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3 Simple Headshot Lighting Setups

As a professional headshot photographer it’s the simple lighting setups that I use over and over when photographing my clients. This is because basic headshot lighting is not only easy to set up, but it’s also very effective for helping your clients connect with their clients online. 

In this post I’m going to show you a few simple headshot lighting setups so you can learn how to take better headshots for your clients. In this post we’ll cover:

  • Natural Light Setup for Headshots
  • One Light Setup for Headshots
  • 2 Light Setup For Headshots

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Simple Headshot Lighting Setups Using Natural Light

simple headshot lighting setups

Using a window is one of the most simple headshot lighting setups you can use to light your portraits. One of the added benefits of this method is that natural light headshots don’t require you to learn how to use any special gear.

All you need to do for a window light headshot like this is simply position yourself  in front of a window. Next just ask your client to stand in front of you so the window light comes in behind you and illuminates your subject.

This easy headshot lighting set up will produce a flat light pattern on your subjects face which will make it so you don’t have to worry about any unsightly shadows. That said, it’s important to try and position your client as close to the window as possible. This will not only soften the light, but it will also allow it contour your clients face better.

Since you’ll be photographing into the room with this light set up, you’ll probably also need to invest in a seamless background to clean up the space behind your client. 

Simple Headshot Lighting Setup Using One Light

simple headshot lighting setup

One of the simplest lights you can get for headshots is a ring light. These lights are super easy to use because there’s only one way to place them properly which is around your camera lens. From this position ring lights create a flattering, shadow less beauty light when used as a key light.

That said, you can also use ring lights to fill in shadows caused by other lighting techniques. For example, the window to the models left in this example caused some some pretty dark shadows before we added the ring light to the scene. To remedy the dark shadows, I chose to use the ring light as a fill light to lift the shadows. 

Using a ring light in either of these ways offers a couple of simple lighting setups that are easy to use for beginners. The reason ring lights are so easy for beginners to use is because they are the best light for filling in shadows. This can help diminish imperfections like wrinkles, blemishes and rough skin texture on your clients face.

Simple Headshot Lighting Setup Using 2 Lights

One of the most simple 2 light headshot setups you can do is called the key and fill light setup. For this type of lighting you’re basically going to light your subject with a key light and then fill in the shadows on the face with a second fill light. In this example I used a large octobox as the key light and a medium size softbox for the fill light.

For this 2 light headshot setup you’re going to want to make sure and place your key light anywhere between the 12 and 2 o’clock position in relation to your subject. Then you’ll want to raise the key light above them so it shines down on them from roughly a 45 degree angle. So long as you place the key light anywhere within this range you will create a flattering light pattern on your clients face. 

Next you’ll want to add in a second light to fill in the shadows caused by the key light. How much you fill in these shadows is entirely up to you. Generally speaking, the more skin imperfections your client has, the more fill light you’ll want to use. 

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I hope you found these simple headshot lighting setups helpful for better understanding how to light your clients. If you have any questions about anything, please leave a comment below and I’d be happy to help you out. Otherwise, so long as you follow the directions outlined in this post, I have no doubt that you’ll be able to create better quality headshots for your clients so  they can better represent themselves online!

Jason Guy

I am a portrait photographer based out of Sonoma, California. I create portraits for people of all ages with the goal of making images that are timeless. Portraits you will look back on decades from now, and still love them just as much then as you do today. While flattering lighting and pose are important, capturing how others see you is what I ultimately strive for.

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