Headshot Photography Lighting & Posing

Techniques for Photographing Headshots

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Natural Light Headshot Example. How to Shoot Headshots  So you want to be a headshot photographer (what... can't get a real job?). I say this because the top key phrases that brings people to my site are: Headshot examples, how to photograph a headshot and lighting for headshots. I've gone and searched this myself and come up with an amazing array of... Well... Let's call it crap.

    Let us start with the fact that the entertainment industry and all that surrounds it is fickle. What is "in and cool" one day is passé, dated and downright gauche the next. This being the case, what comprises a killer headshot one day is run of the mill the next. The only way to stand out is to have something unique about every headshot... Something as unique as the subject. Photography is an art as well as a science, the science is what it is but what we will focus on here is the art. There are an infinite number of ways to approach the subject... Really as many ways as people are individuals. Keeping in mind that there just isn't one right way to shoot a headshot, (and if you did happen to find that "one right way" today it would be useless tomorrow because of the changing whims of the industry) about the only universal thing accepted is that (for the time being) Black and White is out and Color is in. Here I am going to cover just a few ways that I shoot actors and entertainers headshots here.

Lighting Techniques For Headshots


    "Model Lighting" for Headshots

Child Headshot Example.

Diagram of Model Lighting for Headshots.  

  Model Lighting is broad and quite flat. This was shot using a 7' Octagonal light bank.  This is the type of studio lighting I will most often use for children and youth actors or models with very even facial features. Focal length is 85mm at f/8. The Light bank is directly at the photographer's back the subject is approximately 6 feet from the lens.




    Classic 3 Light Headshots

Studio Headshot classic 3 light portrait setup to accentuate the features but still bring out the eyes.

Diagram Studio Lighting Headshots Three Lights.

  While still a Broad light this setup accentuates the facial features and allows you to light the closed side of the face evening up facial features. Focal length is 85mm at f/8. The Light bank is set at 45° to the subject, a kicker is set at 90° and a hair light from behind and above. The subject is approximately 8 feet from the lens.



    The Hollywood 3 Light Headshots

Hollywood Headshot using a more sublime light to emphasize the facial featutres.

Modified Hatchet Light "Hollywood" Headshot Diagram.

 Spot Grids and barn doors allow for a more sublime light to strongly emphasize the facial features. The light on the open side of the face is set to greatly over power the opposite side. The hair light is nearly directly above. Focus is held tight at the eyes using depth of field to fall off at the ears. Focal length is 105mm f/8. Don't even think of shooting these anymore. Film Noir is cool... But totally passé.



    Natural Light for Headshots

 Model Headshot in Natural Light. Photographed at about 3 in the afternoon the sun at about a 45°.

Natural Light is pretty much the best thing since "Let there be light". But like all God's creations nearly impossible to control. This was shot at about 3 in the afternoon putting the sun at about a 45° angle through a window in my apartment. This was shot at a 50mm focal length at f/1.8 from about 1 meter away.

 Natural Light is pretty much the preferred way to shoot headshots today. The Image in this articles header was shot on my porch in the early afternoon. The catch light in the eyes is reflected from the wall of the building next door.

 As you can see in the top image of this article this is an effective way to really light the eyes. 




Posing for Headshots

  I have found that having the subject standing is the best way to shoot headshots. It allows the actor, model or other entertainer's energy to flow without interruption ... and this shows in the expression on their face.

Model Posing for Headshots. Ventura and Santa Barbara Headshot Photographer.

 Now here is a little secret... None of these images on this page were "posed", in fact they were all shot during casual interactions with the photographer.

  I will give them some instructions like tilt your chin a bit or put your weight on the foot farthest away from me, but the key is to engage the subject in conversation and thought. Typically I will shoot about 100 frames in a simple headshot session most of them are just for show... Kind of a ruse to get the subject used to the noise and lights and to give us some time to build a rapport (sort of get to know each other). Basically the best headshot is the one shot between the shots (if you get my meaning).

 There is a trick and a psychology behind it that I just don't know how to adequately put into print, it just takes some practice and experience to get that one uniquely honest image.

About the Author: Daniel Colegrove has been a professional photographer for over 25 years. He is active in Copyright, First Amendment and many other ethics and social issues on a national and local level.

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