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I’m always amazed when I take professional head shots how every photo shoot presents different challenges. That’s the beauty, and sometimes frustrating part of being a photographer. No shoot is the same.
When you have a model as the subject in front of your lens, being able to nail that shot will be a lot easier. What do I mean by easier? Models know how to pose and appear more relaxed in front of the camera than others. Straight away, you can concentrate on taking photos with little or minimal direction of your model.
Each photographer has their own unique style and methods when taking head shots. But like any genre of photography, the methods used will differ within each speciality. In landscape photography, a wide angle lens is a must and shooting with a small aperture(f/16), plus you are outdoors. Whereas shooting head shots is normally done in a studio with continuous or strobe lighting using a portrait lens.
My favourite focal length for head shots is 70mm lens on a cropped sensor (Nikon 1.5x) so the equivalent is a 105mm on a full frame sensor. A tripod is essential for studio work, and Lighting is key. They are many different setups depending on how you want to shoot your model and how many lights that you have. The background should be neutral if possible (e.g. white, grey, black). Please see the description below for how to practice head shots in your home.
Personally, I tend to work fast as I know most people’s span of attention for a photo shoot is limited before boredom sets in. There is nothing worse than seeing that bored expression on someone’s face reflected back at you on screen. Also no amount of photoshop can replicate someone’s expression or essence. I feel you have to master this technique in camera.
This setup can be easily done in your house beside a large window using one flash (speedlight) on a light stand. Have your subject sit facing towards the flash.
Get the subject to turn from the waist towards the camera, so that their legs are still facing towards the flash. This will mean your subject’s form will not be square to the camera and their posture will be straighter. This makes for a more flattering pose. The eyes are the key feature to portrait shots. So they must be in sharp focus, and preferably have catchlights.
I chose the photo of Didi as one of my favourite professional head shots for the following reasons. I was outdoors, which is always more challenging. The light is always changing and I was at the mercy of the weather (unlike a studio setting where the lighting is constantly the same and it doesn’t rain).
Just before I took this shot, it had started to rain – a light drizzle. I gave my jacket to Didi as she began to feel chilly. This was at the end of a long session. I got her to hold the white translucent umbrella that I brought with me. This was not for the rain but to block out the distracting background and it helped to bounce the natural light around her aided by the shiny material of the jacket – a sort of rim light. Her expression speaks for itself – she was happy and warm!
Do you have a favourite headshot or any other tips you’d like to share? Please do so in the comments below.