Spotlight on… a prize-winning headshot session in video

Taking a close-up look inside a prize-winning headshots session with me and Casting Call Pro, in a new headshot video.


Taking a close-up look at the organic process of shooting a headshot portfolio: video below

If you’ve ever wondered what one of my – or indeed, any headshot photographer’s – sessions are like then wonder no more, because in this video, shot by the ace Sam Swainsbury of Cut To: Productions, we take you behind the scenes on a headshot shoot.

Actress Katherine Rodden was the winner of a £600+ headshot portfolio makeover, including full hair & makeup artist, and more, in a competition run by myself and Casting Call Pro late in 2013. Incidentally, the most popular comp CCP has ever run, with over 600 entrants.

In the video, there’s a look inside my detailed, organic process of creating a headshot portfolio, as we work with makeup & hair artist Terri Pace, shooting inside and out, and achieving as much range as possible.

Elements of the way I work are unique to me of course, but it’s also probably a good insight into the way any portraitist will work with you to achieve the shots you need, whether you’re an actor, business person, model, or comedian.

It really does take two – or in this case, three – to tango, and the energy, personality and relaxation you bring to a shoot, helps create great photos, as you can hopefully see with Katherine.

But I’m sure the video says a lot more than the written word in this case, so check it out…

28/04 2014 MW

Katherine Rodden:

Hair & MU by Terri Pace:

Prize offered in combination with Casting Call Pro and 10x8prints &

Filmed & edited by Sam Swainsbury, at the awesome Cut To: Productions: &

Music by Fire at Will (with thanks to Will Owen):

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Spotlight on…Sense & Sensibility poster location shoot.

Getting close to nature and slightly too close to sunset for comfort on a poster image location shoot for Sense & Sensibility, opening soon at the Watermill Theatre.

Sense & Sensibility poster image © Michael Wharley Photography 2014

Sense & Sensibility poster image © Michael Wharley Photography 2014

Ah Nature! There really is nothing quite like getting out of the studio and into the great outdoors; all the virtues of the greatest light source man knows – the sun – at your ready disposal.

Not that things necessarily work out quite so idyllically in a South London park in October. But then that’s when a little location lighting comes to the rescue…

Theatre Briefs

I was shooting with writer and director Jessica Swale for the Watermill Theatre, creating promo shots to make up the poster and marketing for her adaptation of Jane Austen’s ‘Sense & Sensibility‘ which opens in early April 2014.

As Jan Ferrer, marketing & sales director at the Watermill,  observes, from a theatre’s point of the view, a poster image needs to cover a lots of bases:

[important] ”Trying to find something that captures the attention can be challenging, and combined with this is the need to create an evocative image that meets both the aspirations of the director and the marketing requirements of the theatre: in this case, capturing the period and appealing to our audience, Jane Austen lovers and both men and women.” [/important]

Currently in rehearsals, directed by Jessica, back in October there was not a role cast and the adaptation was its first draft, so our job was to create a striking image, capturing at least a flavour of the key narrative relationship between sisters Eleanor (the  ’Sense’ of the title) and Marianne (‘Sensibility’), not to mention foregrounding a classical period drama vibe.

Making Perfect Sense…

Idyllic soft sunlight on the test shoot © Michael Wharley Photography 2014

Idyllic soft sunlight on the test shoot © Michael Wharley Photography 2014

Agreeing a moodboard of images and zeroing in on the idea of a slightly wild and filmic version of rural life, we sourced costumes and found some willing models (ace actresses Helen Sorren and Michelle Fahrenheim), who could pass as sisters, while Jessica’s longstanding period-drama directing expertise meant she became de facto hair and makeup bod.

The sun making life easy on the test shoot © Michael Wharley Photography 2014

The sun making life easy on the test shoot © Michael Wharley Photography 2014

On a scouting shoot in Brockwell Park, SE24, the day before the shoot proper and  at the golden hour of late afternoon autumnal sun, things had looked truly perfect.


 …Insensible with cold.

The next day, as we dashed into the park to shoot at a similar time, with similar weather forecast, leaden skies, flat grey light, and a chill wind presented a rather more sombre shoot in prospect.

Alas, a brochure deadline meant no option but to shoot that day.

Thankfully, blankets for our good humoured models kept them from frostbite.

And a pair of frankly amazing and life-saving Elinchrom Quadra Rangers provided the illusion of soft sunlight that had appeared so naturally less than 24 hours earlier.

 From Dusk ’til Lawn

Regency reportage, flash standing in for low sunlight ©Michael Wharley 2014

Regency reportage, flash standing in for low sunlight ©Michael Wharley 2014

My personal favourite , no flash in use. ©Michael Wharley 2014

My personal favourite, no flash in use, though natural light a little flat ©Michael Wharley 2014

Shooting quickly to keep the models playing off one another (and not too cold), we got a range of set ups, to offer the theatre as much choice as possible.

But it was practically dusk, with light failing rapidly, when we took the shot that ended up being the poster image.

That’s the image that stands at the head of this post, and without those battery-powered Elinchrom location lights, providing low-angle highlights on the models and grass, there’s no way it would have been possible.



Posters, flyers, brochures, book covers…

Sense & Sensibility flyers

Sense & Sensibility flyers

We chose this particular image because the model looking into the camera, and therefore, out of the picture at you, is immediately engaging.” Jan Ferrer, Watermill Theatre.

The choice of shots seemed to go down well with the theatre, with the ‘winner’  being a shot that I hope captures a classical vibe, something of the sisters’ relationship, and the atmosphere of the novel and adaptation, while catching the eye too

If it does, that’s as much down to the sterling efforts of Helen Sorren and Michelle Fahrenheim as models, the artistic direction thoughts of Jessica Swale, and the light-wielding antics of assistant James Butterworth, as my work.

Certainly, the image was used not just as the poster/flyer for the production, but also as the cover for the Watermills’ Spring / Summer Season Brochure.

Plus – fingers crossed – there’s some prospect of it featuring on the cover of Samuel French‘s forthcoming edition of Jessica’s script.

So it was well worth scrabbling round in the gathering dusk; and, though I’d far rather have used the light than fought it, I do enjoy knowing that despite feeling like a bit of late-summer’s-eve desolate Devon (and thanks to those trusty Elinchroms), really it’s SE24 in the gloom!

21/03/2014 MW


Adapted and directed by Jessica Swale

Book here

THU 03 APR 2014 – SAT 10 MAY 2014

Performance Times
Monday to Saturday at 7.30pm
Thursday and Saturday matinées at 2.30pm
(no matinée performance on Thursday 3 April)
Saturday 10 May performances at 1.30pm and 6.30pm

Monday evening, Thursday and Saturday matinées £15 and £14.50.
Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday evenings £24, £22, £15.
Friday and Saturday evenings £26, £24, £16.50.

First Week Special
On the first Thursday and Friday seats are £15 and £14.50. (no other discounts apply)


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Spotlight on… a ghostly location shoot in London

Getting the feeling we’re not alone on a location photography shoot in London’s Brick Lane…


I was shooting for a client recently at the wonderful period property 4 Princelet Street, just off Brick Lane in London, and got the feeling I wasn’t alone..

I wasn’t, in fact. Because it is so versatile, this early Georgian gem is forever popping up on TV and film – last spotted yesterday on an episode of ‘That Mitchell and Webb Look’ – and I had such a great team with me that it seemed a waste not to shoot a personal project too.

I’d been playing round with the idea of a haunted house, and was envisaging creating something to suggest past events by combining two shots of a room, but when I saw the mirror, the vague ideas coalesced rather nicely.

Top improvisation marks must go to the model & actress Alexa Brown, who brought my vague direction to life beautifully, and the supreme makeup skills of Chris Dennis, and hair skills of Petar Dragicevic, of  Glass Hair Salon, who created mystery and magic from a few Wharley mumblings.

Thanks also to the invaluable assistant Vincent Whiteman, who wielded lights and always has a creative thought to share when I run dry, and to Tom Lovatt, who worked the wind machine to perfection!

Check out the gallery below for some of the other shots from the day…

For any  technically-minded reader, the room’s shot with the ambient light, and the model with a a beauty dish key light, heavy on the wind machine, and a snooted effects light for hair.


20/01/2014 MW


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Win a £600+ headshot makeover with CCP and me

Getting in the festive giveaway spirit & teaming up with Casting Call Pro to offer a fantastic headshot package prize for members in December.

'The American' for screen actor Sam Smith - a new portfolio session from Michael Wharley Photography

‘The American’ for screen actor Sam Smith – a new portfolio session


I often offer headshot prizes at events like Surviving Actors, so it’s not out of the ordinary to be involved in a competition, but this package is pretty exciting, if I do say so myself.

Evidently all the Christmas decorations going up around town have got me in the festive mood of goodwill to all men.

Michael Wharley Headshot Photography  So Casting Call Pro and I – together with kind support from - are offering one member the chance to totally overhaul their professional portfolio with a fantastic headshot & photo session worth over £600.

Yep, £600! And that means the lucky winner will get:

      • ‘Headshot healthcheck’ to assess current portfolio and casting, worth £25.
      • ‘The American’ headshot portfolio, worth £350: a brand new package from Michael Wharley Photography, covering all your promotional needs: standard actors’ headshots in a range of studio & naturally-lit setups for the UK castings market, US-style headshots for Transatlantic castings, and model-style promo shots.
      • Full makeup and hair by a professional team, worth £150.
      • 100 hardcopy, full-colour, prints supplied by top print-lab,worth £80+If you’re a CCP member, all you need to do is answer the following:



 How would new headshots
change your 2014?

Easy, right?

The comp closes at 4pm on Thursday 19th December, and entries should go to or via the CCP FacebookLinkedIn or Google+ pages.


21/11/2013 MW

Spotlight on head & bodyshots for actor Sam Smith

Spotlight on…creating a new head & body shot portfolio for actor Sam Smith of Waterloo Road and Vikings


Headshot portfolio subtly capturing playing-age range for actor Sam Smith

Headshot portfolio subtly capturing playing-age range for actor Sam Smith ©Michael-Wharley-2013

Last month, I spent an enjoyable morning shooting with actor Sam Smith.

Sam’s had a great run of work recently, including leads in Waterloo Road and Casualty, not to mention appearing in blood-and-guts, Emmy-nominated, US hit Vikings (though the games geek in me was more excited that he’s recording a lead character for the new Assassin’s Creed…)

That’s exposed him to a lot more US castings than before, and meant he came to the session with a fairly specific brief for both headshots and body shots.

I thought it’d be interesting reflect on the results a little, because it illustrates how an actor can have substantial input into the success of session with any photographer.

Capturing playing range

Full length body-shot for Sam Smith © Michael Wharley Photography 2013

Full length body-shot for Sam Smith © Michael Wharley Photography 2013

Rather fresh-faced, Sam can play young, and certainly has done in his career to date. So, he was keen to give his agent, Conway van Gelder Grant, headshots capturing both youthfulness and a degree more ‘edge’ and maturity.

Not to mis-represent him of course, but to help them sell Sam to employers across the range of the 16-25 age bracket he has listed on Spotlight.

As you can hopefully see from the set of three above we achieved this by keeping a little bit of stubble throughout for definition and to age Sam up a fraction, as well as by carefully varying outfits, lighting conditions, hair and Sam’s address to camera.

The blue shirt-shot – with hair almost entirely off the forehead and shouders slanted away from camera to suggest a slighter build – is younger and more ‘wholesome’, while the other two, shot straight on and with warmer, more mischievous/stronger thoughts help Sam show a slightly older, edgier casting.

I’d say the right-hand shot is a nice half-way house between the two ‘extremes’.

  • Without such a brief from Sam, we’d have got him some lovely general shots, but his specificity meant we were able to zero on on exactly what he and his agent needed.
  • That’s the sort of detail you should be able to throw confidently at any good headshot photographer – they will use their skills and technical ability to help you tell those casting stories.

Build & Bodyshots

Body-shot for Sam Smith © Michael Wharley

Body-shot for Sam Smith © Michael Wharley

It seems increasingly common for UK actors getting a lot of US castings to need 3/4 length, full-length and even body shots – I guess Stateside producers want to see the full package, and with series like Game of Thrones making on-screen male nudity de riguer, full-package means almost everything on show…

At 5’8″, Sam’s no half-pint, but having bulked up for a recent role, he wanted some dramatic bodyshots showing off this toned physique.

So we worked on something with the photographic vernacular of men’s health or fitness shots (see the 3/4 length above), as well as something with a moodier, more ‘fashiony’ set up (see the full-length above).

These aren’t going to be first up in Sam’s Spotlight portfolio, but they are useful tools to have in the armoury when specific castings arise.

  • In the UK there’s a little bit of historical snobbery about 3/4 or full-length shots in casting – as straightforward descriptive shots they tend to be associated with extras and walk-on artists.
  • But as our headshot approach gradually takes on more US stylings, I do think there can be a place in an actor’s promotional portfolio for good quality longer shots, with a fashion or lifestyle photography vibe. Not least because they can offer an accurate preview of build.
  • Check out headshot photographers like Nicholas Dawkes, Mug Photography and Faye Thomas, who all offer their takes on 3/4 length or full-length promotional shots for actors.

Sam says…

“Having the space to relax and get comfortable before and during the shoot made a big difference – the knowledge that you allow for time to get the best possible shots immediately put me at ease. I was delighted with the finished shots, as was my agent.”

15/08/2013 MW

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Spotlight on… Katherine Press Headshots


Katherine Press headshot portfolio

Creating a new headshot portfolio for Katherine Press.

A Cambridge graduate, a former student of the Central School of Ballet, and currently to be seen alongside Chiwetel Ejiofor in Poliakoff’s ‘Dancing on the Edge‘ on BBC 2, Katherine had been an eloquent participant in myTake Control of Your Headshots seminar for the Actors Guild in Autumn 2012.

And she was kind enough to choose me to shoot her new actors headshots later in the year.

Katherine particularly wanted to give her agent, United Agents, a breadth of new photos to help capitalise  on a run of excellent work – including Ophelia in Trevor Nunn’s “Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead” at the Theatre Royal, Haymarket.

Capturing true range

Keen that her photos show directors and casting professionals a true sense of her range, Katherine was able articulate some specific castings to focus on together in the session:

      • Something to capture a classical elegance and youthfulness
      • Something softer and more commercial.
      • A tougher, grittier shot for more contemporary and ‘edgier’ castings.


As a headshot photographer, I find that’s a great place to start, because for all that I can make quick assessments about an actor’s skin tone, eye colour, hair colour, facial structure and potential casting, often it is the actor who knows him or her self and their career best.

Showing range subtly

So, working together, we selected the tops that Katherine had brought to to best suit these broad themes.

And by shooting both indoor and out, as well as reviewing batches of photos  regularly, we were able to capture that range together.

Not just with lighting, hair and clothing choices, but also by directing Katherine to subtle variations of thought and mood.

Hopefully, the portfolio above gives a sense of our success; the photos are now helping Katherine show her full casting range to casting directors, both on Spotlight, and on her website.

Katherine says…

Michael’s “philosophy” on the value of having a varied headshot portfolio really struck a chord with me. In an enjoyable and relaxed session, we worked together to produce a new selection of shots to cover the full breadth of my casting range.”


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FAQ – What are your actors headshots sessions like?

© Michael Wharley Photography 2014

Exactly how the session works will depend on which option you’ve chosen, but generally I like to work in an organic way, reviewing photos throughout and trying to give you as much variety as possible. You definitely aren’t going to have 200 shots with the same lighting and very marginally different expressions….

A typical session lasts from 1-2.5 hours in the spacious, well-lit space in my airy Waterloo studio. And I never book more than two actors a day, so you’ll never be shoved out for the next client.

I work indoors and outdoors, so during a session we might pop onto the site to get some shots that give you a truly varied portfolio.

Actors Headshots session timings

(nb. based on a Classic session, see packages here)

10.30am, Arrive:

We’ll have a coffee/tea/herbal tea and a chat to get to know each other, but also to help me understand what you want from the session. Maybe you’ll have examples of photos from previous sessions to show me. Maybe you’ll have very specific ideas about the sorts of photos you need and maybe you won’t. Either way, I’ll offer you my insights, expertise and perspective. We’ll also discuss your casting types, the sorts of roles you’ve had and the sort of work you want to get in the future.

This all helps set our priorities for the session; not that there isn’t the space and time to make organic discoveries of course.


We’ll take a look at the different clothing options  to make a plan for the session, then start shooting. I’ll take a few photos to get the lighting set up right and suited to you, which will also help to make you feel relaxed in front of camera., and we’ll work of simple posing techniques too.

Then we’ll start in earnest.

I tend not to shoot staged or posed shots. Instead, I prefer to talk and take photos, perhaps pausing or asking you to hold a look or to refine a set up when it emerges. The beauty of digital is that I can take as many shots as we need, then filter them down.

11am-ish, Clothing Change and Photo Review:

After getting a variety of shots in one outfit, we’ll look over them briefly and make sure you’re happy with the sort of look we’re getting. Then you’ll have the chance to change outfit, shave, change your hairstyle or simply check that all is still looking good. There’s a mirror in the studio, but you’ll also have access to a bathroom and all the privacy you need.

11am-ish, More Photos:

We’ll carry on shooting, and I’ll use a mixture of studio and natural light to create the right blend to suit your complexion, facial structure and priorities for the session. There’s the time and creative space for a lot of different looks this way.


11.30, Tea and a change:

Being photographed is quite demanding, so it’s often time for a quick recharge at this point.

As we have another tea or coffee, we’ll review the headshots taken, which will help us to choose exactly which outfit and setups will work best to give a really rounded portfolio in contrast to what we’ve already taken.

I really do try to make my actors headshot sessions like 3-4 mini-sessions in one, so the photos will have very different feels and energies.

12.30-1pm, Finish.

We shoot for the time it takes to get he looks we need, up to two and a half hours. Any longer than that, and I’ve found people tend to go off the boil a bit, posing-wise.

Within 1 working day, Online Contact Sheet:

I’ll send you a link to an online album containing the filtered photos from your shoot. I’ll have deleted all the eyes-closed, laughing (there are always a lot of those) photos, so each one in the album would be able to be made into a perfect headshot. It’s simply up to you and your agent to choose the killer shots that will make up your portfolio. If you do want my advice, I’m happy to make suggestions as well.

Within one working weeks of you making your choices:

Within two working weeks of you making your choices and giving me any specific instructions for photoshopping, I will supply you with files of your final shots. These will be in two formats: a resolution for any professional print purpose and a resolution for internet use.

You can opt for 24 turnaround on editing for a fee of £50, but it’s not often needed, so I’d save your money and my late night!

Et voilà: headshot perfection and hopefully many auditions to follow from your new shots.

Now all you have to do is get the job…

Spotlight on… David Gant Headshot


He’s played Merlin more times than he cares to mention, has appeared in classic films from Gandhi to Braveheart to Brazil, models for the likes of David Bailey and was right at the top end in last year’s The Times Best-Dressed list.

So, ahead of out headshot session, it did cross my mind that David Gant might  be a wee bit grand, but in fact he was a delight to spend time with.

We were working together because a filming job required him to sport less facial hair than normal, and David’s Agent, Lynda Ronan, spotted a good opportunity to add breadth to his headshot portfolio on Spotlight

Headshot Variety


Facial hair is such a defining feature in a headshot that it can very hard to see past it to the face beneath.

While David is sporting a fairly defined whiskers here, they are much lighter than his normal beard, giving him an edgier, tougher look than his more normally hirsute appearance.

So we worked on lighting set-ups and I directed David to feelings to try and capture more of that toughness. And by choosing one of his plainer tops and shooting with hair tied back, also added a more thoughtful shot towards the upper end of David’s playing range.

It just goes to show that even with an appearance apparently dictated by  beard and long hair, you can still find ways to demonstrate range and variety in headshots.

David says:

“The atmosphere in Michael’s studio is one of relaxation: he puts you at ease from the start – there is no fuss, he knows exactly what he is doing, and gets on with it, with subtle direction…”