Inside the Industry: Kurt Sneddon – Photographer

Who are you and what do you do?

My name is Kurt Sneddon and I shoot actors for a living

How did you first get involved in the industry?

I was an actor first. My first professional gig was performing the role of Peewee of The Delltones in Shout The Musical with David Campbell & Tamsin Carroll, directed by Richard Wherrett and choreographed by Ross Coleman, starting back in 2001.

What was the career path from there to where you are today?

I was part of all 4 productions of “Shout” from 2001-2008, so I ended up working with most of the industry with all the cast changes we had over 7 years.

Lucy Durack by Kurt Sneddon
Lucy Durack by Kurt Sneddon

I began photographing friends in the show as we were touring around the country. Late night desklamp-lit portraits in hotel rooms and shooting film, darkroom developing, scanning, retouching and printing again digitally. But I also began shooting production shots of the show which I really enjoyed. This was also basically at the beginning of “digital cameras being able to handle low light”.

I started shooting headshots of actor mates as Facebook was becoming mainstream, so I began tagging them in their headshots online and before too long, it felt like I’d photographed half the industry and the other half were wondering “who the hell is this guy who’s shooting all my friends?!”

The business grew quite quickly and I employed out-of-work mates to help manage the studio in-between tour contracts.

After 12 years, 3 studio locations, a dozen wonderful employees and hundreds of thousands of shutter clicks, my wife and I moved (with our studio mascot, Maverick) to New York City where we’ve been for 2 years and now have a 9 month old Foster-daughter.

What is the importance of your work within the framework of the arts industry?

I guess the obvious answer is – a great set of headshots helps the artist get noticed in a pool of international talent. Also – who doesn’t love looking HOT in their show programme?!

What is the most common misconception about your area of work?

That people are photogenic or not photogenic. That’s such a myth and the first thing I begin to breakdown with an actor on a shoot. Also – that anyone has “a good side”… Absolute bollocks.

Why do you do what you do?

I would say I started photographing actors cause it’s loads of fun! It still is, but the most rewarding compliment I get is when someone sees their shoot and remarks to me that the thing they’ve always hated about themselves is something I’ve captured in a new light that makes them feel less self-conscious. Those shoots give me the real “why” moments.

What makes a good headshot Have you noticed differences in aesthetic and taste in photography between Australia and the USA?

Yeah this is really interesting and a challenge I’m trying to work through right now. Because of the extreme weather here, many of the “big” NYC photographers only photograph in the studio, which I’ve always felt can be a bit staged and to-be-honest, boring. I still shoot in my studio here too for certain looks, but have always preferred natural light out in the streets. Also – there ain’t no streets like New York City!! Headshots in the streets are so much more real, down-to-earth and filmic. Like we’ve taken a frame from a movie/TV show as opposed to a plain studio background. I love the textures and the busyness of the city, to use as backgrounds! I also shoot mostly in the horizontal (landscape) format, which I’ve found is much more common over here and almost “the standard”. The other advantage being you can also crop a vertical (portrait) 8×10” out of it, if you want to.

Hayden Tee by Kurt Sneddon

Creating a final photographic product is the work of the photographer, but a lot of elements come together to build an image. What can actors do to make sure they approach a shoot in the right headspace?

Just like working as an actor, it’s best when a shoot feels collaborative and uninhibited by any preconceptions. As in, think about what outfits you’d like to try and be prepared with lots of options, but just like acting, be flexible and open to try new things that may feel a bit different but result in an image that is surprising to you, but perfect for a casting agent to see you in a new light. Also – it doesn’t have to be all your “best outfits”. So often actors bring in lots of pristine outfits and I remark how much I love what they’re wearing when they walked in! But I guess my motto is “don’t overthink it”. Be open and ready to play!

I’m so lucky and thankful to everyone back home that whenever I visit to see friends and family, there’s always lots of actors who want to book in headshots while I’m there.

Kurt is coming back to Aus in 2 weeks and have a few spaces available to shoot headshots in Sydney Aug 1,2 & 3 and Melbourne July 30th! All the info is here:

Hit me up if you’d like to book a spot!

Matt Edwards

Matt is a past owner of AussieTheatre, working as digital director from 2011 to 2019. He is also a performer, most recently appeared in the Australian tour of Mamma Mia! and previously in the Australian/NZ tour of CATS and Enda Markey's acclaimed production of Blood Brothers. As well as performing Matt keeps himself busy in the digital side of the arts working with web design agency Emptyhead Digital

Matt Edwards

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