Wardrobe Tips With Michael Kushner Photography
Picking out your wardrobe for a photoshoot can be challenging. You might be doing a lifestyle shoot, or getting new headshots. How do you find clothes that showcase you best? Luckily, I got the opportunity to ask photographer and multi-hyphenate Michael Kushner from Michael Kushner Photography a few questions!
1. I would love to know a little bit more about you, Michael. How did you get into photography and how long have you been a photographer?
I was a child actor and loved headshots. Something about the way they represented the people I was working with was really interesting to me. I would talk with these adults and tell them (I was 13 years old, mind you) why their headshot worked or why it didn't. Eventually, I got a camera for Hanukkah while I was in college and began taking portraits of my friends. They loved them so much and encouraged me to keep taking photos when I moved to the city - which I did. And now I'm in my 5th year of shooting at Michael Kushner Photography and I am obsessed with the incredible artists who come to my studio. I am forever grateful for these opportunities.
2. How important is finding the right wardrobe for a shoot?
While colors ARE super important - please don't let them dictate your photoshoot. What you should be thinking about are the projects you're submitting for. Headshots shouldn't just be a clear photo of you - they need to be specific. They need to fit in the world of the play / tv show / movie being cast. Never, ever look for a "blank slate" headshot. What do they tell me about you other than you're pretty? A casting director sees thousands of headshots in ONE day - so what is going to make yours stick out? It needs to reflect the world of the piece you're auditioning for. So ask yourself - if you're submitting for an under five in Shameless - what does the breakdown say about my character? Say the character is one of the lower class frequent flyers at the bar who spends all their money on beer. That breakdown is specific right? Guess what - you get to be too! Do you have a photo that reflects that character or story? If you don't and you're finding you're submitting yourself to multiple projects in the same vibe as Shameless, you should get a picture that reflects that. So maybe that's a flannel, or a leather jacket - and you'd communicate with your hair and make up artist the character you're going for. It's a team effort.
But then there is the fine line of being costumey. There's no need to "dress up" - but you should HINT at the world you can fit into. So what is the difference? I once went to an audition and saw a woman use balloons and puppets in her headshot... while that is certainly a choice, I still have no idea what that's saying about her. Is she a clown? A Shari Lewis type of performer? We don't need the bells and whistles that distract us - but we do need hints - and that's where you have agency and headshots become creative.
3. Many people have told me that I shouldn’t use funky patterns because it is distracting, and that I should stick to solid colors. What are you thoughts on this?
I don't agree at all. I always say, "If you commit to the story of the outfit, it won't matter!" And I believe that if you're distracted by a pattern, you're in the wrong business. Like I said before, don't take away from the emotion you're trying to convey to the casting director with bells and whistles - but a pattern? If you like it, if it reflects the stories you want to tell, go for it. With shows like Sex Education, a show that is colorful, youthful, and exuberant - I think you should have a photo with a bright pop of color, and a pattern that takes you off the page. I also believe you should have multiple headshots ready to use at once. I think you should avoid the "main headshot" because that headshot may not fit in the world of the play you're auditioning for. For instance, if you were to use a vibrant pattern in your headshot, would that work for a Shakespeare play? Probably not - so instead, you'd use the dramatic interpersonal headshot for the Shakespeare audition. Give yourself options.
4. Some clothes are helpful even if they are bright and have patterns. Are there times that clothes can get in the way during a shoot?
Some clothes just don't look good on camera, mainly because of fit and skin tone matching. You don't want to wear a color that brings out your undertones, or wear something too tight where your buttons are puckered. I once had a client that insisted on wearing a blouse that needed an incredible amount of pinning, then got upset with me when she saw the pins in the proofs (which I communicated in the shoot would be edited out in post). The same client also brought in a blazer that completely washed her out, and again, she insisted she wear it. I can only edit so much. Clothes that work the best for me are tank tops, v / crew necks, sweaters, denim shirts, I usually feel if you're going to wear a tee shirt, it should be accompanied with a type of jacket - just another opportunity to really color the story.
5. What is the difference in terms of wardrobe between a headshot session and a lifestyle or press shoot?
There are definitely more rules in a headshot session, though they are meant to be broken. Anything I'm saying is up for discussion so long as you commit to the bit and sell the energy and choices you're making in the headshot. For lifestyle, I have a lot less reservations of what to wear. That's more for website, social media, etc. so that can be bolder, unapologetic patterns, cuts, flares, accoutrements, hats, jewelry, etc. Strangely enough, I believe you can use a lifestyle picture as a headshot - again - if you commit to it and it says something that reflects the project you're going in for. I'm especially passionate about this in regards to black and white headshots - with projects like Roma, Wandavision, Frances Ha, Sabrina, Mank, and more... these projects are filmed in black and white - which means it's appropriate to have a black and white headshot, so long as it's not stuck in the same patterns as the 1980's. Less makeup, not washed out, more drama, more shadow - something that can pop on IG as well.
6. Not all of your clients are actors, but many of them are. My rep always reminds me that headshots aren't always going to be the most glamorous. You need a wide variety of photos that will make you stand out for certain roles. How do you help a client who is struggling to find their wardrobe for their headshots?
YES. And they should NOT be the most glamorous. Like I said before about the black and white photo on IG popping, that's not necessarily the case for all your other headshots. Some headshots are perfect on Breakdown Express or in a submission email, but that may not translate to social media. Likes do not equal casting opportunities. If you're struggling to find a wardrobe - start with what you like, what is comfortable, what is in your closet, and what makes you happy. When you're looking at them - start to see if any of them tell a specific story or if any of them match the energies you're bringing into an audition room.
7. Let’s also talk about hair and makeup. Do you think hair and makeup is also important to think about before a shoot?
100% - I always think a headshot session is even more successful when a hair and make up artist is present. My team creates specifically in the same way I shoot - story based. Plus, it's good to have an extra pair of hands on set that can help clip clothes, get rid of flyaways, etc. People are sometimes reserved to have a hair and make up artist because they've had an experience where they did too much eye, or the hair was too wavy, or whatever - and to that I ask, "How well did you communicate your vision?" I ask this because some studios don't feel like collaboration. I take pride in having a warm, collaborative studio and I make sure that if you're not seeing the person you're normally seeing in the mirror show up on the photos - we don't stop until we fix the issue.
Wow! Thank you so much, Michael. If you have a photoshoot coming up, this should definitely give you some #inspiration! You can learn more about Michael Kushner Photography at www.michaelkushnerphotography.com, or check out his IG at @themichaelkushner.