Week 4: Headshot

The 52 Week Photography challenge, as composed by Dogwood Photography, rotates between three categories: portraits, landscapes and artistic shots. On the fourth week, then, we are back at our first category: portraits. This week’s challenge was to take a headshot. As they said, “You shot a selfie, now shoot a “selfie” of someone else!”

My week 1 self portrait was done in the traditional style of a headshot: bright, white background. fairly sterile. I wanted this week’s version to be a little more refined and stylized. To be refined, I had to start with a different model! For that matter, in order to complete the assignment I had to find a different model. Fortunately I have a patient wife who was a willing candidate and she happened to need a headshot for work. Two birds, and all that.

I started with the essentially the same lighting setup that I used in week one with a couple of key differences. Instead of using a white backdrop, I set up a nice grey one that I just purchased for shooting some school pictures later this week. A softbox went directly in front of the subject at about a 45-degree angle with the bottom edge at about eye level. A white reflector was placed below the softbox to bounce some flash back under the chin and to fill the shadows. I wanted the light to be as soft as possible.

I used a gel on the speedlight lighting the background to match the color of her sweater, which also happens to be (nearly) the color of her eyes. That gave me the image on the right, which is OK except that I didn’t like the shadows under her neck or that fact that I really couldn’t see her eyes.

So I made a couple of changes. I replaced the reflector with another softbox. I don’t have a second square one, so I slid in my Glow Parapop. I tried adding a hair light but since her hair is so light almost any amount of light on it was distracting. I decided to remove the gel from the background light, in order to get a little more optical separation from it and my wife. The result was my final image:

Technical Details:

  • Nikon D7100
  • Nikkor DX 35mm 1.8G
  • ISO 100
  • f4.0 at 250
  • Top speedlight at 1/64
  • Bottom at 1/128

Challenges and things to continue working on: It’s all about lighting, right? Frankly, my preference is for lighting that is somewhat dramatic. I like shadows and texture and mood. A headshot doesn’t call for that, typically. And my subject wouldn’t have appreciated the effects of “texture” on her face.  So I wanted very soft light, with muted tones. I didn’t get the image that I had in mind, although I am pretty happy with the image that I got. I need more practice shaping light and achieving my goal in a given setting.

The takeaway: First, I’m glad I have a patient wife! By the way, if you are nearby (the Charlotte metro area), I need a subject for a portrait every three weeks for the rest of the year. If you’re interested in sitting for one, let me know. You could even check out the list of assignments for the rest of the year and volunteer for one that interests you. I would happily give you a print for your time and trouble.

Second, portraits present a number of challenges that are – obviously – different that landscape photography. I feel like I am getting a better handle on some of them, and these specific assignments are allowing me to focus on improving others.

Next up: Time to put my flashes away and head back outside this week for the next challenge. “Landscape: Black and White. Look for a scene with great contrast that will make a great black and white.”

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