Photographing headshots in a small space
This headshots photo session for a large corporate client, started off as a bit of a challenge — they wanted half-length seated portraits against a white background. Because the room they put me in was a bit too tight, I set everything up at an angle, so that I could shoot from outside the door to get a proper working distance. I would have had enough room here if I only had to do tight headshots, but the client wanted half-length seated shots, and the space was too small for that if I wanted an even background.
I wanted to avoid the need for any avoidable Photoshop work. I had to photograph 40+ headshots that day, so I want to keep Photoshop to a minimum. Even though Photoshop’s Content-Aware Fill Tool is fantastic, I really wanted files out of the camera as close to correct as I could. Therefore I dragged in a roll of 9ft-wide paper roll, and lighting stands.
Lighting setup for this photo session
I used 4 lights, as can be seen in the photo above. Two lights on the background, and two lights for my subject.
The two lights on the background were two Profoto B1 flashes (B&H / Amazon). They had a 45″ umbrella each to help spread the light.
The two main lights on my subject were Profoto D1 Air 500Ws studio flashes (affiliate) that I ran off AC power.
The main light to camera-right is the Westcott 7-ft Parabolic Umbrella – white (B&H / Amazon). You can see the corner of the main light (the 7-ft parabolic umbrella) in the top right-hand corner of this frame. This large umbrella just floods the entire place with light, helping to avoid specific shadows on the background – although the two background lights would remove most of any shadow. Here is a review: Westcott 7-ft Parabolic Umbrella.
Because the space I had for the fill-light to camera-left was so cramped, I used the narrow Angler Parsail 60″ Umbrellas (affiliate). It is a superb umbrella that helps me in a pinch. Here is the review: Best photo umbrella for a home-studio & indoor headshots
About the photo session workflow
For this headshot session, I rented a the Nikon D850 (B&H / Amazon). The client requested seated portraits as the headshots, but I also wanted to be ready for requests afterwards for a tighter, more usual headshot. The extreme megapixel count of the Nikon D850 still gave me an easy 12-16 megapixels on a tighter crop of everyone.
I had to photograph around 40 people intermittently during the say as the group took breaks or had lunch. Then it is a 5 minutes per person crunch. And then I sit and wait for an hour or two to the next break time.
I shot everything hand-held. I don’t do tripods for headshots.
It is essential to shoot tethered to a computer. This helps client to pick a favorite photo, and also change anything they want in how they present themselves. This 99% avoids anyone being unhappy a week later when you send the photographs over.
The computer I used here was a MacBook Air, but I brought a 26” Apple Cinema display along to give an impressively large image which helps in the selection process which had to be fast.
I use Nikon Camera Control Pro as the tethering software, and I use Bridge to preview the RAW files.
I shoot, go through the images … star rate them and pick the subject’s favorite shot. Then I rename, and move the images to a folder of their name. Next!
5 Comments, Add Your Own
1mike s says
I recently did a session with 20 headshots and shooting tethered(my first time) made all the difference in the world. I shot, the client picked his/her favorite and we were done! No sending 30 pics per client and waiting(just like you said).
2Roddy McWha says
Neil, I recently did a 12 person headshot session for a small company in Pittsburgh. This is not my normal work, (I photograph performing arts, normally), but a friend asked me to do it. I honestly had no idea what to charge-I finally went with $400-all rights. Was I high? low? Might be asked again, and I want to know what to do. (The client seemed very happy-makes me think I was low!) Thanks
3Neil vN says
$400 for that headshots photo session is a little on the low side. You have to take into account as well your time to do retouching, and all the other related work.
To work out a quote, I start with a per-person figure on a sliding scale, depending on how many people there are. If it is a huge group, then I think in terms of a day rate / flat fee.
In terms of what is actually a competitive fee to ask — there are several factors here.
— The budget of your client.
— The intended use of the images.
— Your location. For example, headshots in Manhattan will be more expensive than out in smaller cities. (It needs to be, because the cost of living is so much higher in New York.)
That said, I don’t have much regard for those who grand-stand in the photography forums and FB groups who talk about the sensationally high fees they charge. While entirely possible, I don’t think that’s the norm — and you could go hungry waiting for those kinds of clients.
4Valent Lau says
Can you show how you crop the resulting half seated? I’ve usually done 3/4 or full with a seated headshot.
4.1Neil vN says
The final photos would look very similar to a closer crop of this BTS photo, except that my assistant knelt lower down for this photo. I don’t want to post photos of my clients, so you’ll have to be satisfied with just this.