Capturing Male Modeling Headshots with Dramatic Looks

Photographer: TheLightCommittee

If you are a male model looking to launch your career, you should consider the types of castings you would be ideal for. This could be anything from a clean beauty/fashion look to a dramatic street style look. Some models might be able to pull off both. So, what considerations exist if you are going for a dramatic role?

The Look You Are After

While in modeling there might be many dramatic looks a male model might be cast for, generally there are three that appear top of mind. These are in the categories of fitness, rough around the edges, and street.

The fitness look is arguably the most common. Within this category one almost instantly thinks of many Nike campaigns. Such ads are always characterized by dramatic lighting with a strong message of success, ability, or character. A male model seeking to showcase they can pull off this type of shot needs to consider these aspects to include in their portfolio.

For the rough around the edges look, one can think of some of the roles played by actor Charlie Hunnam, as an example. Think scruffy, bearded, and tough all at the same time, while still coming across somewhat approachable and likable. It’s a tough act to pull off but it is possible.

Finally, there is street style photography. Like the others, this is often cast with dramatic lighting, but the look can also be somewhat soft. In this style, it can be a male in a hoodie and hat in a cityscape all the way to an elegant suited man walking down Rodeo Drive. As a male model if you can pull off both, add both shots to your arsenal.

Location, Location, Location

Photographer: TheLightCommittee

The next consideration is where to take the shots you are after and this generally revolves around a commercial studio or outdoor location. There are various considerations for any of these shots. Much of them center around access to locations, costs, and possibilities of that location.

For a fitness look in a studio, proper use of studio lighting can really help create a very fit and dramatic look. In a studio, a photographer that understands the laws of light can use it to shape and tone a person in an ideal look. In contrast, using a location such as a track or locker room has the obvious location advantages.

For the rough around the edges look, just like with the fitness look, a photographer can best control lighting to create the mood you want to target. If considering a location for this type of shot, an industrial or run-down area might be good. Think worn-out bricks, for example. As for the street look, it is also possible to pull this off in the studio or outdoors. In a studio, the focus stays on how you model the clothing since the background can be kept simple, whereas an outdoor shot can better tell how you might pull of lifestyle shots.

The obstacles with a studio setting might include that you will need to find one to rent, assuming your photographer of choice does not have one. But finding a studio to rent is only half the battle. The studio will need to be armed with multiple strobe lights and background options. This is so that the photographer will not be limited creatively or technically.

Shooting on location also has obstacles. Many locations that may look ideal are private property and do not allow photography without prior permission. Just showing up will often get you kicked out.

For places that will allow photo shoots, they often require a fee that can be more costly than the photo shoot itself. That said, there are possible public locations that can be used, but there are other limits. Using studio lighting at an outdoor location usually requires a city permit, another costly endeavor. So, the lighting might be limited to just natural light.

Lighting Styles

Photographer: TheLightCommittee

Speaking of natural light, when using outdoor locations there are many limitations to consider. For dramatic shots, there is usually only a one or two-hour window of opportunity on a given day, and the weather must be taken into consideration.

In addition, natural light puts you and the photographer at the mercy of where it is falling at any given moment. How it is hitting a subject can literally change in a minute, forcing adjustments that might result in losing the shot you wanted. But there is a look that natural light offers, plus the location, that sometimes is what you want in your portfolio.

As for studio lighting, it is a more polished look – whether you are going after a soft look or hard look, as is our focus here. By polished, this means the quality of the light can stand out – with the right studio lighting. In a studio, the photographer can control lighting precisely.

So, studio settings can provide the precision you want for the shot you are after. Remember that the single biggest impact on whether you look dramatic or not is in the lighting. Studio lighting, because it offers full control, helps ensure this far more than natural light.

Where the Shots Fit in Your Portfolio

Now that you have the dramatic shots you were after to round out your portfolio. If you have an agent, it’s essential to get their feedback. After all, they will be the ones looking to find work for you. They need to be armed with the photos they think will help them succeed.

When speaking with them, see if you might also be able to pull off the friendly guy next door look. If you only want to be cast in dramatic gigs, that is one thing, but do not limit yourself if it turns out you are okay with doing more and your agent believes you might be able to succeed at it too.


Rafael Larin is a headshot photographer with a studio in the Los Angeles area. Rafael operates the Headshots by The Light Committee studio and in addition to providing model headshots also provides actor, corporate, lifestyle and musician headshots.

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