New Headshot Techniques

One of the more common jobs I get is for headshots. Whether it’s for a business person, actor, student, or job-seeker, it’s very important to have a good headshot in today’s world of social media and visual presence.  If you really want to stand out, you don’t want to be sending out material to potential clients, customers, or hiring personnel that has a picture of you that looks like you took it in your mirror with a 5-year-old flip phone.  Now, since I do quite a few of these, I’ve been trying to change my methods up (lighting, posing, direction) so that my pictures can be fresh for my clients, but also so that I don’t fall into a rut and start creating pictures that I don’t get excited about – I think that shows in the photos, and I owe it to my clients to give them my best.  I’d tried out a couple of new things as tests with my daughter but I hadn’t had a chance to put them into practice until my friend Michelle said she needed new headshots for some upcoming marketing campaigns she’ll be a part of.  She and I were both very happy with the results, so I thought I’d share them on my blog.  Especially when I realized it had been an EMBARRASSINGLY long time since I’d written a blog!  The three I sent her to use are below, and I’ve included a quick discussion of the lighting.  As far as direction, I watched the Kelby Training video done by headshot guru Peter Hurley (he of the “SHEBANG”!) and really liked some of his tips to get the best shot.  A couple of my favorites are to try and get the neckline extended by having the client lean in and move their face out towards you (hard to explain but simple once you see it), to use “mood words” to get different expressions (i.e. “Show me quizzical”) – this also loosens them up, and I also liked his lighting and tried a set up to get a similar look.

Shot #1

Michelle - Shot #1

Michelle – Shot #1

This was done using a classic type of set up, one that works especially well for women. I had a beauty dish with a sock diffuser above, and a white reflector below her to open up the shadows under her chin just a bit.  It give a very flattering, nice light all around and is easy to work with. You also get a nice catchlight in her eyes.

Shot #2

Michelle - Shot #2

Michelle – Shot #2

For this setup, I removed the reflector from underneath, but still shot with the beauty dish above and slightly to the left side. Instead of using a white backdrop lit with strobes, I got this high-key look by backing her up against my 43″ Westcott Apollo Orb, an octobank-type umbrella, with a diffusion panel. Doing it this way gets me an added bit of glow around her whole head and great highlighting on her back shoulder and cheek. For this shot, I used a pretty big f-stop, f2.8, so it was a little tricky getting the lighting just right as that’s a lot of light coming right at the camera.  Backing the light away from her a bit helped reduce the input into the lens. I really like this effect, it’s a nice little variation on the traditional high-key shot (and you don’t need to carry a backdrop around with you).

Shot #3

Michelle - Shot #3

Michelle – Shot #3

For this one, I used two strip boxes on either side of the camera, close to her, and at the same power level.  This gave nice even light all around her face – again, great for female subject. It was my attempt at simulating the light that Peter Hurley gets from using Kino Flo lighting for his headshots. Now, he will often use 3 or 4 lights for his work – I only had the 2 strip banks, so this is what I came up with. Besides the even lighting, I thought the catchlights in her eyes were very cool – something that makes people look twice at a photo without quite realizing why they’re looking again.

As far as post-production, I did some minor adjustments in Lightroom to adjust shadows/contrast/etc. then typical retouching in Photoshop.  Even though there are tons of tutorials and discussions all over the internet on retouching, leave a comment if there’s any interest in what I do – I’ll put together a video or step-by-step if there is!


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