Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Quick & Easy Head Shots

Many businesses that have web sites include a page or pages featuring head shots of its employees. One type of business that almost always uses head shots of its employees on its web site is a law firm. Google any law firm that is of any size and you will find a link for a comprehensive list of its attorneys. Each attorney will have a link for his or her own page that includes their educational and professional experience along with ... a head shot.

Since law firms want to present their attorneys in the most flattering manner possible, they usually have the head shots done professionally. That's where you, the wily professional photographer, comes in. You can do a quick and easy head shot session on site if you set yourself up with a minimum of gear and use some basic lighting techniques. From there, very profitable photography gigs can follow as you develop a reputation for being a capable web site head shot photographer.

I just finished doing one of these head shot gigs last week for a law firm that is revamping its web site. It's a small firm so the shoot involved seven attorneys and the firm's office manager (one of the attorneys was out of town and will come into the studio for her head shot in the near future to finish up the job). From the time I left my studio until I returned, which included an hour driving to and from the firm's offices, less than three hours elapsed. Afterwards, I spent approximately an hour downloading the images, selecting the best one of each person, and running them through Photoshop. Including the time it will take to shoot the last attorney, I will have devoted a little over four hours for the entire job. Oh, and I received a nice check for my effort before I left the firm's offices the day of the shoot, paid in full for the job.

The image above depicts the gear I took with me. The two aluminum cases on the left contained three Photogenic 600W/second monolights that I picked up on eBay a while back for a total of less than $200 (with cases). I could have opted to go with speedlights but since I have the monolights packed up for things just like this I went with the monolights. I only used two on this job but took a third as a spare. The smaller aluminum case also contained power cords, extension cords, a spare bulb for the moonlights, a flash meter, and three pocket wizards to trigger the lights. With a two light setup, two pocket wizards suffice (one on the camera and one on the key light - the other monolight will fire via its slave sensor), but I always assume something might not work right so I packed an extra pocket wizard, monolight and an extra bulb.

The camera bag on top of the small aluminum case contained two camera bodies (again, redundancy in case of a failure), a 70-200mm f2.8 lens (my go-to portrait lens), an 18-200mm f3.5-5.6 lens (another great portrait lens, a spare just in case), and an 85mm f1.8 lens (another sharp portrait lens, just in case). I took a stool on which the subjects could sit since I was fairly confident the law office would not have one for me to use. The black bag on the left contained a portable backdrop stand and a roll of 53" wide grey seamless paper. The black bag on the right contained three light stands, two to use and the third as a backup. Last but not least, I packed two softboxes, a 9"X36" gridded strip box to use as my fill light and a 2'X3' box to use as my key light. For head shots, you don't need anything bigger as these boxes are more than enough to light head shots. 

I'll digress for a moment to elaborate on the speed light option. Several companies make brackets designed to attach a typical strobe to a soft box (as shown above). These lights can be triggered with pocket wizards or infrared triggers. Using speedlights is certainly a less expensive way to adequately light head shots and if you don't have access to monolights and have speedlights, by all means use them. Another option is to simply use one light (monolight or speedlight) for the key light and a reflector for fill. It's simpler and less equipment intensive but I prefer to use a two light setup when possible with monolights. If electrical power is not available (as in shooting in a remote location), Plan B is my speedlights.

Once I arrived at the law firm, it took less than a half hour to set up in the lobby. This was the location that provided plenty of room for not only the lighting setup but for me to use my 70-200mm lens at a 135mm to 150mm focal length which I find to be a good portrait focal length. I could have set up in the firm's large conference room (behind the backdrop) but it would have required moving the large conference room table to one side. Since the lobby was available that's where I set up.

The large softbox (left) was my key light and the strip box was the fill. Using a pocket wizard, my flash meter, and myself as a guinea pig sitting on the stool, I adjusted the power of the key light to f11 at 1/125th second, ISO 200. The power of the strip light (right) was adjusted to f8 so as to give me a slight shadow on the fill side but nothing dramatic. The lights were positioned approximately three feet from the subjects to create a soft, flattering light (Lighting 101 - the further lights are positioned from a subject, the harsher the light becomes).

I've posted some examples of the images from the shoot. For each person, I took several shots like those on the left side, i.e. from the head to just below the hands. I asked each person to sit up straight at a 45 degree angle to me and then turn their head to face me. Some of the shots were with full smiles, some with no smile, and some with something in between. After I downloaded the card, I chose the image I thought was most flattering for each individual and ran them through Photoshop and OnOne Software's Perfect Portrait and Perfect Effects. After opening the RAW files in Photoshop CC, I used the Camera Raw filter in to adjust exposure, highlights, whites, shadows, and blacks, adding a bit of contrast, clarity and vibrance. The Spot Healing tool, Patch tool, and clone tool were used to eliminate blemishes and shine. I only used Perfect Portrait to brighten the men's eyes and judiciously whiten the teeth. With the females, I used some of the skin smoothing/wrinkle softening features but very modestly. Finally, I used the Portrait Sharpen feature in Perfect Effects as the final step and then cropped the images into the final head and shoulders head shots (images on the right).

There you have it - quick, easy, simple head shots on site. This kind of photography is not going to tap into your creativity or generate "wow" images that will dazzle your friends but it can be a steady source of income that pays the bills. That's always a good thing.

1 comment:

Donald Bromberg said...

Thanks Mike. Very informative, and extremely helpful.