Mastering Headshot Photography With the Canon EOS R5 and RF 100mm Lens

Mastering Headshot Photography With the Canon EOS R5 and RF 100mm Lens

Want to get great commercial, headshot photos using the Canon R5 and the Canon RF 100mm f/2.8 L Macro IS USM lens? The following advice will help you produce the best professional headshots and show you how to interact with your clients for stunning, natural results.

In the realm of portrait photography, headshots are a subgenre all their own. I went to learn headshots as an addition to my wedding photography with Peter Hurley in New York. Ideally, you want to capture the subject's personality and unique features in a single frame. A key element to achieving stunning headshot photos is the equipment you use. Here's how I create my captivating headshots using the Canon R5 camera paired with my Canon RF 100mm f/2.8 L Macro IS USM lens.

The Canon R5 and 100mm Lens: A Perfect Combination

I've had the Canon R5 for over two years now, and it's a great choice for portraits and headshots, partly due to the resolution size, tethering directly into Lightroom or Capture One, exceptional image quality, and ease of use. When paired with my 100mm macro lens, the combination of the two becomes a powerful tool for headshot photography.

Understanding the 100mm RF Lens

Before delving into the intricacies of headshot photography, let's first explore why the 100mm is an excellent choice for this type of portrait. Designed specifically for Canon's full frame mirrorless cameras, the RF version lens boasts a wide aperture of f/2.8, allowing for beautiful background blur (bokeh) while also being impressively pin-sharp.

The 100mm focal length is ideal for headshots (Peter Hurley actually told me the best focal length is 92mm!) but Canon doesn't make a 92mm lens, ironically, providing great compression while also keeping you close enough to your subject to interact with them.

Mastering the Shot

Creating compelling headshots goes beyond pressing buttons and setting dials. It involves understanding composition techniques and interacting with the client on their level to elicit the facial responses and expressions you want for different looks. For example, a great headshot session should feature funny, intriguing, candid moments, quizzical looks, and straightforward plain professional headshots that could be used on LinkedIn. Ideally, you need multiple changes of clothing for different social situations. I'd recommend using a tripod to keep your height consistent, with my recommendation being the Manfrotto MT055CXPro4.

The R5's high-resolution sensor allows for cropping in your editing software without compromising image quality, giving you the flexibility to experiment with composition during shooting. Don’t be afraid to include a little more around the edge of the frame than you would generally need. You can then crop in afterward. The articulating touchscreen on the R5 allows you to see the settings and compose your shot without, in some cases, having to stoop.

When framing a headshot, I tend to use the rule of thirds. Positioning the eyes along the upper horizontal line draws attention to the most expressive part of the face. Don't be afraid of cutting into the hairline if the hair isn't a feature or if the person has a shaved or bald head. Leaving space to the right or left allows space for copy text if the subject of the photo is going into a magazine article or editorial newspaper. I frequently do this when shooting player cards for the Olympic swimming teams and the Commonwealth Games athletes.

Utilizing Autofocus for Precision

The Canon R5's autofocus system is a game-changer for headshot photography, and it rarely misses the mark. Gone are the days when, if you wanted to shoot at 2.8 or below to get the bokeh, you missed the shot and got eyelashes that were out of focus.

Taking advantage of the eye-tracking autofocus feature, which locks onto the subject's eyes for precise focusing, is key. This is particularly crucial in headshot photography, where the eyes are the focal point and convey the majority of the subject's emotion. The Canon R5's advanced autofocus system ensures that you can consistently achieve tack-sharp focus on the eyes, resulting in compelling and engaging headshots with emotion.

Lighting the Subject

Lighting plays a pivotal role in headshot photography, and the Canon R5's impressive dynamic range coupled with the 100mm lens allows for stunning results in various lighting conditions. However, I choose to use Canon's EL-1 speedlight, 2 Canon 600EX-RT speedlights, and 3 of the MagMod MagBox Pro 36" Strip softboxes in a triangular configuration creating that great catchlight in the eyes. I know Peter Hurley uses the Flex kit, but for me, having a kit that is multi-purpose such as the Speedlites means I can use them for weddings, events, and headshots. Plus, I know my equipment well enough to be able to set it up and know what settings work well enough now to get the shot every time. Spending more money on additional kit to carry around isn't cost-effective for me, and it's a lot more kit to drag around.

Post-Processing and Fine-Tuning

Normally, my process is to send all the unedited images to the client, get them to choose the ones they like, and then they just pay for those images rather than me editing everything only to find they only want three or four images out of all the images in a session.

Post-processing is the final step in bringing your client's vision to life. I tend to do my utmost to get it right in-camera wherever possible, meaning minimal retouching wherever possible, though the client usually has their own ideas about this, and most don't seem to realize that we can see when a portrait has been overly retouched. Think of those horrible Instagram filters that literally blur everything.

I use Adobe Lightroom Classic (the tethering works on most Canon cameras apart from the R6 Mark II—I found this out recently when testing a new firmware build from Canon) or your preferred editing software to fine-tune exposure, color balance, and contrast. Pay special attention to the client's eyes, as they are the focal point of headshots. Enhance the details without overdoing it (nothing worse than artifacts when oversharpening an image), ensuring a natural and authentic portrait of your subject.


For my headshot photography, the Canon R5 and 100mm lens combination stands out as my dynamic duo. I've tried using a 70-200mm and settled on this combination because of the minimal fuss needed to get great shots, allowing me to concentrate on capturing stunning and compelling headshots with character.

Whether you're photographing individuals for professional profiles, capturing actors' headshots, or simply aiming to create timeless portraits, the Canon R5 and 100mm RF lens provide the perfect pairing to be able to blow the client away with great headshots that jump off the page. As you embark on your headshot photography journey, remember that technical proficiency, creative composition, and a deep understanding of your equipment are only the first steps to getting timeless shots.

Peter Morgan's picture

Peter Morgan is a professional photographer, drone pilot, writer and tech enthusiast. He has worked in the tech sector since the age of 16 and has over 30 years experience of working with technology. He also runs his own photographic company and shoots weddings, headshots and commercial projects.

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I don’t do head shots but I have noticed this rule of thirds trend for a long time now. I feel this composition is so recognizable and overly used, I rather go back to the traditional center composition.

absolutely the reason I use it is simply for copy for LinkedIN and Magazines. You have to do what you feel looks right for your brand.

If I were to do headshots, it would NOT be as this article suggests. It really irritates me when tops of heads are lopped off and magnificent heads of hair are not included fully. I also dislike including dead space. Composition!!!

Yeah, shooting portraits in "landscape" mode doesn't work for me. And chopping off heads?

Let me be the first to say i do like horizontal compositions and empty space (doing this for 15 years now and then, but if it's a trend now i might considering NOT using it :) ).
Normally i use 1 dominant light, though for one client i used a similar light setup like yours.
It seems 1:1 left / right (?). The most difficult i find the amount of power of the one under the camera. I had situations that back at the desk i thought i over did that.
Last thing: i don't know if i like the catchlight shapes..

Crazy eyes, and this triangular/rhomboid catchlight trend will never look right, and anyone who says anything about it is instantly accused of "pixel peeping." Robot irises will never be flattering.

You are entitled to your own opinion of course. This is my style and I and my clients seem to like it.

The title should be My Opinion on Headshot with Canon bla bla bla .... why does Fstoppers editor allows a misled topic? Cropped head, triangle catchlight, rule of 3rd, f2.8, are all just personal preference and clients preference. At the end of the day, we do what the clients want.

I know it is personal taste but I am not liking head shots where the head top is missing. It makes me think of boiled eggs with the top removed. but it is popular now i know

landscape mode works better for 3x2 because portrait rotated looks to tall and narrow. so good choise i think, We usually crop portrait mode to a better more stable ratio in the studio.