Headshot Photographer Lesley Bohm: “I focus on personality and who you are rather than just surface”

Headshot photographer Lesley Bohm talks to us about the importance of a great picture, going digital and more!

Lesley Bohm
has been my go to photographer for a while now. Yes, I’ve cheated on her with other photographers (it wasn’t my fault! An old manager “suggested” I go elsewhere) but I always go back. Why? Simply because she produces headshots that get results.

She was nice enough to take time out of her busy day to talk to me about how she got her start, how she differs from other photographers and more. Check it out!

So, I guess we’ll begin with the obvious question, how did you get started?

I got started way back when I first came to L.A., I went to art school, and I always knew I liked shooting people rather than things.  And so I always liked to reach into the nitty gritty and figure out how people ticked.  And when I was moving from Vancouver, where I grew up, and it was New York or L.A. and I really did like the weather better in L.A., so I moved to L.A.  And I started taking actor’s headshots.

I’m not sure if this is more of question but a statement.  I hate taking headshots.  It’s just uncomfortable for me, and I’ve shot with tons of people since I’ve been out here.  Nothing really clicked for me, and then I found you through a friend, and I finally got my first great headshot.  And you just have this sort of ease about you – this calm.  And it came through you into me, and then into the picture. You just have this calming presence, and I think that makes for a great session.

I agree with you, and I have a little system and it does include, you know, talking with you and finding out who you are and what makes you tick a little bit and what you like and what you don’t like.  That way I can kind of follow the initial issues of headshots where people are nervous and they’re thinking about what they look like and we can actually get into a position where we can talk about other things and your face can get back to its normal position and life will flow and then you get really good expressions and headshots.  That’s kind of my little secret.  Try to put you at ease as best I can.

Eventually you just kind of start having a conversation and then… you don’t forget you’re taking a headshot, but it’s more like you’re just hanging out.

Exactly.  It’s just my way of getting you to come down to my studio and hang out with me (laughter).  It’s basically the energy I want to share is hanging out with a best friend and we’re just having fun and getting some smiles and getting some serious – changing clothes a few time.  It really should not be a big deal, even though it’s the number one thing actors hate to do, even though it’s the number one thing they have to do.

And here’s another statement: When I got my first headshots from you, I got my first agent through a mailing and then started getting auditions, then I got a manager who insisted I get headshots from someone else. They were good but they did nothing for me. I left that manager, went back to you, and I swear to God, within a month, I started getting calls again.  Do you see that a lot?

I hear that a lot.  And I find that what happens is people come to me, they love the shots, they do go around and maybe try a few other photographers, but they always come back.  And I also find that I’m cleaning up other photographer’s messes.  I don’t mean it in a bad way, but just people aren’t getting work.  And I really focus on personality and who you are rather than just surface.  I mean, you can have a really pretty picture, but that won’t get you in the door.  I think what they’re looking for is a depth and 3-dimensionality and a personality. And that’s what I focus on… and I make you look pretty (laughter).

I look very pretty in my headshots.

Alright – good-looking.

Along the lines of that, I have a Twitter question.  Someone wants me to ask why is it recommended never to have a fashion photographer to take your headshots?

Lesley-BohmWell, there is a distinct difference between fashion and I would say a portrait photographer, which is what I would say a headshot photographer is.  I actually started out after art school thinking I wanted to fashion.  But fashion is more about the image and the creativity and colors and the model and not really about the personality and diving deep in.  And actors are all about the depth, and you really need to find someone who’s attuned to that and interested in that and wants to get your best side, personality, humor – all that out.  And get it on film, digital, you know.  That is the difference between fashion.  So you can have a really pretty picture from a fashion photographer and that might get you certain things, but you really need is something that has depth and personality.

Now, you shoot with digital.  When did you switch and why?

Well, you know I am old school and I still love film, but it just doesn’t make sense anymore.  Everything’s digital and it’s faster.  There’s less travel for the actor, back and forth picking things up.  It’s all online now.  You can shoot more.  My style has changed.  I almost shoot an unlimited amount of pictures, even though that would be a little ridiculous because there is a picture overwhelm point.  So, I kind of keep it within 150 and 300 images on a basic photo session because agents don’t like looking through that many pictures.  Every photographer will know when they get a really good shot.  Digital has really expanded the range of things that we can do and the ease that we can do it.  All you have to do is upload it.  I have it uploaded to an online proof sheet linked to my lab, and you can order your things right through the lab – your 8x10s, your multiples.  And you only really need to come see me once now, which is kind of sad, you know, because I miss my friends.  But you know, less gas and so I’m going green evidently.

Now, when picking a headshot, what do you think?  Should actors go with their gut or with what their agent or manager says?  What do you think about that?

I really recommend an actor pick – it’s hard.  You need a few different opinions because you always want to go with the best shot that you think you look good.  You know, “Oh, that one I look the best in.”  But sometimes it’s how other people see you rather than how you see yourself.  So, it is good to get an agents opinion.  And if the agent sends you out and gets you jobs, it’s always good to have their opinion.  But if you really hate the shot that they pick, I would seriously consider a compromise in between what you pick and something that you like and your photographer’s opinion and your manager and your friends and that kind of thing.  Something that has to sell.  It really has to be for the big marketplace rather than your personal taste.

I used to find that it doesn’t help asking my mom.

No,  no.  The mom is a little biased.  That’s really hard.  “Oh, honey you look great in all of them.”

You look so cute in this one.  Yeah, that’s not what I was looking for mom, thanks (laughter).

“No, I want one-hour drama.  Come on, I need to get a series.  I need half-hour comedy.” They’re like, “What?  What is that?”

That actually brings me to one of my other questions.  Do you think people should come in with a specific look, like a cop, lawyer or whatever?  I once had an agent tell me that they wanted me to get dressed in scrubs so I could be on a medical show.

Yeah, there are two thoughts on that.  There are some casting people where that is really what they want to see.  I think you should really go for your type.  Whatever you most get booked on or you seem to go out on auditions for, that kind of thing.  If you go way off type, you’re going to just waste your money and have lots of really pretty pictures.  So, insofar as taking lots of specifics like doctor and military, unless you’re really specific and you’re sending it out for parts, I think that’s fine, but you need to have just a really great, legit headshot, a great commercial headshot and then something, if you go out for the one-hour drama, you need something that’s a little more business-y/professional, intelligent, you know, that kind of thing.  And then when I shoot, I just focus on what I think is your area of expertise for what I can see and then our conversation.  Sometimes I talk to your agent and we just kind of go from there and really have a little more focused attack for photos.

What makes for a good session to you?

Just to know that I have achieved a shot that is honest and has integrity and comes from the heart.  And has a good personality and there’s been a good flow.  And I know that the actor has let go and allowed me to direct them.  And we’ve created hopefully their best self for that day.  That is what my ultimate goal is.  The most alive, the most full of passion, the most, you know, the best looking, of course you want to look great for this business.  You know, just and a little bit of diversity, some edgy, something a little rougher if need be.  That’s my goal.

Do you recommend people coming in talking to you before they book?

I like to have a little conversation.  They can come and do a meet and greet, a face meet and greet and I have a portfolio.  Or I can give you a phone consult and we can talk about clothes and what they like and where they think they’re going and all that.  And I don’t actually have a problem with that.  I know that there’s a lot of photographers that like to keep their distance.  But I like to be accessible, and I really prefer having a little input before definitely directing in the shoot and then helping after.  I really like to have a system, a flow.  Help out because my ultimate goal is to see the actor I’m shooting on my TV or in the film.  That’s really my goal.  I want the best for you.

I find that there are people in this business, the acting business that still don’t understand that they really have to at least meet me halfway.  And if they fight me on the directing, so if I’m asking them to do things and they’re really not doing it or allowing themselves to do it then we have a problem.  I mean, I’ve shot quite a few people that halfway through the shoot, I have to say, “You know what?  You’re not gonna get your best shot because you’re not giving me anything and you’re stuck in your fear or self-conscious” or something like that.  So, if I meet someone like that then I really try to help them come through that door that they have to go through to come to the other side and just be comfortable in their skin.  So, that is a lot of work that I do and behind the scenes that people don’t really see.  That’s not many, but it’s really something that I encounter all the time.  Especially with new actors.  But even, let me tell you, some of my series actors come in and they’re uncomfortable because the headshot is more like being yourself rather than allowing yourself to be in a character.  So that’s why it’s the most uncomfortable for actors because most actors don’t want to be themselves.  They want to be somebody else.  That’s why they got into acting.

Well, I know the last headshot session we did, you just keep on reminding me to breathe.  And for some reason whenever I take pictures, I just hold my breath.

It’s actually turned into a technique of mine.  I tell most people to breathe.  And half of them are like, “I’m breathing, Lesley.”  But what I really mean about breathing is just allow yourself to breathe, get the oxygen in, get comfortable in your skin, refocus, then get a new thought and come back to the camera.  That’s really what I’m talking about.

I think for me, I was literally not talking.  I would hold my breath, smile or do something and then I would hear you click and then I would exhale.  And I would do the same thing over and over again.  But you know, I’m an idiot (laughter).

You know, don’t reinvent the wheel.  You know, don’t make it hard for yourself.  Yeah, well, I help people do that, too.  Just relax and feel comfortable.  I put myself in front of the camera every year just so that I get used to the feel again being in front.  I’m so used to being behind, I’m really comfortable.  But being in front of the camera, like you, I still get nutty and giggly.  Kind of weird, so it’s a good practice for me to just realize: Oh, that’s right, it’s not that comfortable for most people.  That’s a little task I do.

To contact Lesley, call: 213.625.8401
Check out her website at bohmphotography.com

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