The Headshot Photography Course – 3

34_LAHA_5382 by 14 18:52:08.

Using supplementary lights.

An introduction to headshot lighting techniques.

Gear List:

  • Camera and lens (duh!)
  • Reflectors
  • Black flags
  • Any supplementary lights (not powerful studio flash) i.e.. LED’s, tungsten, off camera speedlights.

You will need to understand that it is the quality of light that matters and how best you can manipulate daylight to help you achieve results similar to this blog.

As I explained in a previous blog that it is possible to acheive a classic 3 point lighting set up with just daylight, but with the use of supplementary light you can have even more control over the light that illuminates your subject.

Lets start with one extra light placed at an angle behind your subject. This becomes an accent light usually accentuating the cheek bone area or the hair.

Use two accent lights and you get 4 point lighting.

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The set up for this shot is similar to this

_DSF9258 by John Clark.

As you can see the main light is a soft box (actually a PixaPro) and 2 accent lights ( F&V ring lights ) but you could use any LED’s. The reflector is a Westcott Eyelighter. The windows are not generating any visual effect.

You can generate a more contrast by narrowing the beam of the accent light and increasing its power. This was shot with a beauty dish with two strip lights behind and both sides of the subject with Profoto strobes. Bare speedlights would also produce something very similar.

Richard Blackwood

Here are some more examples of the same technique. You will notice by careful placing of the main light and balancing the accent lights you get all the structure of the face.

Matthew Rutherford

FocalLength: 85.0 mm ShutterSpeed: 1/200 Aperture: 4.0 ISO: 640

Oliver Wilson

FocalLength: 85.0 mm ShutterSpeed: 1/100 Aperture: 4.0 ISO: 1600

One thing you have to be careful of is flare. Make sure your accent lights are not pointing at the camera lens and if you cant avoid that then strategically place black masks to avoid the light spilling over to the camera. If you are using LED’s as the accents or kickers then the your eyes should tell you the right balance between Main, Fill and Accent lights. As a general guidline if you want to meter then about 3/4 – 1 stop brighter should be about right.

In this example doorway light is used masked with a black curtain to produce a narrow slit of light. A large silver reflector was placed on the floor and the accent light from a small LED.


Both these images are shot in the same location.

Inel Tomlinson by John Clark.

FocalLength: 85.0 mm ShutterSpeed: 1/320 Aperture: 2.8 ISO: 1000

Inel Tomlinson by John Clark.

The main light is daylight supplemented with a ring flash accesory fired by a speedlight and controlled by a Pocket Wizard.

_DSF9263 by John Clark.

The background is a piece of bent plastic mirror glass that has been spray painted to dull the reflection. The advantage of using this sort of background is that it can produce an infinite space behind your subject without needing metres of depth. You can change the reflections by moving the panels and relighting them in different ways.

I use 2 further lights in the background.

_DSF9264 by John Clark.

An LED and a speedlight controlled by another Pocket Wizard. These are used to control light to the client and the background.

The full set up is something like this.

_DSF9265 by John Clark.

It is essentially a doorway light on speed! I can vary the quality of the main light by adjusting the power output of the ring flash and change the background by simply lighting it different ways or adding a canvas (as in this picture).

Algina Lipskis by John Clark.

FocalLength: 85.0 mm ShutterSpeed: 1/250 Aperture: 2.8 ISO: 500

Silvana Maimone

FocalLength: 120.0 mm ShutterSpeed: 1/250 Aperture: 4.0 ISO: 1000

Simon Yadoo

ShutterSpeed: 1/125 Aperture: 4.0 ISO: 1250

Audrey L’Ebrellec

FocalLength: 100.0 mm ShutterSpeed: 1/80 Aperture: 3.5 ISO: 2000

This is when lighting starts getting really interesting. You must though have read the first two chapters of this blog.

The Headshot Photography Course – 1

Headshot Photography Course 2

The Headshot Photography Course – 1a

What's a f stop and how it can improve your photography

What's a f stop and how it can improve your photography

For information and one to one workshops go here

For a full explanation of how to achieve ‘The Look’ go here


  1. Greg says:

    Thanks for this series. It’s great to get a bit of insight into your process.

  2. rocco redondo says:

    Hi John, most interesting, thank you for the sharing

  1. […] the next installment, Headshot Photography Course 3, we are going to put the these setups and others on steriods and add lights and more modifiers. […]

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