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Professional Headshots in a tight space

Professional Headshots in a tight space

A little known fact: I also do “professional” headshots too. Now I don’t do a lot of super-dry coiffed hair & skin smoothed until you’re a barbie doll kind of stuff, I like to give all my portraits a vibe of reality that communicates my subjects; I want their character to come out. And yes, some of that character are the lines on our face, and some of your hair sticking out at the side – it’s who we are – and I think a real personality will draw a viewer into an image much faster than a “perfect” photo will any day.

Often I go out on location and photograph my subjects in an environment they feel represents them and what they do. That’s not always an option, of course, and it is a bit more spendy to drag me out of my studio [Read: home]. So every so often, I set up a white seamless at my studio [home] and call up some of the people who wanted or needed shots but we hadn’t worked out a budget, location etc. Book them back to back and you have yourself a good day of doing business with some great people.

The Setup

I don’t have a lot of space, not a lot of people do, and if you really want to work well with a seamless backdrop space & distance is probably what you want the most of… but failing that we can work simply to accomodate the needs of your clients while creating a clean professional look.

I have a 4′ seamless white, which may not be great for full-body portraits, but is ideal for headshots & busts in a tight environment. I still try to maintain as much distance between my subject & the backdrop as possible, probably a few feet in this case (ideally it’d be, like, ten). I then add a few speedlights, close and bare, to whiten the backdrop. I have to dial in my power on them to make sure it’s on the verge of blowing out, but not so much power that they reflect light BACK into my lens creating flare and softening my image. In this case I also added a 18″ dish & elinchrom Quadra high above my subjects pointing directly behind them to create a hot-spot on the white behind their heads, if some of this light bounces back I’m cool with it as it’ll create a bit of rim on their hair, head and shoulders.

I had tried complicated 3 light setups in a tight space before, and I found them pretty foolish. All that grip gear and modifiers in tight on your subject can get kind of intimidating, and if they’re clausterphobic well, good luck. You’ll also find that if everything’s so close together, a lot of light will bleed and bounce from one spot to the next. So I’m likely to get light bouncing from my ceiling and walls too – so an absolute controlled light likely won’t happen – but I can plan for this with a solid single key-light approach.

I get my Elinchrom midi-octa at camera left and pull it in tight to my subjects, it’s got a deflector on the inside and two layers of diffusion material, so something this big, this close, will create a brilliantly soft light. I also put a large reflector at camera right to ease up the shadow on the far side of the subject. I’m not worrying about spilling my light at this point, because I’m shooting with it in mind – I’m using the bounce to turn my one key light into a key & fill.

If you have the time, you can also boom in another modified light setup for a different look which may (or may not) turn out, but it gives your client options in a constrained environment.

The rest is easy, it’s all about the photographers interaction with their subjects and, hopefully, we come away with something they like. Since this set up is universally applicable, I try to book a few sessions for the same day to make the time I put into it worthwhile.

One thought on “Professional Headshots in a tight space

  1. Craig says:

    I like the setup for the really small space. I also like the speedlite as the background light. No need for a scrim or a flag on that one