How to tell when a Talent Agent is trying to screw you

When you first handed your headshots to a Talent Agent, what did they say to you?

His name was Brian, and he was one of the very first headshots that I had done professionally.

At the time, there were only 3 photographers in Chicago who made a living off of headshots. But Brian knew me, and he wanted something different. He took a chance on an unknown.

In all fairness, it was impossible to fuck up Brian’s headshot.  He’s a boyish guy with an infectious grin, and I knew several women that had a crush on him on sight. On top of it, his looks were made for B&W film, the format of the time.  I couldn’t mess it up.

We shot two rolls and Brian bought the proof sheets to an agent that he was working with.  The agent had tried to push another photographer, so Brian knew that the agent would give him grief.  But he didn’t expect the sheer volume of static that he ran into.  Brian had been very happy with our photos.

The talent agent circled two images, and passed them back to Brian… telling him that those were the only two images that were worth anything.
Brian came back to me with the proof sheets in hand.  I knew that something was up.  Without comment, he asked me what I thought of the agent’s choices.

They were literally the worst two images from our shoot.
Which is what I told Brian.

Brian had thought the same thing, and he never went back to that agent.  It was clear that the agent had been getting kickbacks from the photographer that they were recommending.

At the time, it confirmed to me something that I had found out while trying to meet with certain talent agents in Chicago; there are, unfortunately, talent agents that get kickbacks from photographers.  I know, because I was told as much when I tried to meet with one, that they had an ‘arrangement’ with ‘another’ photographer.

I still remember the instant where I put two and two together.  It had never occurred to me up until that point that Talent Agents are people who’s job description is to make a commission off of getting you work.
-And I imagine that an agent could easily transition to the prospect of getting a commission from a photographer for sending actors there.

In the years since then, I’ve heard about this happening less and less.  It was harder for Talent Agents to argue that someone needed to use _______ photographer with so many talented photographers out there who take headshots.  And I count myself among them.

Which brings me to the impetus of writing this post.
I don’t want to expose the performer to scrutiny, but I did photograph a client within the last couple of years.  We both liked the images.  So much so, that the pictures are among my favorite. But when the client took the photos to an agent, they were told that the images were awful.  Then the agent did something kinda slimy, and insisted that my client be photographed by a photographer that the agent recommended.
Just that one photographer.
As if there was only one photographer in Chicago capable of delivering great headshots.

My client knew that the photos were great.  Not just because of what I said, or what they felt, but because they had other performers tell them so.

My client walked out of the agents office. So should you.

Two new entries

The entries in the “Worst Headshot” contest continue to roll in.

If you want to enter (or just want to know what its all about) click on the link in the banner, above.


Candace Taylor Snapp

Candace Taylor Snapp

I visited my sister over a long weekend, dyed my hair from blonde to dark brown, and suddenly received a few auditions for the following Monday.
In a quick effort to have head shots ready with my new hair color, I had my sister take this photo on a cheap camera and then I printed the images at AB Photo when I got back to the city. It was really sunny outside so my eyes look freaky—and one of them is smaller than the  other—and the image is obviously blurry. I used this HS for about a month and then paid for some good ones.


Becky Simo

Becky Simo

Yes, I did actually take this to an audition. No, I do not know what I was thinking. It was taken with my cell phone camera, I’m wearing a t-shirt and I don’t know what you’d call that facial expression.

Again, I’d like to thank everyone who’s shared their images with everyone, not to mention their reasoning.
You are clearly not alone.

What you should bring to a headshot



A while back, I wrote an FAQ for my website.  It included a downloadable PDF document of things that you might want to bring to a headshot shoot.

I thought I’d share a few of the items that performers might not think about.
Keep in mind, this is by no means a complete list.

  • Floss.  Remember how you ate a Subway sandwich right before dropping into the studio, so you wouldn’t be hungry?  I always have those one-use plackers on hand for just such an occasion.  Not every photographer does.
  • Toothbrush.  See above.
  • Mostly for women: a straw.  Why do you want a straw, you ask?  Because you spent 10 minutes putting on that lipstick, and roughly 1/3rd of it is going to end up on the water bottle you bought with you. (Again, I keep straws on hand.)
  • Music on your phone or Ipod.  In my studio space, I always have a way for you to plug your music in.  It helps you relax.  If you’re relaxed, taking your photo is a cinch! Make your playlist for the shoot ahead of time.  HINT:  If you’re trying to keep upbeat, don’t make it the Les Misérables mix.  Unless music about “the depressed” is what makes you happy.
  • A light snack. Fruit is awesome; it packs a bunch of energy, and it won’t leave you crashing.  Although you’ll want to keep away from anything that will stain your tongue or teeth.  Blueberries are a bad idea.  Same for coffee.
  • Matching underwear.  It seems like a given, right?  But you’d be amazed at how many times I hear something along the lines of, “oh… I bought this white shirt to wear… but I only have a black bra.”
  • Lipstick and makeup that you’d normally wear, even if you’ve hired a stylist.
    The first question that any good stylist will ask you is:  are you allergic to any type of make-up?  The second question is: what do you normally wear?
    It gives them a jumping off point.  It also makes them aware of what you’re used to wearing, and what you can use to make yourself look like you do in your headshot.
  • For men, lip balm.  We get chapped lips too.
  • For women:  Heels.  And comfortable shoes.  I have to admit, I didn’t know this until a woman explained this to me.  We were just photographing her face. She wanted to feel classy.  So she put on her heels, and it made her “feel different.”
    The same thing applies to thigh high boots, sneakers, or anything you wear that makes you feel different.
  • For women, again: Nail polish.  You just know that you’re going to chip your color on the way here.
  • For men: a sharp razor.  Just in case you were in a rush, and missed a spot.
  • And most importantly: Your playfulness, and ideas.
    I get my best ideas from my clients.  I take my best photos when you are just having fun. Come and have fun.  Taking headshots can be a blast!

Lynn and John’s entries…

If you want to enter the “worst” picture-you-ever-turned-in-as-a-headshot, contest, click on the link on the banner (above) for details.


Lynn Sciaraffa

Lynn Sciaraffa

Here is the worst headshot I ever sent in. It was for a Nutrisystem spokesperson spot. Needless to say I never even received a call to audition!


John Mobley

John Mobley

This was taken for the programs for a community college show. It was at an actual studio. I can’t recall the photographer’s name, nor would I want to, because as you know John, my hair is not red.

(Disclaimer: I know John, but will not be voting for him, in order to remain fair.)

Please vote for your favorite. And as always, I appreciate everyone who’s entered just to admit that it wasn’t their best day.