Headshot photography in the studio
Mike is an actor / musician friend of mine, who also works with the Modern Gypsies at times. We recently updated his headshots with a session in and around the studio. As a working actor in New York, he has appeared on stage, as well as some spots on television. Amusingly enough, while shooting outside the studio against the warehouse building’s facade facing the main street, a young boy, walking past us with his mom, turned around and asked Mike, “Are you famous?” Of course we couldn’t disappoint the kid.
Being a character actor, and shooting with that in mind, we took many photos where the expressions were quite goofy and strange. But I’ll leave that up to Mike to show to the world. Someday perhaps. Here’s a small selection of headshots of him, where we show some of the character and expression. That’s actor Mike. For raconteur Mike, you’d just have to meet him in person.
The lighting setup was fairly simple. I wanted clean open light on him, so you could clearly see his expressions. I also wanted a large light source so we had some freedom with his movement. But we still wanted some contrast to the shadow side. But not too dark.
I used two Profoto D1 Air 500 Ws studio light (affiliate) for my lights.
The main light on him was diffused with a large Profoto 5.0′ RFi Octa Softbox (affiliate). This massive octabox gives beautiful soft light. I had it set to an angle, so it was feathered away from him a bit. There’s a reason for that. If you feather a large light source like that, you can have your subject step forward, and then you have more contrasty light. If you have them step back, then you get more of a wrap-around effect to the light. Of course the exposure varies a little bit, but nothing that a click or two of the aperture dial won’t control. So with this light, I can get more contrast, or less contrast, depending on how far forward or back my subject is positioned in relation to the light.
Fill-light was via a white V-flat which acted as a reflector. The V-flat consists of two white foam core boards that are taped together with gaffers tape to form a V so it can stand upright. I set it up so that it reflects light from the front and side and a little bit from behind. Just enough fill-light for what I wanted. No real science to it. Okay, okay, there’s a bit of Light, Science and Magic involved.
The hair light was via the second Profoto D1 500 Ws studio light (affiliate) on a Manfrotto 025BS boom w/ 008BU stand & casters (affiliate). The light was controlled with a grid on the reflector: Profoto 7″ Reflector and a Profoto 10 degree Honeycomb Grid.
The background was the back wall of my studio, painted a light grey. Because of light fall-off, the background appears dark grey in the final images.
camera settings: 1/160 @ f/11 @ 200 ISO
This relatively simple setup gave me the results I wanted for these headshots, but I do change it up at times, always exploring.
Photo gear (or equivalents) used during this photo session
- Nikon D4
- Nikon 70-200mm f2.8 AF-S VR II / Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II
- (2x) Profoto D1 Air 500 Ws studio light
- Profoto 5.0′ RFi Octa Softbox
- Profoto 7″ Reflector with a Profoto 10 degree Honeycomb Grid
- Low-key lighting in the studio for a dramatic portrait (Randy)
- Studio photography: low-key lighting variations (model: Ulorin Vex)
- Modern / contemporary business headshots in the studio (Matt S.)
- Video clip: Photo session in the studio
- Photoshop filters – retouching for portraits
- NJ headshot photographer
- NJ photography studio space rental
Studio lighting workshops
If you are interested in learning more about studio lighting, including lighting for headshots, I offer workshops on studio lighting. The workshops will be held at my studio space in NJ, and it has a wide range of studio lighting gear to play with!
11 Comments, Add Your Own
1Patrick Ng says
Not seeing reflection in the glasses, I cannot help wondering if it’s better to use a softbox when photographing someone wearing glasses. Do you have a special technique to handle reflection in glasses when you are not in the studio?
Since my wife wears glasses, this is quite important to me. When shooting outdoor and against the sun, I end up setting my flash head at an angle, and then use my hand to act as a reflector. This works most of the time, but is a bit ackward.
I am looking for a big softbox for small flashes (SB-910, 600ex). I saw the “Profoto 5.0′ RFi Octa Softbox” in this article. Can it be used with small flashes ? If not which biggest softbox do you use with small flashes ?
Thank you Neil.
3Neil vN says
I think if you want this kind of large light source, but use umbrellas, you might be better off with the Westcott Parabolic 7′ umbrella. It is inexpensive enough to try out anyway.
4Jennifer Lynch says
Is that a big sandbag holding down the stand that is holding the hair light?
These are great headshots. The light is so nice and even, no hotspots, yet not at all flat. How do you avoid hotspots?
Do you prefer the reflector boards to, say, a white umbrella for fill? Is the light softer this way?
5Neil vN says
Yup, the sandbag helps the stability. In this case, the flash-head and reflector aren’t that heavy, so I didn’t counter-balance the boom, like you’d normally do with a light on a boom.
When you use fill-light, it can often look like a secondary light source, but with a reflector, such as this reflector board, it looks more like less contrast that a secondary light source. It keeps the lighting setup less complicated.
Re the eyeglass reflection, check my comment lower down.
6Barrie Brown says
Great shots – simple approach. Great work as usual. Did you need to use a dome on the D1 on the Octabox to get enough light spread or did you just go with the D1 in its normal configuration?
7Neil vN says
With this huge softbox, I did add the D1 dome to spread the light more evenly inside. But with the smaller gridded soft boxes, I didn’t.
8Frank Solle says
@Michael – the Westcott Apollo Orb is a good-sized soft box for use with speed lights. One light will work but I use a bracket that attaches two speed lights (Youngnuo 560s) which gives me more light at lower power for quicker recycle and longer battery life while doing a better job of filling the box with light. At around 43″ it’s smaller than the one Neil is using, but then it’s also more portable and works well on location. It gives a nice catch light in a portrait yet can throw enough light to cover 3-4 people in a pinch.
Thanks Frank. Indeed I saw the Westcott softboxes. I am hesitating between the 43″Apollo Orb Speedlite Kit and the 50″ Recessed Mega JS Apollo.
Neil, I too am wondering what is your technique in dealing with eyeglasses. I’ve found it depends on the glasses. Sometimes I run into a pair that no matter what I try I can’t avoid a reflection and if I do, the lighting is bad.
Thanks in advance.
11Neil vN says
About the lack of reflection in his glasses, check this article where I photographed portraits in the studio with the 85mm lens, with Oktavia. It was a very similar lighting setup.
The large light source from above makes it easier to control the light and how your subject positions their head. Just as with Oktavia, I asked him at times to subtly drop his chin until I didn’t see the modeling light reflected in his glasses.
But I am sure there’s a matter of luck involved with the specific eye-glass prescription.