Shooting Heads

I love shooting portraits or ‘head shots’. i REALLY love, love, love shooting portraits! I guess this is one reason why I love the work of Richard Avedon, especially his work from the 50’s. I think I’ve always loved to shoot ‘heads’ but it took me about 10-15 years to realize it. I think you get the message, right? Lol!

To me there is something very pure about shooting portraits in a studio environment. There is you, the camera and your subject. There is so little ‘in the way’ allowing you to access the the heart ‘n’ soul of whoever it is you’re shooting.

I’m not going to spend much time on technique in this weeks blog. You can find do much info out there that my additions would likely be repetitive and boring! Then again….

Whenever I’m shooting portraits I always start with the eyes and when I say that I mean that as I ‘construct’ a shot I’ll start with the eyes. I think this is influenced by my fashion background, but who knows….. Or cares! Lol.

When shooting ladies and if at all possible, I’ll try to book a makeup artist. It is rarely possible to do this however so I will work with my clients on what ‘look’ they a seeking. One great trick if you’ve not got access to a makeup artist (MUA) is to use the services of the wonderful staff at MAC stores and counters. If my clients expressed the desire for ‘something different’ I’ve sent them off to the MAC store/counter many times and the results have always been stellar! All you have to do is buy product and hand over a tip!

Lighting, well can I put this clearly as it is a very complex subject? Oh yeah, KEEP IT SIMPLE! The best light you can get is window light so if you’re in a persons home and its not Alaska in winter, use the window, maybe a reflector. In a studio, windows might be harder to find so I mostly use one light with a “beauty dish” in your classic ‘Rembrandt’ style and maybe a reflector for the unlit side, depending on how much light or shadow I want there. That should be all, remember that all this ‘stuff’ can be very frightening and intimidating to those not used to photography.

Want some physics? Remember something called “The Inverse Square Law”, does that sound complex? Well it’s simply this. Twice the distance, a quarter the light. Great for moderating the shadow side of your portrait, just move the reflector in and out. Also great for turning a white background into a perfect 18% grey card. That’s for another day perhaps!

So it’s time to blow ones own trumpet lol.


I won’t bore you with the whys and when’s but this shot was taken at a time when I had VERY limited lighting kit. Basically a single off-camera strobe, an old SB-80 (bought at Harrods in London actually) and a bunch of reflectors. Add to that the fact that this shot was taken out doors in Arizona in Fall, which as any Arizonans will tell, is like other people’s high summer! I hope you like the image, I do. Now I’ll tell how it was done.

First, look for any natural shade. There were trees in this courtyard so that was easy. I just had to position her under the trees and i also found that in certain spots I could get nature to provide a little hair lighting? All good so far. However there were massive shadows under her eyes and this is where my multi-reflector set up came into its own. Fortunately there was no wind however you can deal with that in two ways, firstly get an assistant to hold your reflectors or use sandbags on your light stands.

The setup I got used the strobe on a light stand (I had an adapter) positioned to point into a big 48″ gold/silver reflector. The strobe was on manual of course and set to about 1/2 power. This gave me a wonderful big, soft, gold-tinted light, not a nasty pointy strobe light! Finally I positioned a Lastolite Triflector just out of shot under her chin, wrapping it around the unlit side of her face more than the ‘lit’ side for some fill. Voila!

So today’s one and only top tip is, never feel constrained by a perceived lack of equipment, get your thinking process going and you can achieve great things!! šŸ™‚

I have a few book selections for those who want to explore. Firstly Scott Kelby’s “Professional Portrait Retouching Techniques” and also from Scott, “Light It, Shoot It, Retouch It” (hey Scott, any chance of some kickbacks here for all the times I’m plugging your books lol). Next up is Kevin Ames book “The Art of Photographing Women”. Remember who 90+% of your clients are and who need to be kept happy? šŸ™‚ Finally, “The Luminous Portrait” by Elizabeth Messina which has some great tips and ideas and a very contemporary take on all things portrait including a little on wedding portraiture.

Next week, I’ve finally completed my led lighting project, explanations and pictures!


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