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How to Set Up Basic but Effective Headshot Lighting

Lighting for portraiture doesn't need to be complicated or involved an arsenal of lights. If you know how to use just one key light effectively and how to control it, you can create excellent, corporate headshots for your friends and for clients.

One of the best decisions I ever made in photography was to learn how to light different portraits. That is, learn how to light the most common portraits (headshots for actors, headshots for corporate, and so on) and then practice them. It didn't take many portraits before I had enquiries for money, typically from actors, presenters, or aspiring TV folk. From here, I had a few corporate enquires from individuals, then companies, and now I have staple clients I see multiple times per year.

While my editorial work for magazines and advertising tends to be more complicated on the lighting front, many of my corporate portraits and headshots are created using a single light setup. This is for a few reasons: firstly, most clients, when shown different headshots styles, opt for simpler lighting. I'm never certain why this is — perhaps it's what they have seen other companies do — but it's common, with only a few companies wanting to try something a bit different (rim lights etc.). Secondly, the function of headshots is often largely for identifying purposes internally, and so simple, clean lighting is all that's needed.

In this video, watch a demonstration of a basic corporate lighting headshot shoot, with a single light and the use of one reflector. The results are exactly what many companies will want and if you can master it, there will be clients out there for you. If you're looking to master headshots, I would recommend our tutorial with Peter Hurley.

Robert K Baggs's picture

Robert K Baggs is a professional portrait and commercial photographer, educator, and consultant from England. Robert has a First-Class degree in Philosophy and a Master's by Research. In 2015 Robert's work on plagiarism in photography was published as part of several universities' photography degree syllabuses.

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That is called Rembrandt lighting which gives this shadow of the nose in form of a triangle. He said that the Golden Hour has a sun height of about 35 degrees. But that is not true. That would be around 3 hours after sunrise or before sunset (as of today). The sun height one hour after sun rise is less than 20 degrees. And after all, a V-flat is technically not really a single light setup.