My Simple Approach To Shooting Studio Headshots

As a headshot and portrait photographer, I'm always looking to streamline my process and create consistent results for my clients. With that in mind I want to share with you my "bread and butter," super-simple setup I've been using for the last two years.

The setup described in the video centers around the use of a product made by my friends over at Savage called "Translum." It's a translucent backdrop that can be lit from behind with just a single light to easily create a white background. Prior to finding this product I would end up using at least two lights with modifiers to create the white background look. Since a lot of my headshot work requires me to go to a client's location and setup my "studio," minimizing the amount of gear I had to take was quite welcome. The basics of it is to light the Translum backdrop from behind with a light, center your light overhead in front of your subject, and add fill from beneath if you need it. The closer you position your subject to the background you also get the added benefit of getting a nice edge light effect which can add some additional depth to your image.

Here are some examples of corporate headshots I've done in the past using the same setup.

Studio headshots using Savage Translum

If you end up using this setup I'd love to see your results in the comment section below! 

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18 Comments

Emma Grigoryan's picture

I use very similar lighting when aiming for a bright white background, but instead I use an octabox or a regular softbox , always gives beautiful results

https://fstoppers.com/photo/73625

https://fstoppers.com/photo/71775

Miguel Quiles's picture

These are beautiful! A large softbox is also a great way of achieving these results if you have the funds for it. The nice thing about using Translum is that a roll is only $50 or so.

Emma Grigoryan's picture

sure that's anice idea, I would love to try that, but as I am more of a location shooter and set up mini studios here and there the softbox kind of thing works as a charm, so easy to carry and setup, and for sure you can get a cheap one for similar amount easy. Like the life in the pictures, got to try regular headshots instead of beauty.

Dallas Dahms's picture

Do you not find that having the model stand so close to the bg causes too much wrap, especially causing the hair to get that weird frazzled look on the edges? The last few headshots I have done I have actually stopped lighting the background if I can't get them far away enough from it. What I do instead is use the Lightroom exposure adjustment brush with an auto mask to bring it up to 255. If it's very intricate then I go into Ps and use a soft brush to get those bits white.

Miguel Quiles's picture

I've done some different variations of this setup where I have the subject stand closer to the background, and I rarely find that the wrap is too extreme. It just really depends on what your goal is with the shot. I have seen as you mentioned that it can overexposed the edges of the hair at times, but it's a pretty quick fix in PS.

Tomash Masojc's picture

You just gave me an idea - there are big 5in1 reflectors, inside they are just white and slim material, i think they can be used like that. Will bring my 160x120 and give a try. :)

Miguel Quiles's picture

That sounds great! That's the goal with videos like this. You don't always have to use it exactly how it's described and yet you can still make some awesome images. Best of luck!

Brendan Baker's picture

Very similar setup I use as well. Simple, effective and stunning headshots every time!

Jason Ranalli's picture

This translum stuff has me very interested. Did a quick search and Mark Wallace has an *excellent* review of the product here:

https://youtu.be/yucLhLBtBMc

With large foldable background (1.5x2m, 80 USD) you have one less stand and crossbar to carry... Sure, not convenient for airplanes :)

Miguel Quiles's picture

For airline travel a softbox would likely be a better option, I do agree with you there. As with most things in photography it's nice to have other options too :)

Michael DeStefano's picture

The Translum looks great but Ive been doing this for years with just an old bed sheet. Backdrop, modifier, Sun Shade all while being foldable and lightweight.

Miguel Quiles's picture

A bed sheet can give you a nice look as well. You do however have different levels of diffusion with Translum. The Lightweight version may be difficult to replicate using just a white sheet, but at the end of the day use whatever works! :)

Thanks for this. It's very helpful as I'm struggling to get my headshots to the next level. Which grade of translum did you use? Light, medium or heavy?

Miguel Quiles's picture

Im glad you found it useful! I own all 3 grades as i use them for various situations. I believe for most of my headshots I use medium or heavy. I'd suggest starting out with heavyweight if you are trying this out for the first time.

George Chemas's picture

Great if you have the space to setup. 90% of my location shoots I use an Apollo Orb as my background, the 26" Rapidbox as key with the Rapidbox Strip as fill. The whole kit is super compact and easy for navigating the NYC subways.

philippe bertrand's picture

Awesome clip !! Thank you!!