Basic Studio Lighting: The Headshot
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Basic Studio Lighting: The Headshot

Master the headshot and you're on your way to turning your digital camera into a money machine. Professional photographers refer to the headshot as the "Money Shot."

Almost everyone needs professional head shots made-realtors, travel agents, editors, authors, entertainers, dancers, moguls, CEOs, rock stars, models, entrepreneurs, Internet marketers and even the occasional porn star, just to name a few. Photographers refer to the head shot as the "Money Shot" because they are an easy sale. Many photographers miss this moneymaking opportunity because they do not understand the head shot. It is all in the lighting and your clients will know this.

Setting up studio lights to make a head shot is one of the easiest setups to learn. All you need is a key light, a hair light, a backdrop light, and a reflector. You do not even need a studio to make headshots. You can take portable lighting and a portable backdrop right into the client's home, office, or place of business and shoot the head shots there.

Setting Up For The Classic Headshot

The hair light is the most significant light when making a head shot. Hair, especially dark hair, absorbs a vast amount of light and reflects little, leaving the hair looking dull, lifeless, and dead in the photograph. You use the hair light to bring out the hairs natural sheen.

The key light should be placed directly in front and high above the subject, angling downward on the subject's face. You should reflect the key light off an umbrella style reflector and on the subject's face.

Place the backdrop light as close to the backdrop and aim it almost straight up. Keep the backdrop light lower than your subject. I like to place my backdrop light 2 to 3 feet above the floor. I do not use a light modifier on the backdrop light, but use barn doors to control the light. I also set the level of the backdrop light one f-stop under my key light. This assures a pleasant gradient between the subject and the background.

The stand-mounted reflector reflects the light from the subject back up under the subject's chin and nose eliminating any shadows in those areas.

Practice Makes Perfect

Getting the light set up just right is the key to making headshots that pop with vitality. There is no one setup that works with every subject. The color of the subjects hair, the shape of the subjects face, the color of the subject's eyes, and the subject's skin tones all effect the way you set up the lights. When scheduling a sitting for headshots, allow ample time to play around with the lighting until you have it just right. Actors, dancers, singers depend on their headshots to further their careers. They know the importance of getting them right and are willing to work with you toward that objective.

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Comments (5)

Jerry your knowledge on photography is amazing

Another helpful tip, Jerry.

Great tips friend..

Great article, thanks.

I have so much to learn about photography. You Jerry, through your awesome, concise, professional technical writing here on factoidz are going to be my mentor! Thanks man, you rock!