A business headshot requires pretty even lighting.This portrait was created with three studio lights against a black backdrop, a main light, a fill light, and a hair light.
The “main” light in a photo, also called the “key” light, is the main source of light. The “fill” light, which is often on the opposite side of the face from the main light, is to fill in the shadows.
The main light was up and to camera left. The intensity of the light was adjusted to give a good exposure for the subject’s face. The fill light was up and to camera right. Both lights were bounced out of reflectors to soften the light. For most portraits I prefer more dramatic lighting with the fill light significantly less intense than the main light, but for a business headshot I keep the light pretty even. The fill light in this photo was almost as bright as the main light.
You can see a catchlight (reflection) of both lights in the pupil of the right eye. The face was turned slightly to the left (camera right) so only the reflection of the fill light shows in the left eye. In this closeup of the right eye you can see the shape of the umbrellas. You can usually tell the number and kind of lights that were used to light the face by looking at the catchlights (unless they were digitally removed). The next time you are at a magazine stand you can check the catchlights in the eyes of all the closeup portraits.
This photo is also an indication of the quality of the Canon EF24-105mm f/4L IS USM lens. I have had a number 20 x 30 inch prints made of images from this lens and I continue to be impressed with this lens.
The hair light was up high behind the subject to camera right. It had a grid screen to narrow the beam of light and was pointed down to light only the hair. The intensity of the hair light is often set to slightly overexpose the hair.
The camera was slightly higher than the subjects eyes. Shooting at a slightly downward angle is flattering to most faces.
I used a focal length of 98 mm for a more pleasing perspective. It is generally a good idea to use a focal length of 70 mm or longer when filling the frame for a head and shoulders portrait. If you use a wide angle lens and move in close to fill the frame, you distort the features of the face.
A business head shot should never be cropped at the neck or the subject will look unnatural, like they have been beheaded. For an unusual, edgy, odd, or artsy look some photos are cropped at the neck, but not for a business headshot. Always crop below the neck. That’s why they are called “head and shoulder” portraits
Photo Data: Canon 5D Mark III. Canon 24-105mm f/4 lens at 98 mm. f/11, 1/60 second, ISO 100.
To see how this photo was retouched, see the next article, Portrait Retouch in 6 Minutes.