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5 Practical Tips – Preparing for Location Headshots

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I love location headshot jobs because of how much I can accomplish in one day. Typically these clients really value time efficiency which means you often only have one afternoon or a just a few hours to load in, setup, shoot the entire office and load out.  Typically I run into a few similar challenges over and over- so here are some tips that I have come to rely on.

Packed uppacked

Essentially my entire studio brought on location. Packed and unpacked.

1.) Make a gear checklist

This seems obvious but it’s really so critical. Forgetting even a single critical item can be a show stopper on a shoot so I do everything I can to make sure that doesn’t happen! My list has 32 items on it. Not every job requires every item but having everything down in a checklist ensures that nothing is forgotten. I use a simple checklist app on my iphone- Checklist+.

2.)Pack your gear property

When I started doing corporate headshots on location in Washington DC I didn’t really have the proper gear to transport my studio. Most of my work was in my studio but I didn’t want to turn down location requests so I essentially packed my lights and softboxes into two suitcases and wrapped everything in blankets! Needless to say this solution is less than ideal and let’s be honest- not safe for your gear and doesn’t give a ‘professional’ vibe. I now use a pelican case for my strobes, a Lightware Rolling Stand Bag case that holds my foldable softboxes, light stands, and reflectors and Lowepro Pro Runner 450 AW DSLR Backpack bag for my camera, and lenses. With these cases I can bring all of my equipment up to the ofice myself in two trips. I’m currently looking for a nice folding cart to cut that down to one trip.

Bags on location

These three bags safely hold the majority of what needs to come with me on location.

3.)Bring Backup Gear

Bring backups of ANY critical component. When shooting on location you only have one chance to get it right and if anything fails you need to have a plan b. I always bring a backup camera bodie, additional strobe, multiple lenses, modifiers, additional CF cards, cables, batteries and power cords.

4.)Prepare for less than ideal contingencies

Limited space

I require an unobstructed space of at least 10×20 feet but sometimes the clients either don’t really measure the space, or the meeting room slated for headshots becomes occupied and we have to use a smaller room.  Have a wider lens in your bag for cases like this- you might not have the shooting distance you would ideally like.  The other lifesavers in this situation is the Paul Buff Shovel Reflector. I always bring it but generally only use it when space is tight. This reflector allows you to get a decent gradient or white backdrop with just a few feet of space.

Bad outlet location

Don’t count on abundant outlet locations. I always bring an extension cord and power strip so I can plug into a central location if needed. I also always bring masking tape to tape down any power cables that might be in the path of a client. You definitely don’t want any clients tripping or lights getting pulled to the ground!

5.)Parking and load in

This is important- a bad parking strategy will make you late for the job and cause much unneeded stress! This is especially true in urban areas. In Washington DC it’s common for office buildings to have underground parking. Inquire ahead of time and see what the parking situations is, often you can call the garage directly(google maps is your friend here). Do you need a pass? Is there a service elevator, or elevator that will take you to the floor you need to go to? Is there a loading dock area you need to use? My priority is convenient load in. I want a spot in the most convenient parking lot nearest to the elevator that will take me directly to the floor I’m going to.  As a general rule I don’t park on the street(asking for trouble!) and I don’t charge the client for my parking cost(it’s nickle and dimey and slows down the contracting process)- it’s worth it for me to pay to be as close as possible to ensure a fast load in.

Reducing Shine- Three Quick Tips

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Shine is a common issue in headshots. Studio lighting can create hotspots even on clients without oily skin. It’s why makeup on set is so important- even for men. But of course not every client will wear makeup to the shoot so I have three tricks in my toolbox that I use. A lot can be done to reduce shine in the retouching stage but like anything else, the closer you can get the shot ‘in camera’ the better the final image is going to look.

Neutrogena Cleansing Towelettes

A good and quick way to clean off excess oil and sweat. The key here is to gently rub on face- I don’t want clients creating any red spots in the process.

Johnson and Johnson Clean and Clear Oli Absorbing Sheets

This is typically my second step. These sheets further remove oil and they also dry any moisture from the cleansing towellette.

Loreal Revitalift Miracle Blur

This product is essentially a clear foundation designed to reduce the appearance of wrinkles. It is also a very good Mattifying lotion– which is the reason why I use it. In terms of reducing wrinkles I don’t think it’s very effective but in terms of reducing shine this is hands down the most important tool in my shine reducing toolkit.

Turn your selfie into a high end headshot?

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Researchers at MIT and Adobe have come up with some pretty neat ‘style transfer’ software that seems to be able to take any cellphone selfie headshot and apply a signature style to it by providing it with a headshot in the style you would like. Simply feed the software an example image by Martin Schoeller or Platon and off it goes- creating a fairly decent copy of that style. While I’m sure there are some limitations that we might not be seeing in these controlled samples- it’s certainly an impressive concept. I could see something like this as a sort of next-gen Instagram, controlling lighting styles instead of just film looks.

Fortune/People Magazine Shoot- Behind the Scenes

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The Assignment

I was contacted on a Friday for this assignment which was to take place the following Tuesday. The shoot had to take place in the morning and be delivered to the contacts at People and Fortune by 12 noon. To meet the delivery time, I suggested we start shooting at 8am and I made plans to edit and deliver the photos on site. I arrived on site with an assistant an hour and a half early to scout the location and setup lighting. Because time was so tight, my goal was to come up with one pose and lighting setup that could be shot with different lenses to achieve at least two different looks in a short amount of time. I knew I wanted to mix strobes and ambient light, but without knowing the exact setup going in, I brought extra strobes, reflectors and light stands just in case.

This shoot features Arnold Harvey, a driver for Waste Management . In 2007, Arnold founded God’s Transition Connection, a non profit charity that helps over 5000 families a month through food donations. Because of this, Arnold was selected as one of 50 people to be featured in Fortune’s ‘Heroes of the 500” series. His story was also picked up by People Magazine. Arnold was fantastic to work with. Take a look at his features here and here.

Gear List

The gear list is purely for reference. None of this specific gear would absolutely make or break the shoot. Substitutions of similar quality gear of course, will result is a very similar image.

The Setup

My contact at Waste Management requested we use one of their trucks as a backdrop, which I thought was perfect. The magazine requested a landscape portrait and Waste Management wanted their logo in the shot along with possibly some items from Arnold’s charity. Because we were mixing natural and studio lighting, everything needed to be planned around the position of the sun. I had the truck positioned so the sun was backlighting our subject and slightly to Arnold’s left. This would allow the sun to act as a rim light. I set up a 40 inch octobox as a fill light centered in front of the subject. To further fill and enhance the lighting on the subject, I placed a small reflector right under the octobox. Another Strobe with a 12 inch reflector was used to brighten the backdrop and also acted as a secondary rim light coming from the subject’s left side. With the same lighting, I was able to get two different compositions, one fairly standard medium shot with a telephoto(my preferred shot) and another slightly more dramatic wide angle shot from a low camera position that included the entire truck.


This setup was used for all shots. I had an assistant on set to help setup and test poses and exposures.

Setup and testing poses and exposure.

Setup and testing poses and exposure.


Exposure and Blending Light Sources

I chose an aperture of 8.0 to separate my subject slightly without blurring the WM logo too much(even shooting at 8.0 with a telephoto lens at close range will allow a good amount of bokeh to separate the subject from the backdrop). I chose my camera exposure based on the ambient light(via setting ISO and shutter speed) with a particular eye to get the rim light at the right levels.  When using strobes outside, the sun is the constant variable. The ambient exposure achieved a good rim and kicker effect on the subject, and the two flashes filled in the rest of the scene. Keep in mind when shooting with flash, you are often limited by your flash sync speed- which in my case maxes out at 200.  I metered the key light to be the same as my aperture(8.0) and adjusted the backdrop light by sight to a level that looked good on my tethered screen.

Camera Settings

  • F8.0
  • 1/200sec
  • ISO 100
  • 90mm

Exposure with and without flash

I took a shot without triggering the flash just for comparison purposes. Take a look at the rim lighting in the first photo- the exposure is essentially built around that and the shadow areas of the subject and backdrop are filled in with strobes and modifier. Getting the balance exactly right keeps things looking natural.

before after

Controlling Perspective

Different focal lengths allow the photographer to control the perspective and what appears in the backdrop.  A telephoto lens has a tighter perspective and will compress what is in the background(showing less of the background) and a wide angle will show more of the background. This remains true even if you change your distance from the subject to make the subject appear the same size via both lenses(ie: walking up close to the subject with a wide angle or shooting from a distance with a telephoto). I used two lenses for this shoot. The canon 70-200 for the medium shots, and Canon 16-35 for the alternate take. In the studio I’m a real fanatic for prime lenses but on location with an environmental backdrop and a tight time schedule, a zoom lens allows you to change perspective very quickly and try a few different options without wasting time changing lenses. I preferred the tighter half length portraits but I wanted some wide shots to offer as an alternate option for the client. Because of the position of the sun, I got a good bit of flair in the wider angle shots- but I like the effect it gives here.


Tight and wide perspectives shot at 90mm and 29mm respectively.


Other Details

I always shoot portraits with the camera on tripod. Cameras are heavy- and slightly shifting compositions bug me! For the strobes, I used a wireless trigger and controller to adjust the lighting as needed. I had a battery pack on hand in case we didn’t have access to power for the strobes- luckily we did have convenient access to power. As with every location shoot I do, I was tethered to my Mac Air. Tethering save times and allows me to instantly spot errors as I’m shooting.

Editing and Delivery

Editing on site

Editing on site

Immediately after the shoot I sat down with Arnold and another representative from Waste Management. We selected the 10 best shots out of the 200 or so we shot. After color correction I sent compressed versions of these ten images for approval and final selection by the marketing team(based in Houston). They quickly narrowed this down to their top 3 images and I did some light retouching(removed a few distracting elements and enhanced the contrast on the logo slightly) before delivering the final full resolution images.

Final Usage

Fortune ended up using the tighter image as the cover image for the entire ‘Heroes of the 500’ feature online and the wider shot next to Arnold’s Profile. People used an alternate tighter image.

Final image on the front pages of Fortune.com

Final image on the front pages of Fortune.com


Learn More

I’ve finally gotten around to categorizing my blog posts. Click here for more tutorials and general thoughts on photography techniques. Email me if you have any topics that you might want to see covered in the blog!

Thanks Arnold!


Thanks Arnold!

Matching a Look

By | Corporate Headshots, For Photographers, Uncategorized | No Comments
Headshot Backdrop Matches

Corporate headshots that have been matched to an existing company look.

For corporate headshot clients I’m often required to match a look that’s been established by another photographer. Sometimes I’m provided a detailed PDF of instructions on lighting and posing from the art department but more often than not it’s all about recreating the lighting based on what can been seen on the company website.

For these jobs I have created a quick mental checklist to get as close as possible.

Lighting the subject

  • What direction and angle is the key light coming from?
  • How soft is the light?
  • How much fill light is used?
  • How is the hair light treated? One side only, both sides?


  • How is the backdrop lit? Evenly? With a light gradient?
  • What backdrop is being used and which backdrop in my collection matches it closely?

More on the matching the backdrop

Matching the backdrop is often the trickiest part. I always try to achieve the closest look in camera but to get a perfect match it’s often necessary to take the final image into photoshop. Even with a simple gray backdrop I manipulate it to match the luminosity and light gradient exactly. Often I need to match specific colors that have been achieved with colored backdrop or gels on the lights. I will gel to get as close as possible and then finalize in the retouching phase. For painted studio backdrops there are simply too many color variations to own them all. In this situation I choose the backdrop with the most similar texture and match the colors in post.

Book in groups and save up to 40%

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Bring a friend…or ten

I was recently approached by a client about to enter a prestigious MBA program. He was on a tight deadline to submit a high quality headshot for the program and oh by the way- he had nine other colleagues interested in getting headshots for the program too! I was happy to accommodate all of them at my group rate for 10 people which is 40% off. We booked an entire day of shooting, had all the retouching done and delivered within 24 hours- just in time for their deadline.

MBA Program

10 headshots for an MBA program

Why such a significant discount for groups?

To acquire new clients there are two costs involved. Time and money. Online advertising, listing services, online services to keep the business running. The time per client beyond the actual shoot is not insignificant. Emailing back and forth, ironing out all the details, getting contracts signed and then the buffer of time I build in between clients(usually one to two hours to handle initial editing and account for any delays). So when clients are able to book back to back it’s a huge savings to me that I’m happy to pass along.

People and Fortune Magazine Portrait Shoot

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Heroes of the 500 – Arnold Harvey

I was contacted in May by Waste Management requesting a portrait of one of their employees for an upcoming feature in both People and Fortune Magazines. Arnold Harvey, driver of 24 years for WM was recently nominated for the Fortune 500’s “Heroes of the 500” for his non profit ‘God’s Connection Transition‘ that supports over 5000 families a month with donations of clothing, food and services. Additionally, he recently started a ‘Let’s Ride’ program that donates used bicycles to low income youths.

Shoot Details

This entire shot was shot, edited and delivered within 4 hours- they were on  a very tight deadline! I couldn’t be happier with how it turned out.  This portrait was taken on site in Gaithersburg MD with a mix of studio strobes and natural light. Stay tuned for a behind the scenes look at this shoot.

Fortune Magazine

Fortune ended up using the first photo below as a cover photo for the entire feature! The second wider shot was used for Arnold’s individual profile.

Screen Shot 2014-06-04 at 9.00.50 AM

Front page of Fortune.com

WM Arnold Harvey-952-Edit

Fortune ‘Heroes of the 500’ cover image


WM Arnold Harvey-1015

Arnold Harvey profile shot for Fortune

People Magazine

People Magazine ended up going with an alternate portrait seen below.

WM Arnold Harvey-940-Edit

Image featured in People Magazine

It was a pleasure working with the team at Waste Management and Arnold Harvey was just a great person to photograph and get to know. Congrats to Arnold! Take a look at his charity foundation at God’s Transition Connection.

Technique- Back Button Focus

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When shooting headshots focusing needs to be incredibly precise. I never use global focus and let the the camera decide what to focus on. Single point focus on the nearest eye to the camera is where I focus every single shot. There is nothing worse than having a great shot slightly out of focus and my miss rate has gone down to close to 0% after switching to back button focus.

Back Button Auto Focus

By default on most cameras the focus is tied to the shutter button. This arrangement works out great for most types of photography(especially snap shots) but it’s not ideal for headshots. When shooting headshots what I generally do is focus and recompose slightly to get the perfect framing. Traditional shutter button focusing would require me to focus and recompose every shot- because each time I press the shutter the camera is going to want to focus on the current single point focus area that I have selected. Back button focus separates the shutter and focus action so I can focus with the back button then recompose and keep shooting(pressing the shutter button) away without fear of refocusing on the wrong area. I now only have to refocus when the subject moves.

Use the focus toggle but don’t rely on it

Why not just use the single focus point and toggle that to achieve the exact framing you need? When shooting headshots I always use single point focus and focus that one the nearest eye to the camera. I do toggle the focus point to be in the right area of the frame but there simply are not enough focus points available to get that single point in EXACTLY the right place. So toggling the focal point to the nearest eye gets me close and focus and recompose gets the framing perfect.

Give this technique a try- you won’t regret it!