Headshot. That’s a funny word. Sounds rather painful actually.
As a portrait photographer, on occasion, I have been asked to make images of people, sometimes only from the shoulders up, as per their request. The end result will be utilized as the avatar for their professional or personal brand.
Headshot. Everyone knows what it means. Funny word, but essentially right on the money.
Want some advice? Don’t go in thinking it will be all clinical, institutional and non-creative. Instead go in with a more positive attitude. Have fun and make the best creative head shot you can. Think of it more as a challenge.
The idea is Make Everybody Look Good.
A great portable kit definitely makes things faster and easier. An assistant and I carry everything on our backs and shoulders. With no need for a hand truck we walk through marble lobbies and take cushy Muzak enhanced passenger elevators. You really don’t want to have to deal with the dreaded loading dock, freight elevator or guts of the building if you don’t have to.
My Manfrotto 30 Backpack is always with me and jammed with most everything I need for most lower-tech photo situations. It’s so well padded for equipment and soft on the body. It’s small and easy to carry. It’s the one bag that goes with me no matter what.
For headshots though I bring a few more things.
The Set Up:
A portable gray and white background with stand is with us unless we are using a pre-existing background. It just pops open like a reflector and attaches magnetically to a small brace affixed to the stand.
The main power is the Elinchrom Quadra, with 2 heads. It’s small, light and provides the perfect amount of power for headshots.
The Main is a Rotolux Mini Deep Octabank on a stand, at 2/3 power, placed high on off slightly to the side, at about 1-2 o’clock.
A Kicker light comes from the floor, with white shoot-through umbrella, powered at 1/3 power.
(All lights are positioned as close to the subject as possible.) The set up makes very flattering light while providing beautiful catch lights for the eyes. It consistently makes people look good.
If the white background is chosen, to make cleanest whites, a Metz 64 AF-1is setup on the background, set on Manual slave.
A couple of test shots of my assistant to see if there needs to be modifications and we are ready to go.
Set up time is fast, maybe 10 minutes.
Sit the subject in an office chair, positioned sideways with the arm to camera. They will need to sit on the very edge of the chair to sit up straight and to have some separation from their body and the back of the chair. You don’t want to see the chair. The armrest provides opportunity for body language and gesture.
Shoot off the tripod standing so you are slightly elevated and the subject has to look up to you slightly. You know the trick that gives everybody instant facelift.
Direct them basically the whole time. Most people don’t know how to pose or be comfortable in front of the camera. Confidence goes a long way. Trust will get you almost anything.
Be charming. Entertain, lighten them up, be funny. There is usually only a short time to get to know and capture the real person. That’s the challenge.
If it helps, make a few images then stop, and maybe show them some. You can determine what they like and then work the best poses or gestures.
Sometimes it’s best to get them in and out before they know what just happened.
Pack up is just as easy and fast.
And then we are done.
Done. That’s a funny word.
As a Portrait Photographer it seems we are never really done. It’s just on to the next thing in the day.