Q & A with Kayvon Esmaili, Headshot Photographer

Please meet long time headshot photographer, Kayvon. He is also a working actor and has been a client at JRS for many years. It has been a delight to watch not only his acting career blossom but his photography as well. He is one of top photographers in Los Angeles, and we asked him some questions:

How did you get into photography?

My step father was a Navy Photographer and gave me his old 1960s Pentax camera when I was 16. My high school had a brand new darkroom and photography program, which I took junior and senior year. When I moved to LA in 2000, I experimented shooting my friends’ headshots, but it wasn’t until around 2006 when I got my first digital camera that I started putting out a headshot product that actually worked. It was hard to improve with film as a beginner photographer… with each roll plus development costing around $40. Don’t miss those days, haha. 

What is your favorite thing about your work?

My photos actually help people. Acting headshots are so important to an actor, especially in the beginning stages of your career when nobody knows who you are and what you do. I love helping actors explain their specialty in an image. Their personality, their essence, their look… that’s all they have to get in the door in the beginning stages.

How has your acting career helped you in your evolution as a photographer?

As an actor, I wasted 10 years with headshots that didn’t work. It was only when I got smart about my marketing that I started getting auditions… and booking shows. I love to help actors skip that 10 years of trial and error and deliver them a photo that will help them immediately. I study acting, I study shows, and I study marketing. It’s my actual passion… and a photo shoot is almost a catharsis for me to help my clients not make the same mistakes I did. 

Do you help actors understand their brand? If so, how?

“I’m an actor, I can play anything”. 

I hear this far too often from beginner actors. 

While yes, you very well may be the next Daniel Day Lewis, casting can’t just take your word for it yet. They’d feel much more comfortable casting you in roles that fit you like a glove physically, in status, in age, and energetically.

Identifying where you are most useful to television storytelling is my specialty. I love to discuss it before and during shoots. To me, it is the purpose of a headshot session. 

Kayvon Esmaili

What are some of the worries that your clients bring into their sessions with you?

Everyone’s nervous. They fear the shots won’t work. They fear their lack of sleep the night before will result in bad photos and no acting work. They fear their agent won’t like the shots. 

In my experience, the only way to combat this is to come to your shoot prepared. I have a gift of warmth. I promise you’ll feel at ease. Tired eyes can be photoshopped. The studio is air conditioned. You will be physically comfortable within ten minutes of arriving. But we can’t fix your lack of preparation. So focus on that… with your team, with your peers, with me before your shoot day ideally. 

If you could give actors any advice, what would it be?

Narrow down your type. Get as narrow as possible. Don’t be afraid to commit to a branding choice. If it doesn’t work after 8-12 months, you can change your marketing strategy. Every brand in the world has to A-B test to see what works. If you water your brand down and get countless headshot looks showing you can play “anything,” you will look unfocused, and it honestly makes you difficult to cast. Make a choice and see if it works using real life data.

I would imagine that being a great photographer, you have to think much like a great actor, “What story do I want to tell?” Is this accurate?

I always say that you need to identify the intersection between “how does the world experience me at a glance?” and “which types or stories and characters turn me on?” 

Where those two meet is your marketing sweet spot. 

I made the mistake early on of marketing myself to characters I didn’t actually want to book. Then I booked the roles and dreaded doing the jobs. 

Just because the “type” fits you physically, doesn’t mean you have to market yourself to those characters/roles. Make sure you would actually be turned on by performing these stories and characters. Because when you get specific, you tend to get the opportunities you’re targeting. Manifest the career you actually want.

Are you ready to meet us?

Are you ready to meet us?

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