3 Lighting Setups for Photographing Headshots

3 Lighting Setups for Photographing Headshots

I do lots of company and actor headshots round Washington, DC, and I needed to share among the easy however efficient lighting setups that I take advantage of again and again, which you’ll simply copy and use your self.

The One-Gentle Surprise

My commonplace setup consists of a giant tender mild supply to the left or proper of the topic, a reflector underneath the face, and one other reflector reverse the principle mild supply. I shoot tons of of headshots per year utilizing this straightforward setup.

I take advantage of a Paul C. Buff Einstein unit with a big octabox in my studio, however you possibly can simply put collectively one thing related with an affordable speedlight, an umbrella, and a few $20 reflectors.

You’ll be able to see this setup within the photograph under, with my poor spouse Karen standing in as a topic. She was simply coming downstairs to make some tea and obtained ambushed!

Reflectors and changes

As soon as my topic is in place, I do some tweaking. First I’ll alter the sunshine supply so it’s barely above their eye stage. For most individuals, I believe it seems finest to have the sunshine coming from above to solid refined shadows underneath the chin, accentuating the jaw and serving to to cover any double chin.

Then I’ll alter the reflector beneath their face and produce it as much as about their mid-chest stage. This reflector helps fill in shadows on the face and supplies a very nice additional catch mild within the eyes. Some of us will use one other (powered) mild supply down right here, however I discover the reflector to be a lot less complicated to arrange, and it additionally has the advantage of being idiot-proof.

For instance, you probably have one other mild as a substitute of a reflector under the topic and also you unintentionally overpower it (so it’s extra highly effective than the principle mild), you’ve created some horrible Frankenstein lighting! It’s bodily unimaginable to do that with a reflector, which might prevent from pricey errors.

Lastly, we now have the reflector reverse the sunshine supply. For this one, I’ll typically use a black-sided panel to create a darker shadow on that aspect of the face. This impact might be very dramatic, and has the additional benefit of slimming the face. The draw back is that, if your topic could be very wrinkly, you’re not filling these wrinkles with mild from that aspect. So it doesn’t work for everybody.

Right here’s an instance of a headshot the place I used this impact to create a pleasant dramatic edge:

headshots lighting

Some extra tweaks

With this straightforward setup, it’s very straightforward to make tweaks and see what works finest with a specific particular person’s face. Typically I’ll depart the essential setup in place with the black reflector, however a number of examples the place I would make modifications are:

  • The topic has a double chin, so I actually wish to outline the jaw. On this case, I’ll increase the sunshine up additional excessive to solid extra shadow underneath the chin (however ensure you don’t go too excessive and lose your catchlights), and/or decrease or take away the reflector underneath the chin.
  • The topic has lengthy, darkish hair. On this case, the darkish reflector shouldn’t be essential, as a result of we have already got a darkish edge there from the hair. So on this case I might go along with a white reflector on the aspect or herald a hair mild from behind (extra on that within the subsequent part).
  • The topic has deep-set eyes. We wish to hearth extra mild into these sockets or our poor topic will find yourself trying like a serial killer or a caveman! On this case, I would decrease the principle/tender mild so it’s proper at eye stage.

Two Lights

You may run an entire enterprise simply utilizing the one-light system, however in the event you’re something like me you get bored and wish to attempt new issues. So let’s herald a second mild.

The second mild for me is normally a “kicker” (additionally referred to as a rim or accent mild) coming from behind and reverse the principle mild. I take advantage of this to intensify the jaw, particularly in males, or to intensify the hair in girls. It’s particularly good to create just a little spotlight on darker hair.

In my studio, I take advantage of a strip softbox for this goal, however you possibly can additionally use a naked head with a grid and even an outdated speedlight with a paper towel roll taped to it to make a easy snoot. The vital factor is that you simply wish to management the sunshine so it doesn’t spray into your lens and create flare or lack of distinction.


Three and 4 Lights

I take advantage of lights three and 4 to create a clear white background. You’ll be able to both use one mild fired on the background from simply behind the topic, or two lights off to both aspect.

The white background is my favourite look as of late for lots of causes. I believe it seems tremendous vivid, fashionable, and pleased. It additionally actually pops on on-line profiles.

It’s also an effective way to go for firms as a result of it’s straightforward to duplicate and get a constant look from shoot to shoot (for instance, when photographing a brand new worker months after the preliminary shoot, or replicating the identical look with shoots carried out throughout the nation by totally different photographers).

Whether or not you employ one or two lights for the background depends upon your finances and the house through which you’re working.

Two lights may give you a bigger, extra even unfold of sunshine, whereas with one mild you may need some fall off across the edges that that you must clear up in post-production. So I normally stick to 2 lights except I’m on location someplace and house is tight.


So I hope you discovered this text useful, and you should use the lighting setups for your headshots.

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