Portraits, Lighting Head Shots

Several months back I talked a bit about photographing a girl on my soi, how hard it was to pin her down for a shoot, and how patience eventually pays off.  I also promised to revisit this shoot and talk a bit more about the lighting, lenses and techniques.

 

Head shots are common, but way too often misused.  I’ve done many head shots for the portfolios of actors / actresses where the sole intent is to show their facial features.  Sometimes we use them for book jackets, all forms of identification, and even on the walls of real estate offices.  Head shots give the viewer a very close up and personal look, and always show all the flaws and blemishes average people always have.

 

Head shots are common, but way too often misused.  I’ve done many head shots for the portfolios of actors / actresses where the sole intent is to show their facial features.  Sometimes we use them for book jackets, all forms of identification, and even on the walls of real estate offices.  Head shots give the viewer a very close up and personal look, and always show all the flaws and blemishes average people always have.

One of the rare applications where headshots really work well is when the subject is extraordinary in some way, be it with natural beauty, unique hair or makeup, or unusual character.  Many capture headshots without one of these attributes and more often than not they end up looking like unattractive mug shots.  So what makes a good headshot?

Attractive subject, good makeup, comfortable facial expressions, and lighting that accentuates the good while downplaying the bad.

I’m going to show some headshots and talk about them a bit in the hope you’ll be able to apply my reasoning to your own work.

 

The above shot is very standard.  Her makeup is well done and her face attractive.  Most compelling are her eyes.  The light ‘modeling’ off the right side of her face lends a bit of depth to this shot.

 

The above shot is very standard.  Her makeup is well done and her face attractive.  Most compelling are her eyes.  The light ‘modeling’ off the right side of her face lends a bit of depth to this shot.

 

This shot is closer in, but almost perfect.  Her expression is one of ease and comfort, her lips almost smiling in their smoothness.  Her eyes are symmetrical and large.  By placing a single off-camera strobe with an attached softbox less than 14 inches from her face at a 90 degree angle I was able to light half of her face, while creating a shadow on the other half.  Still, both eyes come through very strongly.  This is a very strong (good) headshot.

 

This shot is closer in, but almost perfect.  Her expression is one of ease and comfort, her lips almost smiling in their smoothness.  Her eyes are symmetrical and large.  By placing a single off-camera strobe with an attached softbox less than 14 inches from her face at a 90 degree angle I was able to light half of her face, while creating a shadow on the other half.  Still, both eyes come through very strongly.  This is a very strong (good) headshot.

 

Not all headshots should have the subject staring into the lens.  Try to get them to look off-center and still give that feeing of ease and comfort.  her eyes and lips remain strong points of beauty as does her skin.  A nice soft light from the softbox will help her skin glow and her eyes shine.

 

Not all headshots should have the subject staring into the lens.  Try to get them to look off-center and still give that feeing of ease and comfort.  her eyes and lips remain strong points of beauty as does her skin.  A nice soft light from the softbox will help her skin glow and her eyes shine.

 

This is a variation of the shot above where half her face is lit, half is a shadow, but split toning is used to help create a mood.

 

This is a variation of the shot above where half her face is lit, half is a shadow, but split toning is used to help create a mood.

 

Much is wrong with this image.  She’s so comfortable she’s smirking!  The light is too strong, she’s starting through the lens, and the colors don’t really work well.

 

Much is wrong with this image.  She’s so comfortable she’s smirking!  The light is too strong, she’s starting through the lens, and the colors don’t really work well.

 

This almost works, but the crop weakens the composition and it almost looks like she’s watching an alien disembark by the swimming pool.  Very small differences can have a huge effect on the final composition

 

This almost works, but the crop weakens the composition and it almost looks like she’s watching an alien disembark by the swimming pool.  Very small differences can have a huge effect on the final composition.

 

This image is average, but not more than average because of one small thing.  The lopsided smile and the white of the single tooth showing.  This is very common.  Professional models learn to look into the mirror and perfect their smiles and learn to feel where their teeth are on their lips.  A good photographer learns to shoot several shots in a row knowing this is common, and hoping for a clear shot.

 

This image is average, but not more than average because of one small thing.  The lopsided smile and the white of the single tooth showing.  This is very common.  Professional models learn to look into the mirror and perfect their smiles and learn to feel where their teeth are on their lips.  A good photographer learns to shoot several shots in a row knowing this is common, and hoping for a clear shot.

 

Teeth make a huge difference.  She looks really cute in this shot, but a bit “bucky beaverish.”  This shot just isn’t very strong. “Half smiles” are oft practiced and very desired, while full cheek to cheek smiles most often add too many wrinkles and distort the face.

 

Teeth make a huge difference.  She looks really cute in this shot, but a bit “bucky beaverish.”  This shot just isn’t very strong. “Half smiles” are oft practiced and very desired, while full cheek to cheek smiles most often add too many wrinkles and distort the face.

 

This is another very strong shot.  A “half smile”, natural huge and expressive eyes, proper lighting, and just a bit of attitude in the pose and tilt of the head.

 

This is another very strong shot.  A “half smile”, natural huge and expressive eyes, proper lighting, and just a bit of attitude in the pose and tilt of the head.

 

When shooting for a feature cover, or even a strong portfolio, I’ll often capture hundreds of images in a session.. and end up only using a handful.  Even the most experienced models have hit and miss facial expressions.  You really need to ensure your technique and lighting is perfect because when the right pose and expression hits.. you want it to be
perfect!  We’ll cover this topic more in the future.