Interview: Headshot Photographer Peter Konerko: “There is nothing more boring than a picture of an actor playing an actor”

IMDb is a great place to surf.  It is such a wealth of knowledge and insight, you never know what you are going to find.  One night I was leapfrogging between movies-n-actor profiles, when I came across a photo of an actor that stopped me in my tracks.  The headshot literally floored me, it was unconventional in nature, yet carried such honesty and nakedness and texture and dimension, I had to find out who this photographer was and needed to meet him. 

The photographer’s name was Peter Konerko.

Konerko works from his Dahlia Heights Studio in Eagle Rock  and has a great blog called authentic in which he interviews his clients and shares great stories and perspectives.

I met with Konerko to learn more about his insight in headshot photography and portraits. Daily Actor: Can you share the philosophy and the foundational elements of your work?

Konerko: Ideas always trump technology. Honesty is impervious to trend. If you have a great idea, and  communicate truthfully, you can’t ask for anything more. As far as foundation in my work, to communicate my vision, you have to understand the relationship between shutter, aperture, film speed and lens choice. This is the vocabulary of the visual medium.

Daily Actor: What happens when you meet a new client for the first time?

Konerko: I call it the “first fifteen.” When I meet someone for the first time, their character is revealed in the first fifteen seconds. The client doesn’t want to sell the first fifteen. Usually, they want to sell the cover. The commercial world wants the cover. Portraits would be amazing if I could always capture a moment in the first fifteen. When I do get the true character, the shots really sing.

Daily Actor: Can you share your process of how you prepare for a day of shooting?

Konerko: First, I look at my light. I prefer to shoot natural light so I look at aspects such as weather, time of day/year, color casting, etc. I figure out my timeline and how long it will take to shoot the session. I look at how far the sun will travel during that time and how that changes my set up. Sometimes I change the light and setup based on what we are trying to communicate and the needs of each client. It is about the shot as a whole, not just the subject.

Daily Actor: What does “the camera sees everything” mean to you?

Konerko: A camera sees nothing unless a photographer makes a choice and points it at something. Once that choice is made, the camera sees everything because it has an objective point of view. Photo journalists probably the most objective photographers. Some of my favorite photography is by the photojournalist, James Natchwey. It is impossible for me to be objective. I want to take what is in front of me and have a point of view.

Daily Actor: How should talent prepare for a shoot and what obstacles do they face?

Konerko: The talent should always be ready to be emotionally available. You have to love having your picture taken. Whether moving or still camera there is no difference. If  the artist feels like they need to adopt a character to get through the session, then do so. I am all about that and I help push when necessary. If it is not fun to have your picture taken, then maybe there is something deeper going on, but it should never affect the session.

Daily Actor: You mention “adopt a character.” What is the importance of the talent having specific intentions or objectives when shooting?

Konerko: It is everything. Acting is doing. There is nothing more boring than a picture of an actor playing an actor. The best shoots are when the talent defines the looks and commits to a playable action. Most actors are more interesting when acting anyway. Actors, in action, in front of the camera. That is what I want to shoot.

Daily Actor: They are acting, yes, but you don’t mean dress up like the roles, do you?

Konerko: There needs to be a flavor. A man comes in and wants a shot that feels like a political figure and wants some direction on clothing. I would ask: State or Federal? Which party do you belong to? Does that change the type of suit and tie you wear? It’s about how “put together” they feel. That will read on their face.

Daily Actor:  What is the difference between getting 200 or versus 1000 images from a session? Am I getting more with more and less with less?

Konerko: A client is paying for quality, not quantity. They also are not paying for time. The ability to make a great shot in five minutes rather than 2 hours takes skill and talent. The final product is what matters, not how long it takes to make it. If I say you get 36 shots (a roll of film) to get this look, you will focus and be on point. If you they know you are going to just blast away with the camera, then the subject will become complacent I get as specific as I can and then I shoot it. I
don’t put a limit on shots, but it usually plays out to about 50-75 per look when shooting an actor for headshots.

Daily Actor: What is your perfect working experience?

Konerko: My perfect working experience is when I can communicate with my camera what I see in my thoughts (or maybe what I create in my intentions). This is seeing it first and then executing it. If I can do that, then it is a great day.

Daily Actor: Who has the most influence on your work as a photographer?

Konerko: I believe Paolo Roversi is the greatest living photographer. He is a painter. He is very specific and you know his work when you see it. It takes my breath away. His use of contrast and motion creates a timelessness that resonates with me and in my work as well. I feel a deep connection to Roversi. He has access to the best of the best in every department and it shows in the final product. If I could just see what he sees for one minute my work would grow exponentially.

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