I’ve blathered on about lighting quite a bit over the years, and there’s a reason for that. It’s CRITICAL. Whoops, did I just yell? I’m sorry! But it’s CRITICAL.
There are many things that “out” a headshot as having been shot by an amateur. Over the years, I’ve found that three giveaways outstrip everything else: (1) the lighting, (2) the crop, and (3) the retouching. If you have the original photo, a bad crop of a decent photo (crazy angle? ear chopped off, Van Gogh? too wide?) can probably be corrected — just re-crop it, and voila! You’re done. Same goes with the retouching. If the photo has been retouched so that all the details in your skin have been removed and you look like a Barbie or Ken doll, hire a pro retoucher, give him or her the original, and voila! Problem solved. (I’ll talk more about cropping and retouching in a separate post.)
Lighting, however, is one of the keys to great photos, and bad lighting typically can’t be corrected after the shoot. So, before you hire a photographer, check out his or her galleries, folks. Bad lighting is a sign of conveyor belt, cookie cutter photography, or an unskilled photographer, and you’re going to end up with a headshot that you don’t want to use.
So let’s talk lighting. The best lighting for your headshot, hands down, is diffused light, whether that’s natural (outside, but not in direct sun) or created (indoor or outdoor with the strategic use of lights, windows and reflectors). Diffused lighting erases or minimizes imperfections, emphasizes your eyes without drawing attention to wrinkles, lines, or puffiness, and gives you a nice, soft radiance.
I love my studio — I can control the weather, I can control the lighting, I can easily bring in hair and makeup artists, my clients can easily change clothes. And I can take easy bathroom breaks. 😁 In addition to professional studio lights, my studio has good, old-fashioned window lighting. I use my windows strategically in sync with my studio lights and reflectors to create a wide variety of looks, ranging from natural to staged, simple to dramatic. There are things that I am absolutely insane about when I’m shooting indoors, though, and that’s all in the service of getting a great portrait of you.
But for a variety of reasons, many of my indoor shoots are not at my studio; instead, they’re shot on location — in offices, homes or special venues. Indoor lighting in these locations tends to be orange/yellow (think, dingy apartment building corridor) or gray/green (think, scary hospital hallways). And the direction of the lighting is usually all wrong. Ceiling lighting rarely works unless you really like the look of bags under your eyes so large that they wouldn’t fit into an overhead bin. Some photographers try to counteract that with a camera flash. Big mistake, unless you want to look like the deer that’s about to be struck down in the prime of life. That’s why I bring my studio lights and/or color-correcting gels to make your eyes sparkle and eliminate any possibility of making you look like a vampire.
But I also love, love, love shooting outside if Mother Nature is cooperating. Direct sunlight rarely makes for flattering light, but shade, clouds or bounced light can make for the beautiful, diffused light I’m looking for.
If you peruse my galleries, you’ll see lots of examples of headshots shot in my studio, in office spaces, or outside — and always, always, always with a careful consideration of how the element of light is being used.
Can you tell that bad lighting is one of my pet peeves? Sorry for ranting. On the other hand, if you want to learn more, here’s a great illustrated blog post on Photofeeler that I recently came across.
May the light be with you.