How To Shoot Professional Headshots with Natural and Continuous Light

Professional headshot photographer and educator Peter Hurley recently starred in a Back to Basics 22-minute tutorial that covers the natural and continuous lighting he uses during headshot photo sessions.

In the video, Hurley walks viewers through how he lights his headshots using natural or continuous light to achieve consistent results for his clients. He details how to use reflectors to control fill when shooting with natural light, and how to use continuous LED lighting to achieve a similar look and feel. As he sets up and executes each portrait, Hurley talks through every detail on how and why he does every little thing on set, which includes the angles he shoots and how to talk to models to be sure to get the best reactions and looks out of them for each shot. Hurley says if your clients are having fun on set, then their shots will look much better.

“Pointing the camera slightly upwards gives them a powerful and strong presence. I want them to look strong since this image will be their personal brand,” he says.

For the natural light section, Hurley talks about the importance of developing an eye for lighting, especially when dealing with natural light situations since the weather can change your available light at any moment. This means compensating for any changes by adjusting camera settings or adding or removing reflectors for more control.

When using continuous lighting, Hurley discusses how to create two styles of headshots: the first is a little more dramatic and typically how he shoots all of his male clients, and the second setup shows how to recreate the more flat style of lighting achieved in his natural light setup from the beginning of the video.

For his male lighting setup, Hurley uses three LED panels in an uneven setting to provide some shadows, using the key at 30-percent with fill and kick set to 10-percent to 15-percent. For his female clients, Hurley uses a triangular setup with all three lights set to similar power output. This ensures that the shadows are removed providing softer flat lighting.

“I could still photograph men with flat beauty light, but I just like to shape the face and sculpt with the lights,” he explains.

Hurley goes on to show how he builds up his lighting, including the use of strobes, to ensure his backgrounds remain consistently lit while using his LED lights on his subjects. Hurley also shows how using the triangular setup is angled specifically to ensure the light shines in the model’s eyes to get the best looks. Finally, he explains how shooting with continuous lighting frees him up from worrying about clouds and lighting shifts when using natural light, letting him build a better rapport with his subject and leveraging that time to get the best possible shots for them.

Click here to see additional resources from Peter Hurley or to join his Headshot Crew, which is his growing team and community of headshot and portrait photographers from around the world.