I asked some readers on Facebook about what anxieties they faced when they were getting ready for their headshots. And actor friend Liz wrote in "The me I think I look like is not the real me."
At first, I thought this post was going to be a pep talk about why everyone is beautiful in their own way and we are all enough. I was going to remind everyone that actors are simply vessels whose job it is to represent humanity. We age and get wrinkles and gain or lose weight and blah blah blah. We should all stop being so insecure and vain when it comes to photos of ourselves and just be. I wanted to write all the good stuff that would make everyone feel excited about their next shoot instead of dreading having to look at 500 pictures of themselves.
But. Let’s leave the self help to the experts and look at the comment technically.
In researching why people might say “the me I think I look like, is not the real me”, I discovered that it may all come down to science.
A psychologist named Robert Zajonc did a series of experiments in the late 60’s and came up with what’s known as “Mere-Exposure”. His experiments were super cool and he concluded that human beings react positively to symmetry and to things that they have seen often or are familiar to them. Facial symmetry is EXTREMELY rare, however your own mug is certainly familiar to you. After all, you look at yourself every single day. In. The. Mirror.
I hate to say it, but your mirror is a liar. My mirror is a liar. We have spent our entire lives looking at an inverted image of ourselves. A mirrored image.
And that "flipped" image is what can make the photos of ourselves seem unsettling and unfamiliar.
When you get your headshot proofs, you have to stare down hundreds of images of yourself - a “you” that may seem somehow strangely foreign. You know they’re shots of you. You were there for the shoot. But something is different.
Your reaction - according to science - is completely normal because you’re now looking at someone/something “unfamiliar”. It’s totally you. But a reversed image of what you’re used to seeing.
Now, there are things we can all “fix” if we really want to. We can diet and exercise, drink more water, apply corrective makeup, wear flattering cuts of clothing, and, when all else fails, there is Photoshop. But at the end of the day, the fact is, we never truly see ourselves except in photos and on video.
Consider this. Most actors - myself included - are perfectionists for whom it is easier to analyze (for hours, sometimes) the minutiae of a beat in a show they’re working on rather than seeing their performance as a whole. They can’t see the forest for the trees. I would challenge you not do that with your headshot proofs.
Don’t let yourself get hung up on a little detail that drives you nuts, but rather try to take in the image as a whole. Take a step back and try to distance yourself from the photo and view it from your audience’s (or more appropriately - the casting director’s) perspective.
Recognize that the person you’re seeing, just as a character that you play onstage, is truly you underneath. It may be a bit unfamiliar to what you’re used to seeing in the mirror. But it IS you. And it’s okay for it to feel both unsettling and exciting when you look at your proofs. I think it’s safe to say that we have all felt that way when we look at photos of ourselves and Zajonc’s “Mere-Exposure” tells us why.
Before your next shoot, remind yourself that you are human (and more than likely you aren’t symmetrical.) Remember that the person you will see in your photos is the person that the world sees. And that’s beautiful. You are more than enough. You’re an actor.
AND THEN! Be as open as possible when you meet your photographer. Tell them everything that bugs you when you see pictures of yourself. There’s a lot they can do with lighting and angles and body positioning and even lenses to help bring out those qualities you want to highlight and diminish the ones you don’t.
If you’re an actor getting ready for a shoot and want some tips on headshot preparation, check this out: http://www.clintonbphotography.com/headshotpreparation/
Was this helpful? Would love to hear what you think.
Ps. If you wanna do something fun. Here’s what celebrities would look like if their faces were symmetrical. Check out: https://www.buzzfeed.com/omarvillegas/heres-what-15-celebs-would-look-like-if-their-faces-were-sym?utm_term=.irDbxnjO5#.bcpMb25gO
Clinton Brandhagen is an actor and professional photographer based in New York City.