Setting up On-Location Headshots

Question of the Week: “Your light test dummy photos always blow me away. Do you have a behind the scenes photo of your light placement for head shots?”

This morning I was on location photographing headshots for a company based out of Maryland called Mercury. Mercury is a fleet consulting and services firm dedicated to providing independent, unbiased technical assistance and advice to public and private organizations. Key executives from the company were in Charleston for meetings this week. So they had me come out and setup to photograph updated head-shots of everyone.

Like the query above from my friend Kathy, I often get asked about the setups I use. Each one is tailored to the requests and desires of the client. I go over the options with my contact to come up with the “look” they are going for. Then I bring the appropriate backgrounds, lights, and modifiers to create that look for them.

In this case, I’ve got 3 Nikon SB-800 flashes set as Group A firing in a 50″ Westcott Apollo Softbox as my main light source. It’s positioned to give me what’s called a Loop Lighting pattern. I’ve got 2 SB-800 flashes set as Group B firing into a 60″ Westcott shoot-through umbrella as my fill light. I’ve got a single SB-800 flash set as Group C behind the subject. It’s pointed at the background, shooting through what’s called a Grid to keep the light source tight and to keep the light pattern circular as it creates a halo behind the subject. Finally, I’ve got a single SB-5000 flash as Group D on a stand high above the background pointed back at the subjects head to create a slight Rim Light or Hair Light. Notice that the subject will be standing about 5 or 6 feet in front of the background to prevent too much of the main light from spilling onto the background.

I’m shooting with a Nikon D5 and a Nikkor 70-200 f2.8. It’s probably zoomed to around 135mm. Mounted on the camera is an SB-5000 flash used as the Master. The Master flash lets the others know when to fire, and at what power.  It imparts no light onto the scene. I’m using Radio Poppers as a wireless radio communication method between the Master flash and all the SB-800 flashes in this Creative Lighting System (CLS). I’m using Nikon’s new WR-R10 transmitter for radio communication between the D5 and the SB-5000 flashes.  Nikon calls this their new Advanced Wireless Lighting (AWL) system. Group A and B are set at 1/16th power. But note that because I’ve ganged up more flashes in the softbox and because it’s positioned closer to the subject, it’s giving twice as much light to the scene than Group B. Group C is set to 1/128th power. And Group D is set to 1/256th power.

During the shoot, my D5 is tethered to my laptop, running Adobe Lightroom CC Classic. I use the laptop as a trigger to shoot test-shots of myself, which I affectionately call my Light Test Dummy photos. Paying attention to the quality and quantity of light, I tweak the settings and placement of each component in the setup.  Once I’ve fine-tuned everything on myself, I’m ready for the first client. After each client’s set, I walk them through their images to make sure they are happy with them, and help them pick out the best image for their new company head-shot.  They LOVE the instant gratification of seeing the images right away!

The beauty of utilizing wireless Speedlights as apposed to Studio Strobes is their versatility. I can gang multiple flashes into one light source to allow me to shoot at lower power levels, which let me shoot fast and not have to worry about recycle time. Or I can break them up into a larger number of Groups. They are compact and easy to carry. But the best part is, I don’t have to look for outlets or worry about people tripping on any power chords! 🙂

I hope this helps! If your company is ready for some updated head-shots, give us a call. We’d love to work with you!!!

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