Lights, Camera, Angles, & More
Creating Your Most Flattering Headshot
Part 2 of 5: Let there be light | Lighting for Headshots
In this series, I am only focusing on lighting. Too much light or not enough light could result in a low-quality image. Lighting is key in any type of photography. So is knowing how to manipulate the light to achieve the desired look. Below are some basic lighting factors that photographers take into consideration.
- Light source
- Modifiers and reflectors
- Highlights and shadows
- Lighting position and distance to subject
- White balance (color correcting)
Most likely you’ve had an experience with on-camera flash that resulted in an unflattering photo of yourself. That awful flash look completely removes the natural ambiance of the setting and projects most of the light near your forehead. In situations where the setting is too dark and you can’t control the lighting this may be the only method available. However, you will never see a professional photographer using the built-in camera flash because this is the most unflattering light source. If on-camera flash is necessary, we will attach a separate flash unit onto the camera and use a modifier for the light.
To get the opposite results of on-camera flash, the proper use of lighting and accessories can create flattering portraits. Uniform light throughout the image reduces the appearance of fine lines, blemishes, and wrinkles making this setup ideal for beauty shots. However, this flat lighting will minimize shadows that sculpt your facial features, which could make your face appear slightly wider. A standard lighting setup for headshots is having a main light plus a fill light or reflector that is less intense to fill in the shadows without completely eliminating them. This option allows the photographer to creatively manipulate the light for the most flattering image.
See the images below comparing the different lighting options.
Lighting Setups Above
- Built-in on camera flash
- One beauty dish completely centered in front of face above head level (shadow under chin area)
- Setup 2 with a small beauty dish added below the face to fill in shadows under chin
- Setup 3 with a reflector added to the left and right to bounce more light for an all around glow.
- Main light on the left side of the photo with a less intense fill light to the right and a reflector to bounce light underneath chin
- Dramatic harsh spotlight leaving the right side of the face in shadow
Avoid the built-in camera flash when possible. Lighting setups numbered 3-5 above are common for professional headshots. I prefer setup 3 with a reflector added to one side of the face to leave soft shadows and create a subtle main light and fill light look as shown in the header of this article.
Stay tuned for the next series, Part 3 of 5: The Power of Lens Distortion | Cameras and Lenses
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