I recently used the beauty lighting setup on a recent headshot assignment here on Honolulu, Oahu. This type of lighting arrangement is popular for fashion, headshot and beauty photographers. I partnered with Allison and her team at Reveal Hair and Makeup to shoot a headshot image. This is usually my go to set up if I am contracted to take staff portraits or headshots.
Let’s start by listing the gear and tools I used in order to achieve this type of image.
- Light Stand: I suggest using a boom stand but a regular straight stand will work as well. I prefer to use the Avenger boom stand. Although it’s pricey, heavy, and bulky, I’d highly recommend this brand and model because it’s very durable and reliable. I have purchased a few cheaper boom stands from Amazon but they have both broken on me within a year. The money I spent on the cheaper stands was really money lost in the end.
- Strobe: I use the Alien Bees b800 and b1600 flashes made by Paul C. Buff for my studio strobes. These are a great option that are also budget friendly. There’s plenty argument in regards to the consistency in color temperature and power output. From personal experience, I have seen a small amount of inconsistency, but it is very minimal. In fact, I still recommend Alien Bee flashes to anyone thinking about purchasing them. They get the job done and they have been very reliable.
- Telephoto lens: Since this particular assignment was a headshot, I decided to use the Canon 135mm f2 L lens. This lens is awesome to say the least. I like this particular focal length for headshots because it compresses the image to my liking.
- Lighting Modifier: The 22" beauty dish is a modifier I frequently use. From my experience, the beauty dish creates more contrast and has a more edgy look to it than an umbrella. The beauty dish is also smaller in diameter than the umbrella I own which makes it more convenient and easier to work with in smaller spaces.
Let’s transition and discuss the process of how to use these tools. I’ll list them in step process below:
- Flash & Modifier: Place the flash & modifier of choice (beauty dish, softbox, etc.) on the boom stand then place the boom at a 45 degree angle so that the flash and modifier are directly overhead of the subjects face. I also point the flash and modifier so that it is angled about 45 degrees towards the subject.
Camera Settings: I usually set my aperture to about f/8-f/11, my ISO to 160, and my shutter speed to about 1/125. These settings usually allow me to cut any ambient light that may creep into the frame. I try to turn off any ambient lighting as well, such as ceiling lights, lamps, etc. I also close the curtains to the room so my lighting environment is more controlled. The only light I have on is the modeling lamp on my strobe which helps my lens autofocus consistently.
Placement: I place the strobe and modifier roughly 2-3 ft or an arms length away to my subjects face. Then, I’ll place a white reflector board under the subject's face. The reflector bounces light back from the flash and fills in any black shadows under their eyes, nose, and neck. The distance you place the reflector from the models face will create less or more shadows. For men, I do not mind having more shadows so I place the reflector further from the bottom of his face. For women, I like to a more even lit look, so I’ll usually place the reflector board closer to their face.
These are general guidelines I think about when I am setting up for a headshot session. Since everyone has unique facial features and face shapes, I usually alter and tweak my setups to get the result I prefer best.
I hope these tips helps you on your next assignment. I recommend practicing this setup with a friend. Try moving the setup around and experiment. You can really achieve a number of different looks and results by simply adjusting the strobe position and reflector. Have fun with it, let me know how your experience goes in the comment section below.
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