How To Create The Most Flattering Headshots
I would say the primary request that I get as a Dallas headshot photographer is to make the photos look as flattering as possible. Not entirely unexpected you say? I would have to agree. Now there are several ways to achieve a great looking and flattering headshot, but the one I want to focus on today is the lighting. Particularly soft lighting.
For me, the light is the number one priority for any headshot photographer. If the light is not right, the posing, clothing choice, makeup, etc. doesn’t matter, because it won’t show up properly.
So if that’s the case, what makes the softest light for photos?
I am very opinionated in this area, and am more than happy to tell you, but first I want to give you an illustration that has been very helpful to me, and gives some insight into how a headshot photographer in Dallas should approach their lighting selection.
There is a saying in photography: the larger the light source, the softer the light. This is totally true, so finding the largest source of light you can is key.
Think of it this way: the next time you are outside melting in that lovely Dallas, Texas sun, take a moment to check out the shadows that are cast by people, objects or buildings. They are very hard shadows right? Well, the sun is a huge star, but it’s so far away that it appears as pretty small in the sky. Therefore it’s a small source of light that puts very hard light out that is high in contrast and low in smoothness.
But, if you go and take that sun and put it behind some clouds, watch those same shadows disappear. In fact, the clouds are moving outside my office window, so I can watch the change from hard shadows to no shadows as I’m typing. If you take this to the extreme, go outside on an overcast day, where the entire sky is encased in clouds. The light is super soft and smooth, and you will be hard pressed to see shadows.
That harsh light of the sun is diffused and spread out across the entire cloudbank, so it becomes a very large light source, and true to the saying, will in fact produce soft light.
Take that image that you now have in your mind, and let’s apply it to the artificial light made by headshot photographers strobes or flashes. If you look at a flash up close, the head is pretty small where the light comes from, so as you would expect, the light created has more shadows. However, if you can put something in front of it, or shoot it into something that is much bigger for the light to bounce off of, you can start creating that softer light. There are tools, known as modifiers that change the quality of the light to achieve these different effects.
The most common modifier would be an umbrella, which softens the light by bouncing the hard light into the white, silver or gold surface of the umbrella. Since it’s a larger light source, the light comes back softer.
However, my absolute favorite modifier to use as a headshot photographer, especially since I do the majority of my work on location for clients, has to be the trusty softbox.
These babies are remarkably versatile, and come in all shapes and sizes. I have two that are my personal favorites, as they produce amazingly soft light. The one I regularly use is a 3-foot by 4-foot rectangular softbox, which is very portable and fits into some pretty tight spaces but still has a large enough surface to produce really soft light. It works exactly like clouds with the sun, as the hard light has to pass through layers of diffusion material until it becomes magically flattering.
My absolute favorite is el grande, the octabox. It’s a softbox, but is in the shape of an octagon, and starts at 5 feet tall. I can also add an extension to make it 7 feet tall, but as you would imagine, I need to have a lot of room to maneuver it since it basically is the size of a small cloudbank. I will use this one whenever I can, as the light is so soft and smooth.
Hopefully that helps in understanding what makes the softest light for headshots, and as always, enjoy!