Fast Headshots with a Little Panache

Community theater cherishes precious rehearsal time, so when the producer needs headshots and/or publicity images, I know that I have to work as quickly as possible. Fortunately, with practice, my theater shots seem to be getting better and the shoots are going faster. Part of the improvement is better communication: I make sure I know how the pictures will be used. The headshots below, for example, are to appear with actor biographies in the program – they will be tiny. As such, I knew they would need some pop, so I put an SB600 with a Gary Fong Lightsphere directly behind the subject’s head, creating a rim light to separate the actor from the background. For the key light, I put an SB800 with umbrella right behind me, perhaps a foot over my head, pointed down at the actor. If you don’t count time spent waiting for actors to arrive and prepare, I believe it took less than twenty minutes to set up the lights, photograph five actors, pack up the lights, and hit the road.

As you can tell, the key light was slightly to my left.

For a studio headshot session, I would have used a reflector on the floor or on a card table to lighten the shadows under her chin. But I'm pretty sure such subtleties would be lost in a xerographic program.

On another visit, the director asked for a specific image he could Photoshop into a poster. Because he described precisely what he wanted, I was again able to quickly set up the lights and grab the shot.

The director will remove the background and superimpose this actor onto another scene. The only plain background was a black curtain, and the actor wore a dark gray suit. I moved the lights close - an SB800 with umbrella to my left and an SB600 with umbrella to my right. I kept them low and flat to make sure we controlled hat shadows. I also kept them fairly close to the subject so less light would reach the background.

As it turns out, my favorite shot was an accident. My SB600 didn't fire, for reasons unknown. But if anyone asks, I was going for a more dramatic look, okay?

Edit: Reading over this post, I felt I needed to add something: It’s been a while since I referred to this blog’s intended audience of lazy, disorganized, impatient photographers. I fear that my references to multiple flashes, umbrellas and such sends a message that this kind of photography is difficult. Well, that’s a matter of opinion, of course, because when you enjoy the work, it doesn’t seem like work, right? I’m not sure I’d be doing all this off-camera flash stuff if the wireless control was not already built into my D300, SB800, and SB600. But it is built in, and it’s fairly easy to use, especially for those of us who read manuals. Find the easiest way to get your flash off camera and play. It’s not work – it’s FUN!

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Filed under Dance and Theater, Lighting, Portraiture

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