Spotlight Open House: Headshot Clinic

Last Friday I gave a talk at the Spotlight headquarters about headshots: you know, what you're looking for, what kind of thing to expect before/during/after your shoot, how everything works. You know. Thanks to everyone who came, apologies to everyone who couldn't understand my weird accent, thanks to Lindsay for answering the casting questions I couldn't. Nice to meet y'all.

Anyway, it was on a Friday night and not everybody lives in travelling distance of Leicester Square, so I'm just brain-dumping it all here for posterity. I'm always open for questions, as well. Fire 'em this way if you've got 'em.

I'll also apologise now for what might seem like aggressive self-promotion. I can only really speak to my own processes, because every photographer in any field has their own ways of working, and I've asked around a lot, but in the end it comes down to me and how I work.

So:

What You're Looking For

First off: you're never looking for "just a simple, basic headshot;"  you're looking for shots that show off your personality and range. You'd be surprised how many enquiries I get for these, and also how many emails I send to the tune of "yes but what does that actually mean on a practical level?"

Consider this: what kind of roles are you going for? What are you going to do with them? An acting headshot for your Spotlight CV is different from a comedian's photo that's going on a poster with five others', is different from an author portrait to go in the jacket of their new book. So you want to say something with your photograph. It's a visual marketing tool.

Secondly: that headshot needs to look like you because otherwise what's the point? Actually, more specifically, it needs to look like you right now. Get new ones every few years, or whenever you change up your hair or whatever else happens. Maybe your neck spontaneously got longer overnight and now you're more giraffe than human. I don't know your life.

A question that came up was that of "character" shots, where you literally dress up or bring props, and whether they're a good idea. The short answer is "no" -- it's a casting director's job to place you in roles that fit the actor and the production. It's tempting to show off your special skills, but since that's something these casting directors are going to search for via text, they're best left to your actual CV.

Plus, why would you want to box yourself in to a couple of kinds of roles?

What I mean when I say "range" is that subtle variation in your face. Use your face! You can get a lot of variation in that close-cropped 8x10" range.

Whatever the case, you need to be able to see your face. An actor's headshot needs to be bright and clear at a glance, and close enough to be able to see your features when that photograph is shrunk down onto your CV or sitting amongst a thousand photos on the floor.

Some Examples of Bad Headshots Which I Swear Are Intentional

I roped some of the Spotlight staff into sitting for some headshots of their own, each good or bad in their own way. These are the "intentionally bad" ones. Some of them are distracting, some badly lit, some you can't see their faces, one guy is hung over. Take a look at these photographs. Don't do what these people did.

I'm including myself the photographer in that "people," by the way. We'll get to that.

How To Find a Headshot Photographer You Really, Really, Really, Really, Really, Really Like

There's a few different ways to actually go about finding a photographer to take your new headshots. Off the top of my head:

  • Spotlight have a Contacts handbook which contains, well, contacts, and a bunch of useful information.
  • Ask around! Who do your friends and colleagues consistently recommend? Make sure you ask a few different people; what works for one person isn't necessarily going to work for you.
  • If you're in a creative field then odds are you know at least one guy who bought a camera and is thinking about expanding their portfolio; if you've nothing to lose but a few hours of your time, then why not go for it? In the worst-case scenario, they're not great, but they might be, and you haven't spent any money.
  • Google! Or Bing, I guess? Searching for "headshot photographer [your nearest city]" is usually a good bet.
  • Plus, I mean, you're on the website of a very talented and handsome photographer right now. Just sayin'.

What you're looking for in a photographer's portfolio is variety. It's super easy to take flattering photographs of people; a headshot photographer needs to capture you and your personality, remember? And you want to stand out! Almost everyone has a headshot where they look amazing; that's essentially a baseline. Everyone looks great.

So look through their portfolios before anything else. Make a list. Find someone who does everything in the paragraph above, consistently, and then listen to your gut.

Cost

Okay, so you've looked through someone's portfolio and you think you've found your non-gender-specific guy. How much do they cost, you want to know?

The cheapest I've seen professional photographers charge for a headshot session was like £50; the most expensive I've personally seen was about £450 and I've heard tell of up to £600. My advice -- my admittedly biased advice -- is to either convince that friend with a camera to take your photographs or make this thing an investment. You're an actor, or at least in some kind of creative field, so you probably don't want to be doing this more than once every couple of years, right?

In these situations I like to cite Samuel Vimes's "Boots" theory:

...the thing was that good boots lasted for years and years. A man who could afford fifty dollars had a pair of boots that'd still be keeping his feet dry in ten years' time, while the poor man who could only afford cheap boots would have spent a hundred dollars on boots in the same time and would still have wet feet.

I also like to point out that I get a lot of business re-shooting photographs to fix the work of the previous, cheaper photographer. Professionals charge a solid chunk of money for the work they do, and that's for a reason.

Consider also: what do you get for the money? Some photographers charge a flat fee for everything -- for example, my rates include retouching and high-res files as standard -- and some photographers break it down further. Sometimes they'll have it there on their website, sometimes you'll need to email for a quote. It depends!

How many final photographs do you get? Standard wisdom says you should aim to have just three headshots on file; anything more is just noise. On the photographer's side of things, retouching an image properly takes so long. My own approach is for you to select 4-ish images for retouching. I'm not going to begrudge you a couple of extra, but I might begrudge you like 20.

Don't worry about how many photos get taken. Seriously, don't worry about it. I've been known to take anywhere between 70-500 pictures in a session. They can't all be winners, and trust me when I say you don't want to be the one sifting through them all. It's the most tedious part of the job and hell, someone's getting paid for it. They have the skills and the software to trawl quickly through the rough to find the diamonds.

What to Wear for Headshots

This goes back to the "it needs to look like you" point above, which I can't hammer on enough. Wear the clothes and make-up you might wear on an everyday basis to be comfortable; bring a couple of options of tops and you're sorted. If you're not sure on make-up, come au natural and ask!

That being said: stick to plain clothes; no patterns and no logos. Your face is the star of the show here! If you have a particular hairstyle you wear, don't worry about styling it differently to be fancy. Headshots aren't fancy photoshoots.

Make-up artists and stylists can usually be hired. It's an extra cost, but these people are superhuman. Again, ask about it ahead of time.

How Long Does It Take?

People shoot differently! Some people sit down bursting with energy and take the perfect headshots almost immediately; others take a couple of hours to get used to posing for the camera and "settle into themselves."

(I'm definitely of the second set.)

You might come across photographers who break it down thus: one price for a two-hour session, a little more for a three-hour session. Sometimes that takes wardrobe and hair changes into account, sometimes it doesn't.

I have a standard amount of time for every headshot session: I charge by the "half-day", which roughly means "a few hours." A morning, afternoon, or an evening. This also works as a minimum, because with pre- and post-production, every shoot evens out to a good few hours' worth of work, give or take. So you're here for the whole morning if you need it, but if you're the type to get bored after an hour, you can feel free to enjoy the rest of it! This also means you can go change your hair, outfits, as many times as you feel like you need to.

Plus, coming from a portraiture background, the "getting to know you" phase takes at least half an hour. I sit down with my clients for a coffee, chat about what they need, what they like, and watch for their natural tics and mannerisms. I find it saves time in the long run, and makes it feel less like an alien abduction.

You know, because you're going to have a lot of lights on you. Nobody likes to walk in to that. It's like... you know, when aliens abduct you. NEVER MIND.

If you don't absolutely know which kind of person you are, I'd advise going for the longest time you can afford. Again, this is an investment. Be there until you have the shots you're happy with.

The Photoshoot Itself

Before anything else make sure you get a contract. Read that contract! Make sure it makes sense to you! Ask every question you can think of! The contract protects you and the photographer and sets out your aims and goals in a legal fashion. Most times you won't ever need it, and hopefully you won't, but that one time you need it you want to have it.

Get a contract.

Before the Shoot

Make sure you're comfortable with the photographer. At the Headshot Clinic, someone asked if it was okay to request to meet a photographer for a coffee or something, and it is absolutely okay, but be aware that it's well within their rights to call that a billable hour. So it might need to be paid for.

I also recently had someone ask for photographic evidence that I am who I say I am, so she knew what to expect when she was coming down to London, and this struck me as a pretty good idea. Make sure you're meeting the person you think you're meeting. This is just good advice. Again: you shouldn't need to do this, it's a bad fucking day if you do, but whatever makes you comfortable, be comfortable.

You deserve to be comfortable.

Chances are you'll need to eat before you come, so make that a light one. I know, I'm a hungry man myself, but photoshoots are more draining than a lot of people expect. Bring snacks, as well. Nothing that gets in your teeth, but like, almonds or energy bars or something like that. You don't want to start getting tired right before you take the photo that's going to represent you for the next couple of years.

Also, I'm sure you won't, but don't go out drinking the night before. Dehydration does weird things to the human face, and they're all extremely noticeable. Make-up and Photoshop can only do so much.

During the Shoot

I show my clients the back of my camera as I go, but I've been reprimanded about this by other photographers. I don't quite understand why. It's a good visual aid, it keeps you in the loop, it gives both of us an opportunity to look at what we've got so far and say, nicely, "this isn't working," or "can we do more of this?" or "can we try something different?"

But I'm not representative of every photographer, and because I don't know who you are, dear reader, I don't know how you feel about seeing yourself in unedited photographs while they're being taken. Personally, I hate it. Whenever I end up in front of the camera I don't want to see it. I get too self-conscious to be any good any more. You might be the same!

Communication is key at all times, but especially now. Talk to your photographer. Ask questions. I promise you that you're not the most annoying client they've ever had.

After the Shoot

What's the "after" section of things like? How do your files get delivered? How long can you expect to wait until you have the photographs in your hands, be they virtual or literal?

Me, I'll send a link to a private Google Drive folder within a couple of days with a selection of maybe 20-30 photos. Like I said before, you don't want the images where the flash wasn't working for some reason, or the out-of-focus ones, or the ones where you're in the middle of a giant sneeze. If you'd like to see alternate versions, like "can I see another one like this but where I'm turned a little more to the left?", just ask. Always just ask. These selections are the ones I'm happy to point to and say "I TOOK THIS."

"ME. JAMIE DREW. LOOK HOW GREAT I AM."

You can and should send that link around to your friends, family, agents, colleagues, whoever. Get a second, third opinion. Narrow your choices down to three or four that you all love, that meet the requirements set out above, and then the fun stuff begins!

By which I mean you can just sit around for a couple of weeks if you want!

Meanwhile, your photographer gets to retouching.

On Retouching

What you're looking for in the editing phase is for your picture to -- yes, again -- look like you. But on a good day! Last week I was told that a client's photo "looked like me after a weekend in a Swiss spa."

I don't know what that means, exactly, but it sounds pretty good, right?

The photos above are actually the same photo with different retouching techniques applied to them. The first is super airbrushed and just kind of left there (this is the kind of thing you might expect from, say, Fiverr); the second was retouched using a whole bunch of different techniques, like local dodging and burning, frequency separation, noise reduction, sharpening via a custom luminosity mask...

Yeah, right? It's pretty in-depth. Boring if you're not me. The point is, Rory looks like Rory. As a portrait photographer (and that includes headshots), your aim is to show the world what was in your head at the moment you released the shutter. So anything that's not always there, generally -- spots, blemishes, weird cuts you got somehow -- is gone, no problems. It's because we don't see that stuff. It's not a thing to worry about.

Other Questions That Came Up

US vs UK style headshots

US style headshots, as a general rule, are a) landscape format and b) much wider than the close-cropped "head and shoulders" UK style, which means anything from hair-to-chest to full-body shots. They're also generally more environmental, so you'll find a good location and use it as part of the shoot as opposed to just a blurred-out backdrop. It's not something to worry about unless you're already getting a lot of work in America, honestly.

Indoor vs outdoor headshots

Indoors, you usually have complete control over the lighting, but you might not like the plain backdrop style, or the photographer just might not be up to it -- that's not a dig; studio lighting is a hard-earned skill.

Outdoors, you can change the scenery by moving a few feet, and natural light is pretty flattering to everyone. On the other hand, you've no control over the weather, so you might need to reschedule if it's raining that day (and perhaps need to pay a cancellation fee), or power through and risk having your hair everywhere. If you're not happy with the results, you might end up paying for a second shoot. There's also the issue of timing: midday sun is harsh and high and not particularly flattering or fun to shoot in for anyone unless they're the late Helmut Newton.

(If you've managed to hire the late Helmut Newton, fair play to you! I would definitely use my powers of necromancy for something more important, personally, but I'm not here to tell you how to use yours.)

In general, I'd recommend avoiding an outdoor shoot between October and February. And personally, I like indoor shots that aren't against a solid backdrop; if you're comfortable with it and the space is large enough for the lights, consider having your headshots taken in your own space! A shallow depth of field blurs everything out, but that little subtle difference can help you stand out, and since it's your own space there's a definite sense of "you" in there.

Remember, though, the setting isn't your selling point; your personality, your face is your selling point! For the purposes of headshots, anyway.

Colour vs Black and White

Sometimes a black and white shot stands out really well! But it is less of a thing now we're looking at images online. It comes down to your personal taste in the end, as well as whatever your friends, family, agent, etc., recommends.

Ask for both! A good black and white conversion doesn't take that long in the grand scheme of things. As always, be prepared to pay a little extra because although it's small against the scope of everything else it's still extra work on the photographer's part.

Special Headshot Offer

I actually have a promotion running until the 1st June; headshots for Spotlight members are £200, which includes like 4-6 retouched images and everything else. All you need to do is contact me using the offer code "hello, I am a Spotlight member and I would like some headshots."

I don't really have an offer code.

Test-A-Palooza

Here's the thing about freelancing: when you don't have anything to do in the near and imminent future, you get bored. You get bored fast. I don't know if this is true for everyone in my line of work, but it's true for me, so it's true enough for this blog. And for anyone that's not you, often the distinction between "working hard" and "scrolling endlessly through Twitter" isn't really a distinction at all. I was a writer for a while, there. Either way it just looked like I was scrolling through Twitter.

I'm too hyperactive for a desk job, too belligerent and control-freaky not to be in charge, and I get sleepy at like 3pm so a 9-5 doesn't really work out for me, unless it's in one of those workplaces you only see on Fast Company which offers, like, napping pods and on-tap baristas. Sometimes people ask me how to get into professional photography; my answer, "be as useless as possible until nobody will hire you but yourself," has been called 'unsatisfactory at best.'

I do okay. I don't really know how, I suspect some kind of incredible luck, but I do okay. I work hard to make some money, and then I spend it on video games.

Thing is, that "working hard" looks to an outside observer like "farting around." You know: you make your subject/s a cup of tea, you chat for a while in the kitchen, then you just change a couple of settings until they look good, and I don't even have to get up to do that any more since I got an on-camera flash controller. (Seriously, that thing was a £20 game-changer.) Then they go home and you drink endless cups of coffee while staring at their face on a screen.

I mean, sure, I get it. I'd resent me too.

The meat of the work goes on behind the scenes, like a magic trick. What I remember from my five-minute childhood foray into magic tricks, it's all about the practice your audience never sees; the hours you spend learning to palm a card, or stand so it looks like you're levitating, or feeding the rabbit, or whatever. You learn to distract your audience, whether they're cornered on the street or cornered at a wedding, so they just see the end results, which are fabulous. Or kind of impressive. Sometimes shitty. It really depends on what you think about magic as an art.

But I'm not a magician, I crave attention, I want you to look at my efforts and go "yeah okay I see what you were going for here." None of us are here because we got a lot of attention in high school. Look at what I spent three months doing in the name of self-improvement. For you, dear reader. For you.

On "Testing"

"Testing" is the catch-all term given by photographers and maybe other creatives, I don't know, to the act of farting around. If you get a new piece of equipment, you need to know how to work it. If you move to a new studio, you need to know its nooks and crannies. This is what we mean by "testing." Your photographer friend is farting around with their new toy. Don't let them tell you different.

For me specifically, "testing" is the catch-all term given to the act of saying to your friends: "I have nothing on this afternoon, I have to wait for my clients to get back to me with selections, this film is rendering and it will take eight hours, the weather is fine, I will buy you a pint if you let me take your picture." In this specific case, your photographer friend -- me, your most handsome photographer friend -- just doesn't want to be alone with his thoughts, if he's being completely honest.

Probably he has new toys to figure out, too. There's usually something he's spent his hard-earned video game money on. Or he saw something on the internet that looked like fun. Whatever the reason is, you've been conscripted to the cause. Sorry.

And so: test-a-palooza.

Test-A-Palooza 2015

My friend Rachael agreed to meet for a drink to talk about some elements of a script I was working on. That makes it sound like I was doing it professionally. I wasn't. I was writing a script about monsters. Am writing. Look, it's in the drawer and I'll take it out at some point and rewrite the whole thing. It's called redrafting. Jeez, get off my back.

Anyway, we got to talking -- yelling, really -- about some fantastic boudoir shoots our friends had been doing recently. I don't really do much stuff explicitly intended to be "sexy," you know? Or at least I didn't There's a couple of reasons for that: first, and most obviously, women have a more to offer than looking good in underwear, and a lot of boudoir shoots kind of... forget that. Secondly, I really don't want to play into the stereotype of a male photographer, which is something I've had to push back against quite a few times in my career to date. People assume things. There's the "guy with a camera" cliché, referring to a dude who bought a camera so he could see some half-naked ladies.

Let me be perfectly clear: don't buy a camera so you can see some half-naked ladies, dudes. Don't do that.

Long story short, we borrowed our friend Duncan's flat and tried to make something that was more "pin-up like," something with personality, something less, uh... "male-gazey." I think we did it!

Rachael made a playlist! It had Sum 41 on it! She bounced on the bed like a goddamn champ, she did! It was important, to me at least, that she looked like she was having fun.


I took that idea of "fun" to Lia, next, an actor who is so, so great in Optimus, and will be great again in whatever comes next for her. During the filming of Optimus I saw her shotgun an entire pizza -- and not even, like, one of those 6-inch personal pizzas. I'm talking about a full 15-inch thing. If you follow her on Twitter at all, you know about her love-slash-obsession with food, so I asked her if she'd be interested in farting around for the day around that kind of idea. She was like, "yeah," which is how you're seeing this picture now. That's literally how time works.

This is her favourite picture from the shoot -- I think -- but not mine. This shoot and Rachael's brought home for me that I like a naturalistic, casual kind of setup, and the lighting worked out well in both cases! (Here I'm literally just recreating the bedroom window light; it's like 6pm in the middle of winter there, and I wanted to make it... not 6pm in the middle of winter.)

But I'm not a great set dresser, honestly. I'm working on it. I'm a naturally clumsy person -- no, literally, I have dyspraxia -- and arranging things in the real world is difficult for me. Like, the arrangement of the foodstuffs could be better. There's a pile of sudoku books I forgot about.

I might take a class.

Is there a class? There must be a class.


Carl -- jeez, all my friends are from Twitter -- I'd only met a couple of times, but I had a new white backdrop I'd bought for some product shots and I wanted to get back into the studio because, look, it was cold outside and I'm a wimp, all right? I do quite a bit of location work. I wanted to be comfortable. I deserve to be comfortable.

(This is, generally, a good mantra. Repeat it in the mirror three times every morning. "I deserve to be comfortable.")

Carl's a writer (eagle-eyed readers might have already recognised him) in need of new headshots; I'm a photographer in need of figuring out how to light people like they exist in three-dimensional space, rather than just "against the wall." I took a fair amount of inspiration from Elizabeth Weinberg's work in this.

But also, at the same time, keeping that loose and casual vibe that makes my best work feel fun. So here I spent the time clicking the shutter while chatting about comics and terrible films. I think in this one Janina's lurking out of frame with some opinion or another. Batman, if memory serves.

The left-hand side of his face is a bit too shadowy in this picture specifically, but I like the vibe -- I don't like the word but I'm locked into it now -- of this picture.

So it goes.


"I live in London," I thought one night at 4am, unable to sleep, worried that I don't make the most of the city I live in. "I should make more effort to find interesting locations."

Lindsay, being one of the all-time A+ humans, agreed to pose on a rooftop in exchange for snacks. Said rooftop was donated for a couple of hours by the excellent A+ humans at Londonist, who I've done some work for now and then.

NETWORKING!

Several problems presented themselves during this shoot:

  1. radio flash triggers don't work past a few feet in the skies of Shoreditch thanks to all the RF interference up there. I did not know about this.
  2. then both my flash umbrellas fell over.
  3. it was freezing.
  4. the people in the Londonist office forgot we were up there and we got stuck for a bit. I freaked out; if it came down to cannibalism, Lindsay could definitely take me down.

But, look, I like these shots. Lindsay had to stand super-still with a low shutter speed, even though, again, it was freezing. The colour of London's light pollution complements her awesome red Carmen Sandiego coat really well. The lights from the construction site gave us that depth I was looking for. It worked out.


These black-and-white portraits have a bit of backstory: every once in a while, Tim (pictured), Kris  (also pictured but I can't get the image to format properly), Dolly, Janina, and I (and usually a couple of others) have a "force your friends to watch your favourite obscure TV show" night. We are not cool, no.

(My turn was last time and I made everyone watch Gravity Falls. You should all watch Gravity Falls. It ended last night and I am heartbroken.)

Dolly's choice was the amazing-but-I-can't-find-it-anywhere The Middleman, in which a young woman is recruited into a shadowy organisation. The eponymous Middleman has a black-and-white photograph of himself on the wall of his office, like an old Hollywood glamour shot, looking wistfully into the middle distance. Tim's doing a perfect impression right here.

Honestly, we just found this all very funny and we had to recreate it.

Turns out the "Old Hollywood glamour shot" style is largely dependent on massive fresnel lamps and old-school airbrushing, but the results came out pretty good.


Steph, I don't know how I managed to convince her to pose for me, but she did. She's a dancer and yoga instructor, as well as an actor -- see her in Anna vs. the Dead -- so I wanted to capture a sense of movement in camera.

This is how we did this: one massive umbrella (43") off to the right and behind to kind of boost the natural light coming from the window, and a bare-bulb fill to the front and left, set to fire a few times per second once activated, and a shutter speed of around 1 second. The right light is gelled pink, the left chocolate, and said colours boosted in post.

Initially I thought about cutting Steph out and placing her on a white background, but the environment really gave this that -- again -- casual vibe.

Ugh. "Vibe."


Duncan -- of the flat -- introduced me to Rosie when she said she was interested in pin-ups in the Sticks and Stones kind of style, and he told her about Test-A-Palooza. We had a coffee, talked about all of this, and I figured she'd be perfect for conscription to the cause because she's a lot of fun, and that's good to work with.

Basically, the process here is "we drank a lot of whisky and farted around with all the outfits and props she just has lying around for some reason." I took the lessons learned with Rachael and Lia, but went further into the "sexy" aspect of things, while retaining that sense of personality.

Now I have a reputation for only shooting "fun" people. That's not true. Bring me your grumps, your stony-faced. Bring me your whoever.

This picture is very much an outtake from towards the end of the day, which I loved anyway: it's a little moment of vulnerability, of shoot fatigue, of hunger. We got pizza soon after, don't worry.

We're friends now. Like, just friends like normal people. That happens sometimes. You meet some great people in this job.


I was introduced to Alanna through our mutual friend Merlin (who is a writer and also a fantastic photographer and recently bought a Fuji X100T I keep threatening to steal). Alanna is a musician, a poet and is probably best known as the frontwoman of Joanna Gruesome, who are fucking awesome, so obviously I just kind of jumped at this whole thing.

Remember Carl? Yeah, I wanted to replicate the kind of thing we got in Carl's shoot, but lit more evenly and processed slightly differently. I got a medium format camera during Test-A-Palooza 2k15 and remembered how much I love the imperfections and tiny flaws in film, so wanted to process more towards that. Losing detail in deep shadows but retaining tones throughout.

So, we strip it back. Keep it simple: put a human being in front of a camera. Capture the whole person, not just their face or hair or whatever, but as much of their "deal" as you can.

(Fun fact: despite being a child of the internet, I actually learned on 35mm film! I got an old Canon EOS 300 on eBay to take with me to Lisbon for a weekend, but it ended up getting me out of the house and kind of saving my sanity. I'd recommend this path -- the film path, not the insanity path -- to anyone looking to get into photography as a hobby. You almost literally can't take a bad photo with the EOS 300 on "Auto.")


Andrew answered a call I put out for models. It should be painfully obvious at this point that all my friends are women, and I wanted to shoot some menswear stuff, as well as work on my outdoor work and my awareness of what's going on in the background of my shots.

This after the mishaps during Lindsay's shoot, yes. I wanted to ditch the flash and reflector, see what came out the other side.

This was just straight-up a fun day. This shot right here is on the steps of St. Paul's Cathedral, but we wandered down to the Thames as well.


Collet, a fellow filmmaker and massive horror movie nerd, had bought herself a new high-powered lamp for a project she was working on and wanted to see if and how it worked. Pretty well, as it goes!

For me, this single-light backlit worked super well, just the 43" umbrella to the left and behind. I tried a couple of high-key setups during this shoot and at other times in Test-A-Palooza, but it doesn't really gel for me. I don't know why. It's not that I like darkness, particularly. I think it's just that 3D space thing.

Fun fact: this moody photograph is an outlier in the set, where Collet is actually a super-smiley person. I've got one of her grinning wide, but she "hates" it and I'm "not allowed to tell anyone about it," so.


All right, it gets NSFW in a second, fair warning.


This one's actually quite recent; to date I've only done a handful of nude shoots, which have been surprisingly fun and comfortable. Not being too comfortable in my own skin, I assume other people aren't, either, and that's not the case. Who knew?

Everyone, Jamie. Everyone knew.

Norma (on twitter, technically, but never tweeting; I actually know her from real life. Well, kind of; I know her through Janina, who I know from the internet) said she was interested in doing a nude shoot, and I was interested in moving outside of my comfort zone as much as possible.

There actually was a specific photo I wanted to take here, but it didn't work out as well as it did in my head. Limitations of the space and all that. Lesson learned!

In any case, this shot is my favourite from the day. If you've actually been reading and not just looking at the pictures because you saw me post this on Facebook and you feel some kind of obligation, you can probably guess why.


On "Vibe" or "Voice" or Whatever

I think the best way to figure out your voice -- style? -- is to get on with it, essentially. You've got to make mistakes. You've got to follow your gut and make the things you like, but make stuff you fucking hate now and then. There's a few shoots in Test-A-Palooza I'm not sharing here because of this. It's not a dig on anyone, it's just a thing.

That voice thing has been an insecurity for me since I started out. From what I can gather, your own creative work feels super generic to you but perhaps not to other people -- at least, not if you're good at what you do. Test-A-Palooza taught me, primarily, to "lean in" to my instincts, not to chase what's in vogue right now. So it turns out my "vibe", or at least that of my photographs, is loose and casual and maybe quite fun? Fairly naturalistic. Uncomplicated, maybe.

I might do this every year.

 

I Bought Myself a Camera Because I'm an Adult and Just You Try and Stop Me

Yes, I know I own a camera. Yes, I know it's my literal job to own one. But I've been looking for something I can just shove in my bag and not think about too much; a camera I can literally just point and shoot with, but which is dependable enough to take half-decent pictures. After some Googling (a lot of Googling), I found this horrific 90s beast:

The Fuji GA645 is a medium format rangefinder, which is a thing that shouldn't exist. It's huge! It's bulky! Just look at the fucking thing! The sheer amount of plastic in this thing could drown thirteen polar bears! And yet.

This thing, which I have not named yet, has a world-class lens on it -- albeit a fixed 60mm one, about the equivalent of a 35mm -- and near-perfect metering. It's completely automatic, which means I really don't have to worry about any of the technical stuff. This is good! I want to work on my composition and my connection with people. I haven't had the opportunity to shoot street photography for a while. You get 16 shots to a roll of 120 film (right now there's a roll of Portra 400 in there), which means every one of them has to count. It is perfect. It is exactly what I wanted. I love it more than I love most people. 

I got my first two rolls back and I only fucked up maybe 40% of them, which is a pretty good ratio, honestly. I'm sharing some of them here. I try not to hate myself because I can't handhold down to 1/8th of a second. Who can do that?

Robots, probably.



"Optimus" update: 26/10/2015

I went way over the word limit on IndieGoGo so I had to post this here.

HA HA HA HA HA HA.

AN UPDATE?! FROM OPTIMUS?!

I KNOW, RIGHT?!!?

Look, we had some mishaps. We had some setbacks along the way in post-production. They're all incredibly boring. I'm bored thinking about them.

Essentially: there is a guy in Germany, somewhere, who has the masters for the soundtrack, and if you see him kick him in the back of the knee and tell him Jamie sent you. Then explain who I am. And also why you're doing this, I guess, so he knows what he did.

He disappeared off the face of the Earth with our masters and the masters of other folks, is what I am saying to you. We got scammed a little bit. It seems like a weird and convoluted scam -- if you're recording anyway why not just give people their masters and build, I don't know, a reputable business for yourself? -- but I'm not the criminal mastermind here. I don't know how to run a scam.

And, I mean, this is all on top of what I can only truly describe as a "motherfucker of a year," work-wise. While that's nice and a freelancer can't really complain about the amount of work he's been getting -- which, again, a motherfucker of an amount -- it does mean I got dragged away from working on this ten-minute film for months at a time. Then I literally exhausted myself. No, I don't mean "figuratively." I have to take multivitamins now, you know? Like I'm 70 years old. I passed out during that Cumberbatch production of Hamlet; I thought maybe I was anaemic; but my blood tests came back normal; and it's like, "Jamie Drew, when was the last time you had a day off?"

To which, I don't know. Like, two years? Three? I've been living a weekend-less existence since 2007. Without checking, I couldn't tell you what day it is right now.

One of our bit players, John, literally got cancer in this time period as well. You probably know this already; he's raised, what, £85k for Anthony Nolan? Just a huge, ridiculous, wonderful amount. And there was a moment there, back when that all kicked off, where I was on my way home from the shop and I had this thought that I might need to get a new mix because what if I had to put in an "in memory of" slide in the credits. Then I had a little breakdown because at this moment the key to my front door wouldn't work and I spent ten minutes yelling at this bunch of inanimate fucking objects for being a piece of shitcollectively, why does nothing work, why do awful things happen to good people, etc.

I think I had some emotions to work through, there.

Full disclosure: I also played a shitton of Dishonored.

ANYWAY.

We're like a couple of weeks away from being done, tops. You'll get a link when there's a link. Optimus is still a thing that's happening. It needs grading, and a DCP needs assembling, but that's about it. I'm aiming for "the end of next week," but give me a nudge if you don't have anything by March 2017. It's happening. It's coming your way.

We had a screening back in June for the cast, crew, and some of our backers. While I'm too close to make a judgement call on whether this film is any good or not, I've been told it's "great" by more than one person. Let that be our review for now.

I mean, honestly, I have no idea. At this point Optimus is a series of shapes, sounds, and visual effects that won't work properly sometimes for absolutely no fucking reason whatsoever.

Here's what I know: it's a film, it's about 12 minutes long, and it's a film featuring a bunch of amazing people who worked very hard to be good at what they do for long periods of time, both in front of and behind the camera. It's got a great soundtrack, a scrappy bluesy thing recorded in Mike's bedroom because some guy stole it, which is kind of a great story? It's got robot sounds that I asked Adam to replace after our first go because the first ones were cute and hilarious and ended up stealing every scene to that scene's detriment. It's got my friends, and they're still my friends even though I spent days, weeks, months, yelling at them.

That's all I know, and that's kind of enough for me.

Rachael & Lia

I've been trying to get out of my creative comfort zone lately. A lot of what I do is straight editorial-style portraits, but recently my friend Jo has been doing these wonderful boudoir shoots, and while I don't think that exact sort of thing is my style, particularly, I've never really shot anything intended to be "sexy," you know? I don't know why I put that in quote marks. The point is: you've got to expand your horizons.

First up we have Rachael, who works for Buzzfeed and got talking about Front magazine while I was asking her Very Serious Questions for a film I'm working on. Rather than go down the serene/complex road boudoir photography traditionally treads, we thought it would be fun t do something more, well... fun. She made a Spotify playlist of mid-2000s pop-punk and bounced on our friend's bed for a while.

That's the creative process, dudes. That's how we do in the biz.

This second set I've had in mind for a while and I convinced Lia to do it ages ago (you know Lia? Yeah, you know Lia). But she's always on holiday, so we only got around to it last week. Lia is a beautiful woman whom I've seen devour a 12-inch pizza in seconds. Like, literal seconds. Like she was shotgunning it. "Could you do that in front of a camera?" I asked her.

"What kind of pizza?" she asked.

And of course we took this more traditional portrait on the couch because sometimes you have to do what you're best at.

So, what did we learn? We learned that pizza is nice, and Fall Out Boy's first album totally holds up. We learned that it's fun to muck around with your friends, and maybe that's an attitude and ethos to bring into professional work, going forward.

I mean, it's not like I'm the most professional photographer in the first instance, but still.

There's more of this kind of thing coming up in the future! I've actually managed to convince a few male friends to pose for me in similar shoots. I mean, I say "convince," I mean "they were all in before I finished asking the question." May you all have friends like these, readers. It's a pretty good life.

The Manhattans Project

The eagle-eyed amongst you will notice there's a food & drinks section in my photography portfolio now. There on the left. You see it? Okay, hover over the word "photography." There you go.

Included in this page are some photos from my friend Felix's bar in POND Dalston, the Manhattans Project. His own bar! I know! And it's only an Overground trip from my house!

You can see more at the Manhattans Project's website, and if you're ever in the mood to buy your most favourite and most handsomest photographer a drink, you know where to go.

Romantic Misadventures

My friend Kit Lovelace runs an evening called Romantic Misadventures every month or so, always on a Monday and usually in a room above the Black Heart in Camden, which is a nice place that serves Camden Hells! That's really all you need in a pub.

Sometimes I write things -- I used to be a writer before I decided taking photographs was way, way more fun -- and sometimes I read those things aloud for audiences. The other day I read the story of my worst birthday, my 16th birthday, and Kit recorded it. Now it's on Soundcloud and embedded below:

Full disclosure: I'm not the best public speaker in the world. I have verbal dyspraxia and it's come back with a vengeance recently; sometimes I talk too fast for you the listener and for me the speaker, and I trip over my words.

Also, my friend Duncan tells me that I do a "sexy voice" when I give talks. Another friend, Joel, compares my public speaking voice to "a drunk Elvis." I was fine with "sexy voice," Joel, but thanks.

I Have Lost My Eye More Times Than A 28-Year-Old Man Ought To Have Lost His Eye

My friend Sarah has taken up special effects make-up and prosthetics recently, so I spent the day having her remove my eye. Why, you ask? Well, it's because I look fucking great with one eye. I don't know why this is. It's just a thing we all have to live with.

Ladies.

Ladies.

Right? I found this out at Sarah's time traveller-themed birthday a few years ago, when I wore an eyepatch. The photos have since been lost to the Great Hard Drive Crash of 2012, but luckily for you I will wear an eyepatch at any given opportunity. Here I am drinking in my bedroom, where the light was good:

Here I am on my way to a Hallowe'en party dressed as Grunkle Stan from Gravity Falls:

You're welcome, internet.

Sarah also turned Norma into a burn victim. Norma also looks good. It takes less for Norma to look good, though, so she isn't the focus of this blog post. Nevertheless:


We Made A (48-Hour Sci-Fi) Movie (As We Were Challenged To Do So)

Every year, Sci-Fi London host a 48-hour filmmaking challenge, in which, unsurprisingly, teams are challenged to write, produce, edit, and submit a short film over a single weekend. And Jamie Drew is no chicken no sir.

Jamie Drew is no stranger to 48-hour challenges. Jamie Drew will rise to whatever the fuck you want to challenge him to. He can eat more Twiglets than you can. He will prove it. You're in trouble now. You shouldn't have challenged him to a Twiglet-eating competition.

So, we chose a name by mashing a phone and seeing what autocorrect thought we said -- hello, good ship Sleepy Barfly -- and rose to the challenge. Sharan produced and directed; James and Raj wrote the script; Sarah stepped up to do some make-up and prosthetics; I became director of photography for the weekend; we dragged Top 30 Funniest Woman On Twitter and soon-to-be-seen-in-Optimus Lia into it to perform for our pleasure.

"Like, 10pm," we said. "You'll be finished at 10pm, latest. Don't worry about it." We did not finish at 10pm.

Here is the short we did. As is standard, we got a line -- something about evolution, I don't remember, I didn't sleep; a prop -- a jigsaw piece; and a Title -- You Are What You Eat. We made a film about a small-scale alien invasion. I don't know why the preview frame looks so weird, colour-wise. It's not that colour in the final film. That is going to eat at me forever.

On Low-Low-Low Budget Cinematography

If you're interested (i.e. if you're me), we lit You Are What You Eat with two household lamps, which we named Hero One -- a German lantern wrapped mostly in tin foil -- and Hero Two -- a floor lamp lined with more tin foil -- as well as a couple of smartphones, an iPad, and my small LED video light.

"Why did you do this, Jamie?" I imagine you're asking right now. Well, the only rental house that could deliver on time wouldn't take our insurance. Or, "technical limitations can boost creativity." Whatever makes me sound smartest. Your choice.

Here Are Some Behind-The-Scenes Photos


Damn, It Feels Good To Have A Side Blog

One of my favourite parts of pre-production is making mood boards, which out of everything I do in this ridiculous job I made up somehow feels the least like actual work. Not that any of the rest of it feels like actual work; I feel kind of bad when I say "I've been swamped" to people who go to an office every day and have titles they didn't make up for themselves.*

Making a mood board consists of the following steps:

  1. Sit down with a cup of tea
  2. Make sure your wi-fi works
  3. Look at pictures that are sort of like what you want to do
  4. Put those pictures into a single Photoshop file (Optional, for the lazy)
  5. Send them along to your team

I understand that from the outside, this does not look like real work. I understand that to the untrained eye this looks like I regularly spend an evening scrolling through Tumblr, and Flickr, and the gigabytes of miscellanea stored in a folder on a computer marked "FUEL."

Okay so this is mostly half-naked ladies but I promise you it's not all half-naked ladies.

Okay so this is mostly half-naked ladies but I promise you it's not all half-naked ladies.

Anyway, a couple of months ago I accidentally found a way to streamline the process. I have this mutant power, you see, wherein I form a kind of "entropy field" around myself that breaks everything I come across that's more complex than a Game Boy. My friend Carl wouldn't let me near his computer for years because every time I sat down at it, Windows would crash. I keep losing that "FUEL" folder every time a laptop breaks down for no apparent reason.

So I made a Tumblr to keep it all in.

Now, of course, I can just direct people to it, vaguely waving my hand in its direction when someone asks if I have any ideas for this shoot. "Of course I have ideas," I say, implicitly. "I stole them from a bunch of different people. That's how creativity works."

(A piece of advice: never, ever tell anyone that this is how creativity works. If anyone asks, tell them you're inspired by the world around you; by its people; by your mentors, who are your friends and family and the pack of wolves that raised you. Never tell anyone the secrets. Never pull back the curtain. It is too late for me, but you can do better than I have.)

(And maybe it is how creativity works! Who knows? Smarter people than you or I have tried to unpick this whole "art" thing, and we're still no closer, really, to figuring it out on a generic level. "Maybe it's built-in," the smarter people say, "fuck, we don't know.")

Goddamn I love You're Next. Why am I going out tonight? Why can't I just watch You're Next?

Goddamn I love You're Next. Why am I going out tonight? Why can't I just watch You're Next?

*A couple of years ago I got a call from my friend Leanne, who is a speech therapist. She was applying for a new job which required a reference from somebody who held one of a selection of pre-approved occupations. And although she obviously knows a lot of people in the healthcare business, none of them could do it, and so Leanne offered me a pint in exchange for my good word. This because "professional photographer" was on the list, whereas "actual speech therapist" for some reason was not. "This is riduculous," I said. "I literally made up this job. One day I said to somebody, 'hey, I'm a professional photographer now' and it was true." Anyway, thank you for the pint, Leanne.

A Very Short Video with Boom Nails and Peatree Productions, or, Let's Never Make A Stop Motion Film

I worked with my friend Sharan at Peatree Productons recently to make this wee stop motion animation for Boom Nails. I've never done anything stop motion before, but I've definitely thought about it for up to five minutes after seeing ParaNorman.

This was a lot of fun, but I don't think I hate myself enough to make a feature-length stop motion film. Not yet, anyway.