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Create Professional Headshots with Only Two Lights

If the idea of creating multi-light portraits makes you feel the least bit intimidated, this tutorial is for you. Music photographer PJ Pantelis delivers a clear and detailed lesson on how to create professional headshots using just two lights and a reflector.

Pantelis walks you through the basic three-point portrait with key, rim, and fill lights. He begins by drawing out the lighting diagram on paper to demonstrate placement of the three elements that light the subject. He then reviews the gear he uses to create his headshots, and shows how a portrait looks when it is lit with no flashes firing (ambient light only), or with the key light or rim light individually. Finally, he combines the key and rim light, and shows how a silver reflector can fill in the shadows from the key light to create a look popular for glamour portraits.

The ability to create professional headshots is a critical skill for almost any portrait photographer. Even if you typically photograph with available light, understanding the patterns created by light falling on the face from different directions is a great way to improve your portrait photography skills. One thing I particularly liked about this video is that Pantelis himself modeled for the portraits that he took, so you can try this type of setup even if you don’t have a helper around. It will likely be the best selfie that you’ll ever take.

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Chris Ingram's picture

Solid, and easy to reproduce lighting setup. And while a technically well-executed setup will get a decent headshot, being able to direct your subject and put them at ease in front of the camera, to get their personality to shine, is far more important in my opinion. This sort of setup is "paint by numbers", but the connection with the subject is what will set your images apart from the rest.

Anders Madsen's picture

Wasn't it Peter Hurley who once stated that headshot photography is 10% technique and 90% psychology?

Jared Wolfe's picture

That silver reflector is too strong. White reflector would have been much more subtle. Still, good principles.

Antonio Carrasco's picture

Nice technique but more light in the eyes and bigger catchlights would be ideal

Susan Kemple's picture

This is a great video for someone who is very new to this. I have used natural light for the past few years, but I am trying to expand my skills. Thanks.

Tony Taafe's picture

Completely agree that it's all about expression. Solid lighting is important too, though. And Peter is on the button with those numbers. I'm thinking that he's keeping it to the point and solely demonstrating lighting in this video, expression is a different story altogether. My headshot lighting is heavIly influenced by Peter, and isn't a million miles away (at least the men's lighting) from what he's doing here. Take a look

Duane Furlong's picture

Very interesting lighing setup, I do my mens lighting with 3 lights, but same concept, key, kicker and the fill light. I follow Peter Hurley's system but this is so nice for photographers starting and can't afford the flex kit. If you would like to see how I setup my work and how the work is similar go to