Considerations When Using Headshot Photography Lighting

Considerations When Using Headshot Photography Lighting

As we continue our journey through all of the different styles in portrait photography, let’s look at something that is probably one of the most important things when it comes to professional quality portraits- lighting!

Lighting is very closely related to what style of photograph you want to take. For example, if your goal is candid, natural-looking photographs with soft light, then using white balance settings such as tungsten or cloudy will help achieve this. If you want more direct photos with warmer colors, use color temperature settings such as flashes or sunlight!

When working with lights, people often miss two main components: power and intensity. Power refers to how much energy the light has (higher power = brighter light), while intensity is just how strong the light is (stronger = higher exposure).


Lighting techniques

When it comes to professional headshot photography, lighting is one of the most important things you will need! Many different types of lights can be used for this.

Flash is typically not allowed in professional settings as it is known to “burn” or overexpose some photos. This changes how your photo looks and sometimes removes any detail from the image.

Regular household lamps work very well when photographing people. A common choice is using an overhead lamp with a reflector to light up the subject more evenly.

A small battery-powered studio strobe is another great way to do headshots. These require additional batteries, which must be replaced frequently, but they produce nice results.

Imaging software such as Photoshop allows you to add various textures and patterns to the skin of the person being photographed. These textures are usually selected and applied by the photographer.

To achieve the best possible result, use a powder-free area around the face to apply these textures.

Color of light

headshot photography lighting

When it comes to headshot lighting, the color of light is one of the most important things you will use to create your image. The color of light can be determined by several factors, including window, sunbeam, natural shade, or even direct sunlight.

Windows are usually the first thing people think about when creating their headshots. Creating an interesting photograph through a window typically involves having something blocking part of the window so that only parts of the person’s face are shown.

Doing this creates more space for other decorations or additional touches in the frame. It also gives the picture more depth as the skin tone, and facial features come from both faces, making it look more realistic.

Sunbeams are another very common source of lighting used in portrait photography. Because they are coming directly from the Sun, there is no need to add any bulbs or sources of illumination.

This makes it much easier to take pictures during times of the day when Sunlight is at its strongest. Using only the beam of light, the rest of the settings can be left alone unless needed.

Natural shades are another way to gain soft, ambient light in your photo. If possible, try taking photos outside or in areas with many plants to achieve this.

Direct sunlight is always a good choice for lighting because it is almost always present and does not require anything else to work.

The direction of light

headshot photography lighting

A headshot is usually lit by one main natural light source, with some additional sources such as window lights or desk lamps.

When lighting for a headshot, the photographer typically uses direct light (light that comes directly from the sun) or indirect light (lamps or other sources). Direct sunlight is powerful and can easily over-light someone, making their face look bright and/or overexposed. This will not set well in most cases! Indirect light is more versatile as it does not require special precautions.

Indirect lights often use flashes or regular bulbs next to a lamp or other source of light. These flashes sometimes are used in a pulsing pattern which helps create a more natural-looking image. Your photographer may also experiment with shades of indirect light to see what looks best for your subject.

Position of light

headshot photography lighting

As we have discussed, one of the most important things for headshot photography is the position of the light. This article will go into more detail about this.

When lighting for portrait photography, there are two main positions of light that you can use – direct light or indirect light. Direct light comes from directly above or below the subject, while indirect light is typically produced by having something (such as a wall) between the source of light and the person being photographed.

Indirect lights, sometimes called ‘fill’ lights, are usually white or very close to white, which helps bring out the colors in the skin of the person being photographed. This is particularly helpful when photographing people with a dark or lighter complexion.

Direct lights are usually a brighter light source, often giving better overall pictures. When shooting with a direct light, you should make sure it does not overexpose your photograph.

Studio lighting

headshot photography lighting

When we discuss headshot photography, there are two main types of light sources: studio lights and natural sunlight. Both types require a reflective surface to help bounce the light!

Bounce-lighting is typically an additional source you add to your regular light source. For example, if using strong daylight as your main light, you can purchase a white paper or canvas sheet and place it behind the subject to increase the brightness.

By having both direct and indirect light, the face of the person being photographed will be well illuminated. However, this may also cause the photo to look overly bright and/or yellowish. To avoid this, you must use gels and filters to reduce the intensity of the light!

Many brands offer various sizes and shapes of softboxes, gel panels, and other bounce materials to allow you to easily create the right amount of bounce effect for each shot.

Ambient lighting

Woman Sitting On Window Reading Book

Photo by Thought Catalog on Pexels

When it comes to headshot photography, your final image will depend heavily on the type of light you use to illuminate your subject. There are two main types of natural light — ambient and directional (or “hard”) lights.

Ambient light is all around you, coming from various sources such as sunlight or streetlights. This light does not get closer or farther away from your subject, so overall intensity changes.

Directional light can be used in several ways. A classic hard light would be using a large open window, for example, that is one direction. More recent innovations include using an octabox or hot box shaped specifically to create harder shadows.

When shooting with these lights, you have to neutralize their effects by adding additional light or taking out some of the original sources.

Florescent lighting


Recent trends in professional headshot photography are using fluorescent light sources as your main illumination source. Some professionals even use several types of lights to achieve different looks and silhouettes.

This is not limited to human headshots but also to business portraits or general photos with your subject looking into the camera.

By being able to control the intensity and color temperature of this light, you can create some very unique images. The trick is to find a balance between having enough light for good exposure and creating beautiful colors and shapes with the light.

Surface and ambient background light usually have these shades of light, so look out for those! Fluorescent light is one of the best because it is almost always there, making it more consistent than heavy drapes or other overhead lights that may not be used every time.

These lights should be around a half-foot wide to get quality results.

Artistic lighting

Photo Of Colored Spotlights

Photo by David Rama on Pexels

When it comes to headshot photography, artistic light sources are some of the most important things you will use to capture your subject’s likeness.

Photographers that have their own style often use very specific types of lights in their photographs. It is easy to identify these lights by how they shape the face and overall look of the person being photographed.

Some examples of this include using fluorescent or bright stage-style lights to illuminate the face, using large soft boxes or other reflective materials to create more natural-looking light, and using bougie (candle) lamps to add warmth to the image.

These lights can be expensive; however, they are worth it! I would say that for every photo session, even if you do not plan on buying any additional equipment, you should at least try out one of those illumination styles.

You will know when you find something that works because of how it changes the tone and appearance of the lit area and the effect it has on the person being illuminated.

Sponsored by Art of Headshots Orlando Studio - click here for directions

Art of Headshots Orlando Studio
8018 Sunport Dr, Suite 205
Orlando, FL 32809
Tel: +1 (888) 212-8112
Plus Code: CJXG+RG Orlando, Florida

Opening Hours (by appointment only):

  • Sunday: 10:30AM–2:30PM
  • Monday: 9:30AM–6:30PM
  • Tuesday: 8:30AM–6PM
  • Wednesday: 8:30AM–6PM
  • Thursday: 8:30AM–6PM
  • Friday: 8:30AM–3:30PM
  • Saturday: 10:30AM–3:30PM


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

twenty − eight =