How To Headshots and Light Paint Portraits

In Master Photography Roundtable by Jeff HarmonLeave a Comment

Topic 1: Minimum Gear for Headshots

  • Jeff:
    • We have had a good thread going in the Facebook group this week about gear for headshots.  By the way listeners, if you aren’t in that group you are missing out on a really fun community of photographers helping each other out and you should consider joining by searching for “Master Photography Podcast” in Facebook and asking to join the group.  You have to answer a question to join and provide the name of a host so Erica, Connor, Brian, or Jeff will all work.
    • The thread was All 3 of you at the roundtable can speak from more experience here than I can.  I have done full body shots with the high school mens and womens basketball teams where I use an Impact backdrop stand and a 10×20 muslin, but that is overkill for headshots by a lot.  Eric, let’s start with you. Besides flashes what would you recommend for a photographer who is interested in doing some headshots spending as little as is reasonably possible?
  • Erica: Besides flashes, a good portrait lens and a reflector. Choose a 5-in-1 reflector ( $12) so that you have a variety of options to work with. For lenses, the most popular headshot lenses are 50 mm, 85 mm, and 70-200 mm because of their lack of distortion and their delicious bokeh.  Use reflector for fill light.
  • Brian: The sun. Reflector – car pop-up sun shield thingy. Assistant w/ white shirt. To me, the minimum is just your camera and playing with any natural light.
  • Jeff:
    • Initially my advice was a c-stand and a popup gray background, but looking at it as we were getting ready to record I would go with Fotodiox 5×7 collapsible black/white backdrop kit with stand ( $80) as the least expensive option I could find that would get you going.  May not last too long, but would get you going for only $80.
    • That option is also black and white and I would prefer a gray backdrop so that I can get lots of backgrounds by changing the lighting, so maybe consider the Fovitec StudioPro 5×6.5 gray/blue collapsible backdrop ( $60) combined with the Fovitec StudioPro Pop Out stand and reflector clip ( $26) that sets you back $86 in total and the stand is something that may last a little longer.

Topic 2: Headshot Technique

  • Jeff: I want to get more technique discussed on the show, so now that we have given advice on the gear to invest in to get started into headshots, I want each of you to share how it is you got going with them.  How did you start getting clients paying you to do headshots. First though, I wanted to ask Erica to walk through technique on doing headshots. Let’s assume you are hired to go onsite and do a few hundred corporate headshots.  You just arrived, you setup your backdrop, walk us through step-by-step how you setup your camera in relation to the backdrop, where you are putting lights, what settings you are dialing into the camera, how you determine the power of the flash, etc.
  • Erica:
    • One light clamshell setup.  Light on the right with reflector on the left, or vice-versa.  Have the model face the flash
    • Can do clamshell with the light above and the reflector below too
    • May take a couple of shots with different lighting so that the customer can choose if there is time.
  • Jeff: Now Brian, you have done some paid headshots too right?  How did you get those paid jobs?
  • Brian: Most of it is word of mouth or previous clients/brides/grooms needing a headshot for their job.
  • Jeff: I have had some success from family and friends asking if they could have me take a good shot of them for their social media profiles.  We have fun with it and I enjoy that. Led to a few jobs taking headshots for others by way of word of mouth, the client seeing the profile photo of the person I did a shoot for free with.  I am not actively seeking out these jobs, I do this for fun more than anything and I don’t enjoy the more boring headshot stuff much. What about you Erica, how did you get your paid headshot jobs?
  • Erica: I do around 100 headshots a year, and most of them are from SEO. I do get a lot of word of mouth referrals, but most people have found us by doing a Google search for headshots in my area. My studio website typically lands on the first page of Google for that search.
  • Jeff: Tip for checking how your SEO is doing.  Use private browsing mode, called Incognito in Chrome, and then do a search for headshots in your city or area.  Use that mode so that Google won’t bias the results based on what it knows about you. You will see if a person with no browsing history will find your shot high up in the search results.  If you are not, you can check out your competition and figure out what you need to do to rise up the rankings.

Topic 3: Light Painting

  • Jeff:
    • Brian, you have been playing around a lot with light painting since the Out of Chicago conference, right?  He has a few photos on his Instagram ( that we will include links to in the show notes. One is his daughter in kind of a sideways dance pose with what looks like lighted wings behind her.  The other is the same beautiful daughter in a still pose, what is that called Erica? A yoga tree pose, with huge fans of light behind her.
    • We  talked a few episodes ago about the gear, the light wand you are using.  Would you walk through the technique you are using to get your photos? What are your camera settings, what considerations are there given the ambient light for those settings?  Are there specific ambient light conditions you need? Are you putting your camera on a tripod? Kind of take us from getting on location where you want to do the light painting portrait and walk us through the whole setup.
  • Brian:
    • Want to draw local attention
    • Model face direction of sunset at blue hour
    • Camera on tripod, have model wave wand to get focus and exposure settings
    • ISO 800, f/11, 5s is a good starting point
    • Creative in pose
    • Wave the wand differently to get different shapes
    • Photographer wears black and keeps moving
    • Black duct tape on the back of the wand to not light the photographer
    • No flash, bring the wand in front during the exposure to light the person
    • Instruct person to hold breath and not move for the shot
    • Need the correct size of flashlight
    • Remote trigger, hold the shutter with the remote until done
    • Watch out for street lights!
  • Jeff: Episode with Levi Sim where he explains how he makes people comfortable and natural in front of the camera:


Jeff: Also a discussion on the Facebook group this week.  Rechargeable AA batteries. Good friend of the show, Brian Pex, did a head-to-head real-world test of many battery brands.  Could only really test how many full powered flash pops he could get from each brand fully charged, so durability didn’t enter into the test.  Still, Duracell came out on top (  4 pack of long life ion core ( $13).  Put them in your Amazon wish list so that they will email you when they are on sale!  Close second was Eneloop batteries from Panasonic ( $30).  Or get the LADDA 2450 batteries at IKEA for $7 for a 4 pack!  They are the same specifications as the Panasonic Eneloop brand and I have heard speculation that they came from the same factory just have the IKEA label vs. the Panasonic label on them.

Erica: Unfold – an app that lets you design clean, minimalist layouts for Instagram Stories

Brian: DJI Mavic Air – FUN!!!


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