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Simple Two Light Outdoor Headshot

Screen Shot 2014-07-19 at 7.54.47 PM This is the last of the shots that for the outdoor headshot round. It is a similar to the others in that it is a two light setup with the model in the shade and the background being lit by late-day sun. The two lights are a soft box coming in from the left acting as the key light and exposed to f/8.0 and the fill light being a strip box and coming in from the right and exposed to f/5.6.  I shot at f/3.5 in this case using a neutral density filter to tamp down the light.  You can identify the lighting via the catch lights easily.  The lighting worked out pretty well because there wasn’t any breaking on the highlights of the skin, which can easily happen with lighting when you aren’t using powder. Screen Shot 2014-07-19 at 7.53.59 PM If there is one thing that is missing from the shot, it is a good hair light.  His hair is nondescript and not dynamic.  Unlike with people with long hair, you often need a third light coming down from above to really get good highlights on short hair, particularly dark hair. I used f/3.5 because gave me a reasonably narrow depth of field.  I was about 10 feet away from the subject and the background was another 15 feet away.  The depth of field was about 4 inches in this case, plenty wide to get his whole face in tack-sharp focus, but narrow enough that the background would dissolve reasonably well.   If you aren’t familiar with depth of field calculations, there’s a handy website that will let you work it out at Depth Of Field Master.  Zooming in on his shirt and blazer illustrates the fall of focus.  The first crop is near the middle of his shirt and you can see each thread beautifully well, while the second  shows the shirt falling under the blazer and the focus is softening appreciably. Screen Shot 2014-07-19 at 8.12.04 PM Screen Shot 2014-07-19 at 8.12.18 PM

All-in-all this was a good shoot that came out pretty well, we shot for about an hour doing six rounds of photos.  We took about 250 photos between the six rounds and had lots to choose from.  Everyone got at least one head shot that they liked.  We didn’t have the option to do much scouting for an environment and simply used my backyard.  I was still happy with the shots and enjoyed knocking these out.


Mira Zaslove Headshot

My husband, Jay Wacker, isn’t a very good model, so I often end up having to model for my own shots at Mira Zaslove Photography while I’m experimenting with lighting.  In this case, I needed a new headshot, so I was looking forward to this shoot.

Mira Zaslove

This shot was part the series I talked about in the last few posts.  Like the last post this was a taken with the Sony Carl Zeiss 135mm f/1.8 lens which is my favorite lens in my collection.  I’m looking forward to the update of this lens that is finally coming out.  I’ll have to see what the cost differential is to upgrade, though I’m in need of a high quality 50mm lens before then.

This photo was also taken at f/4.0 which is well within the range of apertures that this lens performs spectacularly in.  I feel pretty comfortable with the lens in the f/2.8 to f/11.0 range and even at its widest open, f/1.8 the lens can produce beautifully sharp photos. With the Sony a99, you can sync with lights simply up to 1/250s, I shot this photo at 1/200s at ISO50.

There’s quite a bit of separation between myself and the background, may be 12 feet (4 meters for my European readers), and at f/4.0 you get nice focus over my entire body but great bokeh in the background.  I like the bright red rose just peaking around and I’m not sure where the splash of blue is coming from.

This was a two light setup outside with a soft box and a speed light in a strip box.  Like the previous hair light experiment, I kept the strip box close. The big difference here is that because I changed my stance so that I was dominantly facing the strip light.  This effectively changes the strip light to the key light and makes the  soft box the fill light/hair light.   The hair light is doing a great job bringing out the high lights of my hair and the strip box is lighting my entire length evenly.

In the lighting diagram below, I’ve included a crop of the catchlights and connected them to the different lights.  You can see that the strip light is very bright.  Due to my stance, the soft box is just being caught in the side of eye.  I included a similar shot that I liked of myself a bit more — just because I loved it, but the focus just missed.

Lighting diagram for Mira Zaslove


Hair lighting

When you’re new to lighting, the concept of hair light seems so irrelevant, yet it can make a huge difference between having a a photograph filled with life and a photograph which seems static.

In the recent outdoor headshot shoot, I worked to get the hair light just right for this LinkedIn profile. We wanted to get a verdant outdoor experience which is common in many current high end social media profile photos.  To do this you need a  pretty narrow depth of field.  I opened up the aperture to f/4.0 which allows a pretty crisp focus over the entire face, particularly taking a wider field of view that shows the shoulders.  I used a 135mm lens on a full-frame camera which is a flattering length for portraits and exposes less of the background.

I tried a near and a far hair/fill light coming in from the right.  This changed how much light was caught by the hair and resulted in a subtle, but significant difference between the two photos.  The subject was Asian has gorgeous hair and with the light shining on it, auburn highlights come out of it.

While we went with the photo for the further hair light because we didn’t like the jacket, the near hair light really added an element of life to the photo.

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Lynn Tao of Juniper

Lynn Tao of Juniper

I love narrow depth of field head shots.  This one was recently taken of Lynn Tao, the CEO and founder of Juniper (   She needed a head shot for some fund raising and we offered to take a couple of shots in our home studio before I gave birth (any day now).

Narrow depth of field lets you focus in on the eyes and lets the other elements drift off.  The lighting setup was pretty straight forward and shown below.  I used a softbox a bit off-axis exposed at f/8.0 as the key light, then used a shoot-through umbrella exposed at f/5.6 as the fill light, and then two strip boxes shooting down as hair lights exposed at f/5.6.  These are pretty strong hair lights, which gave a nice shine to her hair.

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One of the challenges with shooting with lighting is that you can’t shoot arbitrarily fast, typical sync-speeds with cameras are 1/160s to 1/250s.  Thus to get a narrow depth of field you either have to turn down the lights very low, but that requires shutting out ambient light or you have to come up with a way to reduce the amount of light getting into the camera.  I typically use variable neutral density (ND) filters to reduce the amount of light by some sizeable amount.  The ND filter I used in this shot was  55mm filter that reduces light by a factor of 2 to 400, i.e. 1 stop to 8.6 stops.  You can lose some sharpness with ND filters if they aren’t high quality.  This one fortunately is a good one.

Another interesting feature  about narrow depth of field head shots is that there is a minimal aperture you should ever use.  If you frame a portrait head shot, it will be about 60cm tall.  You always want to have about 3.5cm in focus.  Now if you change focal length, keeping the aperture number fixed and keeping the framing of the shot, the hyperfocal distance will change, but the distance to the shot divided by the hyperfocal distance stays fixed.   For a full frame camera, this works out to an aperture number of N=2.2, while for a APS-C crop sensor it works out to be N=1.6.  I’ve attached a slide showing how the math works out.

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Young professional headshot


Sorry for the delayed post, I’ve been behind the Great Firewall and somewhat shockingly, WordPress is blocked.

I recently got back and took a couple of quick headshots for young professionals. This one was a gorilla-style headshot in the Financial District in SF. He wanted something with a bit of a cityscape in the background. We shot for about 20 minutes and got about 100 shots off before we quietly disappeared.

I used my 135mm f/1.8 lens that has become my go-to lens for most shoots. This shot was at 1/200s f/4.0 ISO400. It was a bright sunny day and he was under an awning looking towards the sun. The key light is reflecting off a neutral colored wall. The catch lights came from him looking out towards the sun. We had to work at making sure he wasn’t squinting.

Head Shot For Young Professionals

Head Shot Set Shoot

I had a head shot booked Saturday morning with two young, professional twins looking for photos for their workplace websites. I set up the home studio with a simple white backdrop.

I wanted to do a four light set up, a key and fill plus two hair lights to give a symmetric feel for any joint shots with the two twins. I first exposed the hair lights and set the exposure to f/2.8. The hair lights were in strip boxes with speedlites aimed down. I then set up the fill light to f/4.0 with a monolight with a shoot-through umbrella. Finally, I set up a softbox monolight as the key light exposed to f/5.6.

I set the lighting expose on the low side because my home studio has a low ceiling with white paint, which thankfully isn’t gloss. In the past, brighter exposures have had problems with bleed over from light bouncing off the walls and ceilings. I sometimes set up black backdrops on the sides and even the ceiling to control the bounces. But I didn’t want to set up these control measures because they look a bit ghetto, particularly the backdrop covering the ceiling.

After the shoot began, it went pretty fast, we knocked about 200 shots off divided evenly between Ashley, Dana and the pair together.  Throughout the shoot I used an 85mm f/1.4 on a full-frame camera shooting without a tripod and a 135mm f/1.8 on a APS-C crop sensor for an effective focal length of 202.5mm mounted on a tripod. The 85mm came out very well and provided more unique shots because of the free form, but the best shots in the lot were on the 135mm, which is better length for portraits.

I included a crop of the catch-lights. I’d be a bit happier with the catchlights being more symmetric and a bit wider. I am thinking about getting a second softbox and white shoot-through umbrella to be able to get symmetric catchlights.  I like the look when catchlights frame the pupils.  I wasn’t gong for that look here, but I think angling both catchlights wider would have given a better result.