This Blog is currently being transferred to work in conjunction with my new website! WWW.STENBERGPHOTOGRAPHY.COM will now direct you to my new "proper" website and blog. If you stumbled across this blog, please feel free to browse but know that updates will take place from my new website and this blog will no longer be used. Thanks ;)

Thursday, February 17, 2011

RDES Headshots explained

similar to my other studio shots I used F2.8, 1/200th sec, and ISO 200 with a long 200mm zoom
At a first glance, the untrained eye may assume these photos were all taken the same way.
 Well in a way they were.  I used the same backdrop, same pose, same lights, same editing etc..  After examining them however, you will notice one may look more "edgy" while another looks soft and well lit.  I pulled these three photos from the group because they each display three unique ways of lighting for a traditionally boring headshot.  I had creative freedom shooting these photographs so I went ahead and experimented to a certain degree.  I knew what to expect and had a plan of course.

I recommend before you shoot head shots for a company or whatever, you make sure you have freedom to get creative and have a plan before hand.  The last thing you want is for them to return the photos complaining they look "weird" or dark etc.  And you don't want to waste the subjects time while you play around with your lights.  Practice before you arrive at your shoot and write down your settings if you have to.  One way to keep things consistent is to turn down almost all of your ambient light or close blinds so you can control the light and your settings don't change in a new environment.

The first photograph of Chris is probably my favorite.  It is simple and brings me back to the early days of using off camera flash.  I only used 1 light which creates shadows in a uniform directional way.  Look for shadows in photographs to reverse engineer where the lights were placed.  When using only 1 light, you have to have a good LCD or be able to zoom in to check that both eyes are being lit adequately.  They eyes are the most important thing when shooting a portrait so if your light is too far off the subjects lateral side, you will shadow the far eye and ruin the photo.  Of course these are general guidelines and rules are meant to be broken depending on circumstances ;)

This second photograph of Aaron, is a good example of what I like to think of as "safe" lighting.  It's a good photograph and is usually what is used with most corporate head shots.  Its simple, well lit, consistent and fill in most shadows including wrinkles on people faces.  Aaron of course does not have wrinkles but even comparing this photo to the other two, his skim seems very soft and undefined.  Great for women as well since they usually prefer not to have any such definition!  Two lights with umbrellas fully open were placed left and right in front of Aaron and he simply stood behind and in the middle of them.  Both lights were almost equal in exposure.  This photo may benefit from one light being stronger than the other to give more dimension.

Finally, Jeff is shown here with similar lighting to what a person would use shooting a bodybuilder.  Two lights coming off each lateral side almost 90 degrees and slightly harder.  This is still a studio headshot so the umbrellas were collapsed and reflected to create a slightly harder light but not as hard as a bare bulb.  If you are wondering what a soft light vs a hard light would look like, think of what shadows do under cars when you are driving on a cloudy day vs a sunny day.  Almost no difference between shadow and ambient light on a cloudy day but on a sunny day there is a defined edge of where the shadow starts and finishes.

This photo nicely lights up both sides of Jeff creating lots of definition on his uniform and facial features.  Check out that "man chin"!

I hope some of this lighting breakdown has simplified some things for you if you plan to experiment with studio style head shots.  Take the time to look at other photos out there and study the shadows to see what works and what doesn't as far as light placement goes :)  It takes some practice but that's where all the fun is!



  1. Nice shooting Kurt. I also find that if I use a reflector on the camera right side, I can avoid having 2 highlights and makes for a quick, simple setup.


  2. That true and a great idea. However I could not trust these guys with holding a reflector for me and it not breaking out into a make-shift game of full contact ultimate frisbee! Just kidding..