Headshot photography is a great way to earn money with your camera and, provided you can make yourself stand out from other headshot photographers, can be very lucrative and a nice little earner.
In order to capture the highest quality headshots you need to make sure you have the right photography equipment. You may have read elsewhere than any old photography equipment will do for headshot photography, however in the real word this is not the case. If you want to capture professional headshots you simply must have the appropriate equipment.
Equipment for professional headshots – Camera
Any slr camera (either film or digital) of prosumer grade or above (i.e. anything that isn’t entry level) will capture professional headshots. You can use a micro four thirds camera, crop sensor camera or full frame camera to capture professional headshots and the choice is down to personal preference.
If you need to get a camera specifically for professional headshots I wouldn’t recommend buying a full frame camera because a cheaper crop frame camera will give awesome results. If you happen to have a full frame camera knocking by all means use that however it is worth noting that there are times when a full frame camera can record too much detail and it is sometimes better off using a camera that is not quite so “good”.
When taking portrait photos the key is to flatter the subject and make them look the very best they can be. If you use a camera that records too much detail it is going to show every spot, pimple, blemish and variation in skin tone, which is not a flattering look. Using a crop frame camera for the same image is likely to conceal the imperfections, and the subject will prefer this.
Equipment for professional headshots – lens
The lens is the most important bit of equipment when taking professional headshots. When taking portraits you need a lens that is sharp but not so sharp that it shows every spot, blemish and variation in skin tone. In the real world it is generally better to have a slightly softer lens for professional portraits.
Another factor to consider with a portrait lens is the focal length, and make sure you choose a flattering focal length.
hooting with a lens that is too wide will distort the facial features, and whilst this may make the subject look good it is not going to look realistic, which is not what we want.
The lens I use for professional headshots is the Canon 24-70 f2.8L (for a review click here) and I don’t use anything else. The image quality is awesome and whilst it is sharp it is not too sharp. The f2.8 maximum wide aperture is ideal for blurring out the background (although this is seldom a problem because I use plain backgrounds wherever I can) and it helps keep the shutter speeds high so I can take handheld shots and not have to faff around with a tripod. Taking handheld shots also means I can move around the subject taking images from various angles in order to get the best professional headshots I can.
Equipment for professional headshots – flash light
Lighting is crucial for professional headshots and you will need a flash light or two. In the studio environment a studio strobe is best, however speed lights come a close second. I use speed lights for all my professional headshots and that is because they are smaller than strobes, they are portable and I can take them on location (unlike strobes) and they are cheaper than strobes.
When I am in the studio I set the flash power manually as it allows me to get consistent exposures shot after shot.
When I am on location I tend to use the speed lights in ETTL mode (because I am moving around hence the subject to flash distance is a moving feast) and tweak the output using flash exposure compensation.
The speed lights I use l the Godox Witstro AD360 (for a full review of please click here) off camera and a Godox Ving 860 on camera for a bit of fill. You don’t need elaborate lighting set ups for professional headshots and you don’t need dynamic or creative lighting either. Professional headshots need to be evenly lit and my simple two lighting set up does everything I need it to.
Even though the Godox Witstro AD360 and Ving 860 are made by a Chinese manufacturer they are both well made, tough, durable and more than up to the job. As well as being jam packed full of features (including HSS and ETTL technology) both the Godox Witstro AD360 and Ving 860 are a fraction of the cost off the top branded Canon and Nikon speed lights and are good value for money.
Direct flash can be harsh, which is not flattering and those nasty little hotspots on the final photos don’t look at all professional. I always soften the light and use a shoot through brolly with the Witstro AD360 and a speed light mounted mini soft box on the on-camera flash.
You can of course use a softbox to diffuse the light, and when I first started out I did consider using a softbox. In the end I chose a shoot through brolly because they are small and transportable, I can easily carry multiple sizes, they are readily available and they also cost a fraction of the price of a softbox.
Equipment for professional headshots – Photography Background
When taking professional headshots it is vital to make sure the person is the focal point and nothing else. The easiest way to make sure the subject is the focal point is to use a non-distracting, i.e. plain, background or use a wide aperture to throw the background nicely out of focus.
I find that using wide apertures to blur out the background sometimes isn’t enough to ensure the background doesn’t draw attention from the subject therefore I use a plain photography background for all of my professional headshots.
There are loads of photography backgrounds available however I use plain white paper. Unlike other materials paper doesn’t need ironing, paper is cheap and since the paper is white I can always colour it in the digital darkroom post shoot if I need to. I don’t use any other type of background for my professional headshots and I really can’t see the need to.
Equipment for professional headshots – Photo editing software
I like to get the shot right in camera as far as possible, however every photog could do with a bit of editing, even if it only involves a bit of cropping and sharpening. In my experience all professional headshots need editing and you need some good software to do this.
There are times when you need to clone out spots, pimples or blemishes, or even out the skin tones, or get rid of hotspots, and decent photo editing software is needed to do this.
You don’t need the top end photo editing software, such as the all singing all dancing Photoshop, to do this as there are cheaper alternatives out there. I use Photo Shop Elements 14 for my professional headshots and I highly recommend it.
Capturing professional headshots doesn’t require a lot of equipment and as long as you have got the above you should be fine.
Keen photographer addicted to cameras, lenses and everything photography related. Feel free to follow me in my photography ramblings, and if you have any thoughts, comments, queries or anything else to add I would love to hear from you.