Shooting Head Shots

Shooting on a short time line presents a few challenges, connecting with your subject is key!

Shooting on a short time line presents a few challenges, connecting with your subject is key!

Shooting headshots is awesome especially when your client has an unlimited budget and hours to spend in studio.......and this never happens! Seriously most of your clients that call for headshot appointments think they will be in and out of your studio in 10 minutes and they believe they know exactly what to do to look their best. Both of these assumptions are incorrect 99% of the time. These are challenges you need to overcome as quickly as possible. Take control of your studio and prepare your client for the experience. Have an email set to go out to every booking and guide them through the process, they will thank you later!

I'm not going to get into costs for a headshot but we will go over some of the cost for equipment you'll need.

Building a connection quickly is an absolute necessity.  

Building a connection quickly is an absolute necessity.  

First, lets talk about the where, where will you shoot headshots. Contrary to what you may think  you don't need a huge studio with massive windows. A room as small as 8'x10' could work if you where desperate. I am more concerned with the depth of a space than the width. In order to avoid needing to flag my rear strobes I need about 4' between my subject and the background (usually bright white). This will limit light spill on to my subject, the deeper the better. If conditions could be perfect I'd have as much as 8' between the subject and the backdrop but you can make it work with less.


You set the tone and pace of the session, start off connecting with your client and put them at ease, regardless of how they look when they look the they walk through your door, you tell them they look amazing!

Encourage and compliment your client in every way possible, building their confidence in front of the camera is going to win their trust and make your job easier. When directing clients use a "mirroring" technique instead of telling them what to do, show them with simple visual movements. You need to practice this technique yourself in a mirror. This will cut down on waisted time and put clients at ease.

Ok, now for the fun stuff, equipment! Before I go any further, I'm going to give you my personal opinion. Since I primarily shoot weddings and on locations portraits like engagement and bridal portraits, I must mention redundancy in equipment. Imagine you're on sight for corporate headshots for a group of 25+ people and your one and only camera has a digital stroke! I would  have to find a camera shop that rents equipment and kill at least an hour of shoot time, not to mention the cost. So I would insist that having 2 cameras at all times is an absolute must for a professional photographer.

You do not need to have the best equipment to shoot killer headshots but you do need a few items that are going to make life better for you and your clients.

First let's start with cameras selection, you'll need a Nikon DSLR for sure!.....haha, just kidding, you only need a Nikon if you want the best camera as apposed to say a Canon (just kidding a little). Seriously, you need a camera system that gives you flexibility with lens selection and the ability to adjust your ISO settings to 100 ISO and the ability to connect a wireless transmitter, both Nikon and Canon can get you there.
(I shoot with the Nikon D800's in studio)

Lens Selection
I use a 70-200mm f2.8 most of the time. if I need a more extreme look I can get in close with a 24-70mm f2.8 or my Sigma "Art" 24-105mm f4. these lenses will get most any job done in the portrait and wedding world. If you find you need detail work for small products or wedding rings, take a look at Tamron, they have a killer macro. It is their 90mm AF f2.8macro and it is sweet, bonus it is about 1/3 of the cost of the Nikon or Canon 105mm Macro.
If you have an unlimited budget you can look into the 85mm f1.4G($1200.USD) and the 105mm 1.4 ED($2100.USD)

Get a tripod! Make an investment into your sanity and peace of mind, ignore anything made of plastic! Learn to work with a tripod when shooting headshots, you can thank me later.
The list of Brands and designs is endless and depends on personal preference to some degree. Visit your local camera shop and see what feels good and is easy to work with. (I use an Oben AC 1351, I love it, it works for me!)

Strobes - Flash units - Lighting
You have 2 choices here, you can buy a traditional Strobe, where the light "flashes" or a Continuous Lighting source.
The least expensive option is a strobe flash, you can pick up a china version of any top brand on Amazon for around $60 a strobe or a "kit" for under $200. (I personally use 2 Alien Bees B800's for the front and 2 Lightstudio Strobes for the rear.)

Continuous Lighting is a bit more expensive, however if you get a kit with florescent lights you can still get a great deal under $200.
LED panels are more expensive but in my opinion they are far superior to Florescent lights.
The "kits" I mention are great for starting out and figuring out what works for you but you should not think these are going to last forever and perform like high end equipment.

You need to control your light source. The larger and closer your light is to your subject, the "softer" the light will be. Think about how and where you'll use your strobes and decide on a size and shape of your modifiers. I like at least a 3'x3' for close quarters but I prefer a 4'x5' rectangle then I can spread out

Wireless Triggers
"Apature" make an affordable option for triggering your strobes from your camera wirelessly.
When you're ready to get serious with your photography, pick up a couple of Pocket Wizards and your set for life. I use the base version of Pocket Wizards ($89),
The "Pocket Wizard Plus X"

A simple portable backdrop has served my needs for years now. I use "Savage" 4' and 6' rolls of colored paper. Be sure to get a backdrop support that can extend to 10' in height. If you have the luxury of a dedicated studio space you'll want to look at a wall mounted roll organizer system.
it terms of paper selection, keep it simple, start with bright white and warm grey. This will cover you for everything from pure white to solid black.

This one suggestions will make your life so much easier when shooting any portraits in studio. You'll shoot with more confidence and improve your connection to your clients by giving instant previews.
Shoot tethered to your computer. Connect your camera and computer and your ability to see your images and details will be improved 200%. You need either Lightroom or Capture One Pro and a USB to Camera Cable ($40, see tethertools). You can trial either software for free and see for yourself!

I always shoot tethered in studio!

For more tips and info about headshots or wedding portraits, you can reach me directly at or call me at 919-830-8395

To book your Headshots, Bridal Portraits or Engagement sessions or to Book your wedding and  set up a consultation for your wedding photography, please call direct- 919-830-8395

Have a great day!

Stephen Alexander
Stephen Alexander Photography

**update, now visit my new website dedicated to your headshot and corporate needs at