Some Quick Headshots

One light above and to the left. Another light right behind her, separating the subject from the background. A couple of test exposures and I was good to go for seven actors, more or less.

Later this month, the Elite Theatre Company of Oxnard, California, opens a play called American Right. Today (Saturday the 10th of April, 2010), I went over there to shoot some lobby headshots. I also tried to get some publicity images during rehearsal, which will be the subject of another post.

Portraits got a lot easier after I started reading on a regular basis.  Today I used an SB800 and a shoot-through umbrella as my main light, above and left of the subjects.  I placed an SB600 with a Gary Fong Lightsphere behind the actors, to light the background and throw a little bit of rim-light.

The director alluded to this woman's character as "angelic," so I actually turned the background light into a rimlight by pointing it away from the wall and toward the back of her head. I misaimed, however, and the rimlight effect was too extreme near her shoulders. Hence the tight crop.

In past sessions, I used through-the-lens (TTL) metering with flash value lock, but today I decided to go manual, and I now understand why David Hobby over at Strobist recommends this.  Using the camera preview screen, it was easy to adjust the lights to levels that worked for me (1/10 on both of them, as it turned out). Once set, the light stayed consistent for each model, until I faced the blonde woman in the white blouse followed by the brunette in the black top. Adjustments were quick and easy because the Nikon D300 controls the external flashes from its own menu.

I still face two big problems with actor headshots. I cannot always get the eyes sharp, and I haven’t figured out why.  I suspect that I have a bad habit of leaning slightly as I squeeze the shutter release. On the other hand, it might be an autofocus limitation, because it seems that I get sharper results with light colored eyes than with darker eyes.

I'm more comfortable photographing men because I don't even think about retouching unless there's a shaving cut or something. Otherwise, I'm quite happy to side light our wrinkles and scars and other external evidence of character. I could have used a third light or a reflector to fill in the shadows on the right, but I wanted a more dramatic look to these images.

The second problem: I usually don’t retouch the photos. One of the images posted here HAS been retouched, but I thought to do so after I ordered the prints, so once again, a local actress is going to hate me. The thing is, I don’t want to retouch photos.  I think of myself as an amateur journalist, not a portrait artist or a glamour photographer, and once I start retouching, I frankly cannot figure out how to stop. Yet I also have not yet figured out how to light everyone in a flattering way.

It’s a conundrum, to be sure. What are your thoughts on retouching portraits?

I suppose that in Photoshop I could have removed the stray hair from her forehead, but in Aperture I just couldn't make it look natural, so I let it be. What I'd really like to develop is the presence of mind to say at the time of shooting, "Let me just move this hair..."


Filed under Camera Settings, Dance and Theater, Lighting, Post Processing, Professional vs. Amateur

2 responses to “Some Quick Headshots

  1. myrna

    thanks for including at least one person with wrinkles in your series


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s