re carrying a few extra pounds then we need to do something about it – not lie in our headshot!

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