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As an adjunct to the Tangents blog, the intention with this forum is to answer any questions, and allow a diverse discussion of topics related photography. With that, see it as an open invitation to just climb in and start threads and to respond to any threads.

Business Headshot Tips

dbrunodbruno Member
edited April 6 in portraits & people
Hi - I have my first job with business head shots coming up next month. I photographed a large event for this company last year, and a marketing person asked if I could do this. I was *very* upfront with her - meaning I had the skills and equipment, but limited bookings (actually none) - and I worked out an arrangement with her. There will be about 30 people.

I think I am OK with what I believe my setup will be, basing it on clam-shell: 24x24 inch softbox behind me as the main light; a gridded Speedlite on a boom as the hair light (I tried my best to mimic the hair light (beauty dish) Neil had in his last Tangents post); white (or silver) reflector on a boom arm in front of the person; Speedlite with a snoot pointed at the background for a little pop. I purchased a collapsible background for this, held up by a clamp on a stand. I'll have my daughter, my wife, and Mr. and Mrs. Headley stand in over the course of preparing.

My question really is about lighting styles. I know, with 30 people, there will be all shapes and sizes of faces. I have read a more flattering light style with heavier-set people is "Short Lighting"; conversly, slender faces should have "Broad lighting". Etc. I interacted with some of these people at the event, there are some real characters in the company.

Should I be concentrating on this stuff? With clamshell setup, I don't see how I would get short lighting, no matter how I position the person. Should I have the main light off to the side a bit, so I can get short and broad lighting by body/face position?

Someone on this forum suggested a video class by Peter Hurley. I was going to buy it, but read the reviews - most people were very disappointed because of the overly self-promotional feel to it. So I have a book coming by Gary Hughes (really good reviews).

Any comments would be appreciated. I really want this to go well, because I am looking to expand my photographic universe. Plus, this company seems to like my stuff - I'm already booked for two more events this year besides this one.

Thanks - Dave


  • CanonJayCanonJay Member
    edited April 6
    Hi Dave,

    I can give you a little input.  I do a lot of headshots. Same scenario that you have going on. My advice is to keep it simple and generic as possible. Too many variable with a specific type of lighting and you don't have time to fiddle with moving lights etc... I like the set up i have below as it suits "All" subjects.  Please note I like the kicker/hair light on a stand pointing down, as I have control over it and angling it etc....Think bald men... and blonde woman/men. When its on a boom and you do not have a remote to turn off or dial down, it comes in handy to have quick access to it. Just my opinion of course. 

    1. Umbrella off to the side to light the background. 
    2. Main light....Large soft box 24 x 36 is good.  (Key right)
    3. Fill light behind you and over camera (umbrella)  (roughly) ,
    4.  hair light on boom or kicker. I like the kicker better because I get it high and angle down on head (grid 20 degree). I usually don't like to boom my lights as its time consuming and a lot of the places I do headshots the ceilings are low. I just got in the habit of using a grid (same side as key light) 
    5. shoot wide and crop later. 
    6. very minimal hair light or kicker. 
    7. Lighting a tad flatter (what I mean is no deep shadows) They may like drama and mood in the portraits but I find most clients do not. 
    8. subjects on stool or chair with low back angled so main light cuts across chest with head turned into the light. (short side). With large soft box and this technique, it makes most subjects look good. 
    9. Tell them you should have them out in an hour or so:) usually gets a nice smirked look (My trade secret) Don't tell anyone!
    10. Look and feel confident and all will go well!

    hope that helps!


  • dbrunodbruno Member
    Thanks, Jay. So, do you have the main light off to one side so you can get a couple of different lighting styles by positioning the person?

    This is a really incredibly basic question: so the "kicker" is off to one side, as opposed to the "hair light" is behind the person?

    Can I use a reflector just under the person's chest as a fill?

    I appreciate the help.

  • CanonJayCanonJay Member
    I keep the key light in that position the whole time. I only raise and lower if needed for glass glare etc. I don't do different poses or lighting styles per say.  I take several shots to get the right expression and move on. I am looking for complete consistency for everybody.  Sorry I wasn't specific about the kicker. I place it  behind the subject pointing down. It is kinda near the background (camera right) pointing to the back of the head. So basically its just out of frame behind the subject pointing towards there head.

    You most definitely can use a reflector as fill. A big soft box will wrap nicely and the reflector can pick up the rest. I wouldn't put it under per say. (you can but not my first choice) If you have a stand hook it on that and let it hang down so when its combined with the soft box on the other side its almost a V you shoot through.  The bottom of the V if that make sense. the closer you get it to you the better. You don't want to cause any competing shadows having it too much to the other side. 

  • Neil vNNeil vN Administrator
    Keep it as simple as possible. 

    Don't change lighting setups during the shoot. (In other words, don't try to accommodate different face or body types.)

    If in doubt, use clam-shell lighting since it is a flat light and will minimize skin imperfections. 

    VERY IMPORTANT:  shoot tethered. Make sure your setup works fluently. 
  • dbrunodbruno Member
    Thanks, Neil. But, it's going to be nearly impossible for me to shoot tethered. I know why you suggest it, but I just don't have the means to do it. I don't have anything to display the photo.

    I have a Canon 6D, and *possibly* access to an iPad. I know Canon has a wireless capability and an app, but I don't know if it would be possible. Do you have any idea if it's possible?

  • rs_eosrs_eos Member
    At a minimum, you can sync your photos to a device such as an iPad and let clients review images at that point.

    I have not yet shot "tethered" with the EOS app running on an iPad.  That may work.
  • dbrunodbruno Member
    Hi, rs - Thanks. In another thread, I responded to Neil. My daughter lent me her older laptop with a 15-inch screen. The remote-shooting stuff is on the CD that came with the camera. I was just playing around again with it. I have been able to get things going well enough to give not only a preview of the current shot:

    - you can link DPP, Image Browser, or Zoom Browser automatically if needed
    - if you set the camera to Raw+JPeg, you can select only the JPeg gets sent to the laptop
    - you can actually deselect having the images saved to the in-camera card (for me that's not what I do)
    - Images are saved in a folder you designate, and since they are JPeg, you can just got to the folder and review

    So, for a type of work I have yet to be hired for until this job, I think this will suffice. It will also satisfy what I now know, from Neil's comment, having the photo displayed for the subject is really important.

  • dbrunodbruno Member
    My wife was kind enough to sit still for a few minutes, and she helped me a bit. I would appreciate any comments. I feel like the hair light could be stronger or placed better.

    So it's a Speedlite in a 24x24 softbox in front; gridded Speedlite on a boom behind and slightly to her left; Speedlite with a small 8-inch softbox lighting the background; silver reflector underneath her chin. I had her lean forward slightly with her neck keeping shoulders up (that's the extent of my ability to pose people). Seriously, comments would help.

  • Neil vNNeil vN Administrator
    The hair-light looks just fine! 

    I think these two test shots look great, and that you have everything under control. 

    The 2nd photo has the better pose, as you've figured out. 
  • dbrunodbruno Member
    Thanks, Neil. It's the first time I've really ever taken someone's photo like this. Usually it's Veronica Hedley who sits, patiently I might add, for me.

  • dbrunodbruno Member
    Hi, All - I guess it couldn't have gone that badly back in May with the company I worked with. I did an event for them yesterday, and the Marketing Director told me they will most likely have me come back to do another session. The only issue now is what to charge: when they first asked me, I told them I could do it, but had limited experience (I had none). So the first 15 were freebies, and the remaining 18 were a certain price (pretty low, from what I have been seeing since then). I will probably keep the price the same but add on a set-up charge.

    But for me the story isn't the money, it's the fact I didn't mess up so badly.

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