Wednesday, 10 September 2014


Headshots. It’s no surprise that their name also resembles what actors often long for when approaching getting them done.

Having a lovely photograph of you sounds great. And it is. It’s brilliant for Facebook photos, online dating profiles and giving a framed copy to your mum so her living room starts to look like it’s in a soap opera. But getting headshots done can be more of a ballache than landing, legs akimbo, on a pummel horse.

First off, you have to choose your photographer. And there are hundreds of them out there. HUNDREDS. So, the first step is hours of trawling through headshot photographers’ websites until you get to a point where you’re not sure where the constant steely stares down the camera end and your paranoia that someone’s watching you begins.

The first trap when choosing a photographer is going for someone who has taken a photo of someone you quite fancy looking like. However amazing a photographer is, they’re sadly never going to make me look like Gemma Arterton. And the same goes for the amount of famous people they’ve snapped. Just because they’ve taken headshots of Olivia Colman, Benedict Cumberbatch and Sheridan Smith, that unfortunately doesn’t mean that all the BBC roles will soon be yours. It should, but it doesn't. 

I personally chose the photographer I eventually went with because his photos looked different. For hours I’d seen the same head tilt, identical cascades of beautifully styled hair and endless dreamy yet intense stares. And if that’s your look then great. I’m not saying they’re wrong but you have to be realistic about what’s likely to work for you. I’m never going to be glamorous and, as lovely as my hair is, it looks beautiful for all of 3 minutes and then becomes full of crisp crumbs and twigs. Yes, you want your headshot to get people’s attention but you don’t also want to find yourself being charged with fraud.

So, you’ve chosen your photographer and you’ve picked a date. I had a month between contacting my photographer and the shoot. This was just enough time to panic about the state of my skin, the layer of cake obscuring my cheekbones and my unruly eyebrows. For the first couple of days, I was so good. Like a reverse Jesus, I turned wine into water and my beloved McCoys were sent away on a sabbatical. Then, of course, I went up to Edinburgh for a week and wonderful plans were replaced with late nights, beer and deep-fried good intentions. So what should’ve been a month of healthy living turned into a few hastily snatched days of OK sleep and hoping for a miracle while desperately fixating on the BBC Weather App.

The day of the photos arrived and I skipped off happy that my face hadn’t errupted and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. I met my photographer, we had a lovely chat over a cup of tea for a good hour and then it was time for photos. I was beautifully relaxed and, weirdly, quite looking forward to the session. But then, a phenomenon that all actors experience happened and everything tensed up as soon as the camera appears. Smiles suddenly become forced, eyes forget what to do and breathing stops completely. It’s a weird sensation and one you have very little control over, like suddenly realising how drunk you are after a glorious afternoon of pints in the sunshine.

But the session was brilliant. I quickly relaxed and the part of my job that I previously hated was suddenly becoming fun. We live in a world where you can now look at photos as the session goes along so you can soon become aware of the weird movement that your right eyebrow does or just how different you look when your hair is pulled back. You also very quickly see how important it is to have a photographer that keeps you present and alert because, as soon as that focus goes, you become dead behind the eyes and look more like you’re queuing for the dole rather than trying to steal Tom Hardy’s career.

And then it’s all over and you have the wait for the contact sheet. Lots of tiny little photos for you to agonise over and marvel at the many ridiculous faces you weren’t even aware you could create. Hours will then be spent choosing between photos, many of which are almost identical. Do your eyes look brighter in that one or that one where your smile is ever so slightly raised? Does your smile look more real in that one or the one where your hair looks a bit better? And then, of course, you make your decision, ask someone else for their opinion, they choose entirely different ones and then you’re back at square one. The battle of choosing betweent the ones where you look your best and the ones that actually look like you goes on long into the night.

Finally you make your decision and you let your photographer know so they can add tiny little lies to your photos. A wisp of hair taken out here, a rogue spot taken out there. Ideally they won’t take out the lines and imperfections that you’ve learnt to live with, those little things that make you YOU, and it won’t be long before you have a gorgeous set of new photos that you can put up on Facebook, add to your dating profile and give to your mum so she can pretend she’s in EastEnders.

(For anyone wondering, I had my most recent photos done with the excellent Jon Holloway. Personally I think his photos are astounding and for the first time ever, I had a genuinely difficult decision to make when choosing my main photos as I was pleased with so many of them. If you’re really not a fan of having photos taken and want something a little different, I hightly recommend him.)

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