Lighting For Headshots

In Portrait by Jesse Park

Lighting For Headshots

Alex Lagarejos is an award-winning photographer based in South West London. Originally from Glasgow, Alex moved to London as a teenager and pursued a career in the arts; to fund his way through drama school Alex was lucky enough to work as an assistant to some of London’s top photographers where he honed his craft. Now Alex has managed to forge his way as an acclaimed photographer; offering first class headshot sessions in both the acting and corporate world. Commercially, Alex Lagarejos Photography has also secured several large editorial, travel and lifestyle commissions.

There are thousands of articles online with thousands of different setups claiming to be the ultimate headshot lighting tutorial ranging from incredibly complex multiple light set-ups through to natural light set-ups. Nearly all of them miss the most crucial aspect photographers need to think about when considering their set-up – who they are photographing and where. I photograph a wide range of people on a daily basis and what works for an actor or performer will not work for a CEO or business executive.

Lighting set-ups are very like your photographic eye; something that needs to be developed and that is completely personal to your own artistic vision. Lighting can have such a huge impact on the feel of an image that it’s important to be completely aware of exactly what your lighting is saying. Personally, outside of some fashion and editorial shoots, I believe that your lighting should never overwhelm your subject; you can definitely over-light a headshot. I also believe that like everything, until you nail the simple you shouldn’t run before you can walk so every set-up I’m going to discuss in this piece only needs one light and a reflector – plus a bonus natural light set-up at the end.

I have one go-to set-up that I know I can rely on for those times I’m shooting clients who are likely to want a more traditional look and are not used to getting their photographs taken – which is pretty much the entirety of my corporate clients.

Lighting diagram 1

As you can see, this is a one light – one reflector set-up that is completely unobtrusive to the subject, is quick to rig up and with a large octabox modifier produces a very flattering light. What I love about this set-up is how simple, yet effective it is. I keep the light high and either to the right or left of me, quite close to the subject and forget about it leaving me to focus 100% on my subject and getting the most out of them. If I want a bit of shadow in the image I’ll either lose the reflector or for a bit more extreme switch it round to the black side.

A slight variation on this is when I bring the light in overhead behind me with a reflector on the floor to create a bit of bounce and soften shadows. In the diagram you can see two additional lights to light the background but are only needed if you want a white background

Lighting Diagram 2

If I’m working with actors who want something a little different to stand out from the crowd then I’ll sometimes shoot a few through my ring light – an incredibly cheap piece of kit that gives a really striking result – it’s not for everyone but it’s a lot of fun to use.

Lighting Diagram 3

Finally, here’s a lighting set-up that requires no kit, just some scouting and the right time of day. Find a doorway or archway and place your subject just inside out of direct sunlight. I’ve got a place I use that is perfect as the ground in front is tiled with dull, red tiles, acting as the perfect fill light without overwhelming my subject.

Whatever set-up you choose, your lighting needs to help, not hinder both your job and your artistic eye; my advice is always to keep it as simple as possible and concentrate on bringing your subject to life.

About the Author

Jesse Park

Personal Assistant to Jim Harmer. For your own support in your business, please e-mail me at [email protected]