Like other kinds of headshots, a great model headshot focuses on eyes, mouth, and body language. They must work together and project the intended mood of the shot.
The difference with the model headshot is the wide range of moods and expressions that is possible. Business headshots might show competence, self-confidence, and friendliness. But they probably shouldn’t show looks that are reflective, sexy, or irreverent.
Actor headshots go for a natural smile or a relaxed, friendly look. Model headshots, however, don’t really have any rigid guidelines that must be adhered to. Look in magazines or model comps and you’ll quickly realize there are no rules.
That being said, there are certain things most models want to achieve when they plan their headshot photography. They want to look good. Even non-conventional, alternative models and “character models” want to look good. When you’re being paid handsomely for the right to use your ace in an ad, the client will understandably want your face to look good.
You’ll also want your look to be special and interesting. You don’t want a generic look that makes you look too replaceable and interchangeable with any other model. You want your own unique brand.
Then there’s having a professional, self-confident look to your modeling. Your expression, whether friendly, sexy, or whatever, needs to work. One of the models I shot at the beginning of her career could very confidently deliver a strong sexy look, and with that look she went on to grace many covers of Vogue and other top American and international fashion magazines.
But neither with me nor later on in her career was she ever able to deliver a good smile. More commonly it’s the other way around. A girl can do the smiley looks well but falters when it comes to a sexy or sultry look, like the looks which became the foundation of Cindy Crawford’s career.
The point is to practice and try different looks, so as to offer greater versatility and make yourself available for more assignments. But don’t show the looks that don’t work for you. As a model you’ll be selling looks. These looks depend on how your face and body look and on what you can do with them.
There are plenty of models with great faces that can’t make a great “face” when the camera is pointed at them. There are models with great bodies who can’t pose them well. Don’t offer for sale looks that are currently “out of stock” in your inventory. When you’re planning a composite, portfolio, or website, just show those looks you can deliver and deliver well when needed.
Another important consideration for model headshots is hair and make-up. While this is a lot less important for other kinds of headshots, it is extremely important with a model shot. You’ll usually need to work with a hair and make-up artist who has experience doing print work for models and commercial clients. This is less important for men and for those who have learned how to do your own hair and make-up. Also with modern digital retouching techniques professional hair and make-up is less important. When I work on photos, I can improve skin texture, contour eyebrows, lip lines, etc.
Make them interesting. The people who look at these shots, agents, art directors, photographers, look at a lot of them each week. Don’t bore them. These people care about images. That’s why they are in these fields. So add something to each of your shots to make them interesting. It’s not just about you and how you look. It’s also about the shot as a whole, which is what they see before they see the model in the shot. You and your photographer need to do something special to give it a unique look.
Before beginning to photograph a shot for a model, I always work with her to see what she needs, what she can do, and how we can make it interesting and effective. I’m constantly on the lookout each week for new ideas, what’s currently being done in the fashion and commercial photography and shown in the mainstream and edgy magazines and websites. I would encourage models to do the same.
It’s important to stay current. Styles of hair, make-up, wardrobe, modeling, and photography change. When I look at sample I shot in the past, I might still think of them as examples of good photography (including styles of hair, make-up, wardrobe, and modeling), but I wouldn’t do that same shot today. That was then, this is now. We must also try to make it fresh and current.
The guidance and direction usually come from the photographer, but a good photographer must always stay open to new ideas and approaches to the work no matter where they come from. I regularly get good ideas for clients, models, hair and make-up people, etc. Being open to this input makes the work better for all.
For more information on John Manning's model photography, please go to: www.jmanningphoto.com.