How many lights do you need to make a great portrait?
This is a bit of a trick question which I raised only because it is something I have been thinking about for a few months now. This is not because I am believe it is a question that actually needs answering. As with most things in life that are subjective the number of lights that you need to make a great portrait is based on the eye of the viewer. However several months ago I was browsing the web sight of a portrait photographer who felt the need to explain that one of the reasons that he was successful as a portrait photographer (and thus charged a fair amount) was because he shot his portraits with five lights.
This assertion has really stuck with me and I have been tempted to write about it for sometime. Why? It isn’t because the photographer in question is a bad photographer (and I am not naming names) because they are quite honestly quite good at their specific niche and have been in business for sometime which I think is very impressive in this day and age.
That said the assertion that five lights makes for a good portrait worth paying for is simply ludicrous and here is some reasons why this has been nagging me…
There are scores and score of amazing portrait photographers who use a single light and just as many who rarely use more than three. There are thousands of amazing photographers who make a living off of just using the light provided by the sun (you will see them advertise themselves as “natural light photographers”).
Your clients don’t care! If you never told them how many lights you used they wouldn’t even take notice.
At the end of the day the number of lights you use to capture a portrait only matter to you as the photographer. Clients won’t pay you more. They don’t care what kind of gear you use (except for in commercial photography when clients might look for photographers with specific types of gear and skills) only what your images look like.
How many lights do I use? I am glad you ask!
I use exactly as many lights as I can squeeze into the space I am working in. Just kidding.
For the the image that kicks of this post used three lights: A strobe in a beauty dish above and directly in front of the subject with a silver reflect below and in front to lessen the shadows, and two strobes in soft boxes in the rare on either side pointed at 45 degrees towards the subjects back to help him pop off of the background (kickers or rim lights). The background is actually a white background but without light directly aimed at it the background falls away to gray.
In the image below I used I used the same beauty dish and reflector setup I used in the first image without the additional strobes in the rear.
These are two very different images but their look has more to do with how I placed the beauty dish and reflector than how many lights I used. Ok, and also how I edited them in Lightroom/Photoshop.
So in closing… don’t hire a photographer because they use more lights than another photographer. Hire a photographer because you like their images.
If you have considered getting a headshot you may have wondered how much it would cost you. Maybe you have gone as far as to do some research into what photographers charge for headshots you have probably seen prices ranging anywhere from a low of $50.00 to over $1000.00. Why the difference? Is this really a case of you get what you pay for?
The short answer is it depends of course.
Photographers who charge the most for headshots are typically those who have the most customers. Their high price is a product of the demand for their services. Theoretically a photographer charging top of the market rates is producing a great product which is why they have a lot of customers. But is that product any better than photographers charging lower rates?
The answer again is it depends.
One of the key considerations is what does the “price” of your headshot actually entail. For example, I currently charge $250.00 for a headshot session. This covers the pre-shoot consultation with the client, up to 60 minutes of photography (gives the client plenty of time to relax and change outfits if needed), post shoot editing, and the delivery of 1 to 5 fully edited and retouched images. Some photographers use a different model for pricing. One common alternative is to charge a sitting fee (the time you are being photographed) plus a fee for each final image. As the client it is important that you understand in advance what your final cost for the session will be.
At the end of the day your choice of photographers to use for your headshot should be based on the following factors:
You like their photographic style
You feel comfortable working with the photographer
And the price you’ll pay for your headshot is within your budget
If you are looking to get a new headshot I hope you will take a look at my portfolio and consider hiring me.
Have you ever hired a professional photographer? How did you choose the photographer?
When you start thinking about hiring a photographer it probably seems like a daunting problem. There are a lot of ways to find photographers today between doing a Google search, Craigslist, or referral services like Bark. You might be surprised by just how many “photographers” there are in your area. You might also be surprised by the price range
So how do you choose?
As a photographer I have only ever hired two photographers but here is what I looked for:
Their portfolio of work – Look through their portfolio. Do you like their images? This seems rather obvious but you need to see more than a handful of images to really know how good the photographer is. You also want to see images that align with the type of work you are hoping that the photographer is going to shoot for you.
Personality – When you have chosen a few photographers who have work that you like communicate with them. Do you like how they communicate? Are they going to make you comfortable when they are photographing you? Feeling comfortable with your photographer is super important to get the most out of portrait sessions. If you aren’t comfortable it will show in your images unless you happen to also be an excellent actor.
Price – Of course price is important. Once you have found a photographer who makes images you like and that you feel comfortable with the question is are they in your price range. I think the truth is that unless you have hired a photographer before you probably don’t really know how much it should cost. I’d like to write something short and insightful about know what the right price is but this is probably a subject for another post.
In the end it boils down to finding a photographer who’s work you like, that you feel comfortable with, and that you can afford. Simple right?
One last thing… please check to make sure your photographer of choice is licensed and insured. Requirements for licensing vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction but if the photographer needs one and doesn’t have it that is a bad sign. Photographers charging customers for sessions should definitely have liability insurance. If you have any questions at all you should ask the photographer about their license and insurance coverage.
I am sure that you have heard the old saying, “It’s not the heat, it’s the humidity.” Never has this been more vividly demonstrated to me as last night at the start of a family portrait shoot. It wasn’t actually all that hot out at 6:45 PM when we scheduled the shoot. The temperature had already dropped into the low 80s which is really mild here in Virginia in the middle of August. The problem was that earlier in the afternoon we had a torrential downpour and my camera had been sitting inside in cool dry air all day.
Long story short it took nearly 15 minutes for my camera and lenses to acclimatize and stop fogging over and I learned a painful lesson. What is that lesson? Always make sure to pay attention to the weather from a gear perspective. When you are under a time constraint to get the shot in you need to make sure that your gear is ready to go on time.
The good news is that we still managed to capture some great images of the family that I hope will end up hanging on their walls for years to come.
Not every headshot has to be on a plain background. In this case I shot my friend Mike on his back deck in front of a pair multi tiered high tech planters. Mike is a serial entrepreneur and start up advisor (The Acceleration Group – http://www.acceleration-group.com/) with a new start up called MiniRoots (https://www.miniroots.com/) that is focused helping people create more productive gardens.
Mike is really excited about sharing his passion for gardening with a wider audience and I wanted this headshot to capture that passion. The image itself was shot in natural light on my Canon 6D with the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM wide open at F2.8. Why wide open? I wanted the focus to be on Mike since this is a headshot. While the planters behind Mike are very cool and I want people to see them I don’t want them to over power the subject of the photograph (Mike).
Sometimes a photographer has to get on the other side of the lens.
This is me. I don’t pose for a lot of photographs willingly.
Last night however I got a new haircut. Because of Covid I have been getting my hair cut at home by my 15 year old daughter and a pair of clippers. Last night she might have gone a little too far… so we had to grab a photo of the outcome.
This particular photo was captured using my Canon 5D MK IV with the Canon 85MM 1.8 and a single Godox MS300 light with a reflector below to fill in some of the shadows. I did post processing in Lightroom and Photoshop.
Shooting headshots can be a lot of fun. Last night my neighbor Erik popped over for a quick session in the front yard (and in mid-summer in Virginia standing outside even after 7 PM can get uncomfortable quickly). The setup I used to capture these images is designed to be portable and easy to reconfigure which means we can quickly move from look to look in a matter of minutes.
In the first shot Erik is standing in front of the black side of a collapsible backdrop. He is lit from above using a single 300w strobe with a reflector below to help create an even and flattering light. The next shot uses exactly the same setup with the backdrop simply reversed to the white side.
In the final shot we used the exact same lighting setup again but removed the backdrop. What you see behind Erik is a glimpse of green grass and gray pavement (we had to change our angle to remove the glinting metal of our neighbor’s car).
Three different looks created by changing backdrops and shot in less than fifteen minutes all in my front yard.
It can be tough to be the child of a photographer. I have 10’s of thousands of pictures of my daughter and still grab her frequently to act as a test subject for new lighting and post processing techniques.
In this image I was working on perfecting my basic headshot lighting setup that allows me to shoot consistently anywhere I need to go. This is a highly portable setup that can use one or two lights, almost any backdrop, and work indoors or outdoors allowing me to shoot clients where they live or work.
In case you are interested in the technical details of this shot:
You might not think you need a headshot but you do. A lot of people don’t like to have their picture taken and I sympathize. I hate having my picture taken (which some people might find ironic considering the fact that I am a photographer) but I made this headshot of myself as part of my efforts to market my photographic business.
My father is another person who isn’t overly fond of having his picture taken but here is his current headshot.
So why do you need a headshot?
People want to know who they are working with whether they are looking to hire you to join their company, take a class from you, or connect with you in some other professional or personal way. Your headshot tells a story about you that your resume or LinkedIn profile can’t. The story it tells depends on the image of course but it can:
Portray your professionalism (be well groomed and wearing a sharp suit) in a way that makes people want to hire or work with you;
Give people a sense of your personality (are you friendly and approachable or serious and aloof?);
Remind people what you look like now vs what you looked like ten years ago when you last got a headshot.
Whatever your reason for getting a new headshot is I can help. Email me today to talk about how we can work together to create your new headshot.
Shooting portraits outside of a studio can be a real challenge. You don’t always get the conditions you want and when people know that you are planning to shoot a portrait there are high expectations (even more so if you are getting paid). In this case I had the opportunity to shoot Helen who at 96 years young is quite simply an amazing woman who I am proud to have in my family.
For this portrait I knew that I would only have a few minutes and limited options in terms of the setting to shoot it in so I spent some time reviewing the options in my head before I ever got to Helen’s house with a goal of optimizing my chance of success. After thinking about it for a bit I realized my best option was to shoot the portrait in Helen’s sun room. If the weather was good (sunny) the room would be full of light and the interior walls would act as large reflectors to help me evenly light my subject. Instead of posing Helen against a backdrop my plan was to shoot her with her back to the outside world and let the outside world wash out to keep the focus on our subject.
This final image was one of only 20 frames I shot. If you are numbers orientated they are: 1/320th sec, f 2.8, ISO 500 shot with my Canon 6D and EF 70-200 f2.8. In Lightroom I did some very light retouching and converted the image to black and white.