Choosing a Lighthing Kit for Headshots

Choosing a lighting kit for headshots is a great first step in building the foundation of your photography lighting arsenal. It is important that you buy quality equipment because these lights will become your workhorse. You want them to last for years. The steps below will help you choose your lighting kit.

Step 1: Understanding What Head Shots Are

Headshots are calling cards for actors and models. Generally a casting director will call a talent agency and request the headshots of people that look a certain way. They then go through hundreds of headshots to pick out the few people who look right for the part. While the most important factor in having a great headshot is the subject, there are still other things that you as the photographer can do to make them look great. That's the lighting. You'll want the lighting to look simple and flattering so that the best features of your subject will be brought out.

Step 2: Understanding Lighting Strategies

There are two strategies that involve three to four small lights and a bounce card. These are your key, fill, back and background Lights.

The first strategy is called Rembrandt Cheek-Patch Lighting. Its style comes from the portrait paintings of Rembrandt. You first place the subject a few feet from the solid color background (usually a wall). The first light you set is the key. You place that about 45 degrees to one side of the subject, and then raise it on a stand so it is beaming down at an angle of 45 degrees. This should make one of their cheeks look bright. You can then use the bounce card on the other side of the subject's face to tone down the shadows. Or if that doesn't give enough kick, use another light. You do not want to eliminate all of the shadows since you want to leave a little contrast to create depth. You then place another light out of frame and shine that on their back to give some high light to their shoulders and hair. Finally, the last light you set will be on the background to make everything look evenly exposed.

The second strategy is a more flat look that might be more appropriate for the subject. This involves placing the key light above the camera so the face looks even and free of shadow. Place the bounce card under the camera lens to fill in the rest of the face with light. You then follow the rest of the other set up with the back light and background light.

Step 3: Picking the Equipment

An ideal lighting kit for head shots will include: four lights (none larger than 1,000 watts), four stands, one bounce card (bead board is the best, but the white side of foam core works well too and can be bought at almost any art supply or drug store), extension cords, and bounce card holder. Now go out and shoot some great headshots!

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