My pro tips for on location corporate headshots

I recently was asked to photograph 35 people in a corporate headshot style. The shoot took 6 hours with a 20 minute lunch break.
I thought other photographers might benefit from my experience.

Melbourne headshots by award winning photographer Will Faulkner
Melbourne headshots by award winning photographer Will Faulkner
Melbourne headshots by award winning photographer Will Faulkner

The brief...

The location was the middle of the Melbourne business district on the 18th floor of a business centre. The job was actually given to me by an interstate agency in Sydney. So in this case the agency sourced the client and then sourced me as a contracting photographer to service the job. We negotiated a price and came to an agreement.

The brief was simple…

“Crisp headshots against an off white background, delivered as edited high res and low res .jpg files in a sharable download link”.

I assumed by my client using the word crisp that they meant no shallow depth of field and a well lit face and body. My client provided me with some reference shots that were taken by previous contractor. They asked me to replicate these shots. I replied that the samples contained a heavy amount of shadow, the crop was below the hips so the hands were half cut off. I said I would replicate the shots as requested but also that I could do better and provided a link to an example on my website portfolio. The response came immediately, “No, do better” 🙂

Melbourne headshots by award winning photographer Will Faulkner

The logistics...

I used Google maps to research the job address. I could not park on the street as the job would take longer than the city parking time limit. Google maps showed me that all the parking centres within a 2 city block radius where 2.0 meters or less in height clearance. My van is 2.1 meters so that meant I needed to take public transport in. Sure I could have taken an Uber but the train system worked fine in this case as the job was only a 10 minute walk from the station.

If I could park on site I would prefer to use my Profoto 500 head into a white bounce umbrella and an eyelighter reflector for this kind of work, but if I used this system I would need to bring a sturdier light stand for the strobe and that was not an option when travelling on the train.

Instead I used Manfrotto nano stands for the 2 x Godox AD 200 pros. I used Phottix shoot through umbrellas as the modifiers as they fold up to next to nothing. I like this lighter footprint set up for on location work. Don’t be put off by the simplicity of the light modifiers, sometimes the simplest ways are the best. I find these modifiers give a perfect quality of light when using a TTL system and a decent portrait lens.

My camera settings...

Because the client requested “A crisp headshot” I used the following settings…

F stop 7.1
ISO 100
1/160 sec shutter speed

My flash settings where TTL on the key light and TTL-1 on the fill light.
An off white background means shooting against a white backdrop set not too far back from the key light and not using a background light so as to end up with an off white tone. You can see in this photo that the key light on the left is slightly higher than the fill light on the right. Also the Key light is above the height of the clients face so a downward shadow is created.

The gear...

In this video you can see a walk through of my gear. Note that I was using public transport so I had to fit everything except the background into my rolling suitcase. I still haven’t found a reliable background system that fits into this suitcase. Collapsable backgrounds are an option but they always end up having ripples in the final shot. There is a workaround for this but this workaround can lead you to problems with masking out the hair perfectly, particularly if the clients have fine and frizzy hair. So in this case I chose to take a 1.35 meter white paper roll to the job. I Jerry rigged a shoulder sling so I could hold my suitcase at the same time.

Not mentioned in this video are my fold up step, power extension cord for the laptop and the laptop charger.

As for the camera and lens. Remember that gear doesn’t matter. I’m no gear head and in fact in this case I was using a Canon 5DSR DSLR camera that I recently picked up on Facebook Marketplace for a steal. The lens is a 70-200 mm at 7.1 F stop. I prefer a zoom lens when doing this kind of work because that means I can set the tripod in one position and just use the Tripod centre column to change the camera height so it matches the eye level of each person and I can zoom in and out to place the person correctly in the frame.

Posing the client...

The subjects were handled by someone at their workplace so that each person met me at a specific time of day. I can’t say how much it helps having a running sheet like this. Each subject had 10 minutes with me which was more than enough, particularly as my lights were set to TTL mode and there was no messing around with power settings.
I used yellow gaffers tape to show the client where to place their feet. This system is to make sure the series of shots all look the same when delivered to the client. The tape is placed in a way that poses the client with the broadside of their face to the key light and the narrow side of the face is lit by the fill light. Remember the fill light is at TTL-1. I always use single point focus and focused on the closest eyeball which in this case is the left one.
Side note: The tape also works well as safety flags on your light stands and electrical cables.

Note the yellow tape on the floor

Editing the shots...

As I was shooting tethered into Lightroom I was able to utilise the auto edit function in the develop module and select the option to have each new photo use the “same as previous” develop settings, You’ll see this option in the tethered camera dialogue box. This allowed the photos to be edited on site so the subject can preview the final photo live. I find it’s important to do this as the raw files will have a “flashy” look from the strobes and often the skin tones need to be brought back in the developing module.

As requested in the brief I delivered the final photos with an off white background. But the images I used on my website portfolio had the background replaced. This is easily done in Photoshop using the subject selection tool and dropping in an image from a stock library then adding a blur of around 15 pixels to the background layer.

What I delivered to the client
Melbourne headshots by award winning photographer Will Faulkner
What I added to my website portfolio

Delivering the work to the client...

The client asked me to use Dropbox to deliver the files. But I have found dropbox to be a complete pain in the last few years. Instead I used Google drive which I am subscribed to as part of the Google business suite. Just make sure that you send the client a link that is accessible to everyone and not just you.

I hope this helps anyone venturing into the headshot game. Again if you have any tips or tricks for me please comment below. Thanks.