Pretty much anyone who has a public face needs a professional looking headshot. While putting together a lighting setup for a professional headshot is relatively simple, like most things in photography, there are several ways to skin the cat. If the light is going to be created mainly using flashes, having two or more flashes is usually a good starting point. While having more than two flashes will provide more latitude in creating interesting light, even a basic two light setup can yield nice results.

Below is a quick and dirty walkthrough of my lighting setup for the headshot session that I did on the Tempe campus of University of Phoenix using just two lights.

Lighting Setup

I used a simple two light set up for this shoot. My key light was set up camera left at 45 degree angle and the fill light was set at 45 degree angle on camera right.

Lighting Setup - shot with an iPhone 4S

Lighting Setup - shot with an iPhone 4S

I had the key light angled down on my subject at 30 degree angle while the fill light was pointed slightly upwards to fill in the harsh shadows around the neck region. I used a silver reflector at 135 degree to the camera left to utilize some of the natural light coming in from the windows to the right side of this setup. Since this lighting setup was put together in a classroom, I also had the option to utilize the white projector screen at 90 degrees to my camera left. Both the silver reflector and the projector screen bounced just enough light to wrap around the subject from the camera left. 

I used a Canon 580EX II speedlite for my key light and a 430EX II for the fill. The key light was connected to my camera using an extra-long E-TTL cable (from OCF gear, very recommended). Since both of my strobes were Canon speedlites, I could fire them wirelessly using Canon's built in wireless communication system. The master speedlite (key light) was zoomed out to 24mm to widen the horizontal spread so as to maximize the slave's (fill light) ability to see it. I fired both the strobes through white shoot-through umbrellas to produce diffused soft light on the subject. I fired both the strobes in manual mode with the key light about a stop brighter than the fill. 

In summary, below is a list of all the gear that went into creating my lighting setup:

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Sample Results

Below are some of the images from the shoot. Without claiming that these are the absolute best headshots possible, it is reasonable to conclude that my two-light setup created even, nicely diffused light on my subjects.


Other Considerations

  • If I had a third speedlite, I would have used it in place of the silver reflector to create some nice hairlight or even rimlight
  • If I had a fourth speedlite, I would have used it to light the background
  • The distance between the background and subject was about 4-5 feet; maintaining this distance helped to throw some of the creases on the muslin background out of focus
  • Some photographers choose to create more contrast on one of the side of subject's face by increasing the stop differential between key and fill lights. While more contrast across the lighting on the face is not necessarily a bad thing, I believe, thats when you start turning your headshot into a portrait - two completely different types of photographs serving different purposes

If you are planning for an on-location professional headshot session, please feel free to get in touch. If I can help you out with any questions on my lighting setup, please send me an email