This set of actor's headshots for Leah Georges was shot last Sunday Morning in New Cross - and we had excellent weather for it. In fact it was so sunny that it was difficult to use any open spaces without causing Leah to squint - through no fault of her own, I might add. We ended up choosing some West-facing shady areas to work in for the outdoor part of the shoot, which led to a very nice quality of reflected light that I could use as fill if necessary.
Leah is actually a very good friend, and we've done a lot of work together. At the moment she's running a very successful theatre company with Oli Theobald, called Limb2Limb. Their show, Circles, did very well in Brighton and Edinburgh, and they're working on something new at the moment which sounds very promising (can't say too much about it yet).
The setup for the top two shots is 1/200, f/4, ISO 100, 85mm. The main light is a shoot through umbrella close to camera left at eye level, and fill is from a white reflector to camera right.
I realise it's not very normal for headshot photographers to share their lighting set ups - in fact there's a strange secrecy use of lights, as they play a big part in defining a photographer's 'style'. The same goes for post-processing work in photoshop. I like to share them because there are a few photographers and aspiring photographers reading this that I would like to encourage in their use of light. I'm a big fan of David Hobby's 'Strobist' blog, in which he always shares lighting set ups and insights along with his photos.
This one's usually an even more secretive part of digital photography. The fact is, photos don't come out of the camera looking exactly like this. Most professionals in digital photography shoot RAW files, which then have to be interpreted in some way to produce the .jpeg file you see above. You can have the camera's processor do it for you automatically, you can have your computer do it automatically, or you can work on it yourself in a programme like Lightroom or Photoshop.
I do a lot of work in Photoshop - that is to say, I do a lot of work, which appears to have very little effect. Photoshop has become associated with fakeness, but it is actually a very sophisticated tool for making minimal adjustments. One technique I see used in a lot of black and white headshots is to simply eliminate all texture in bright areas of the skin - it's very quick and easy to do with a big brush in Lightroom. It looks fine as a small thumbnail on the web, but blown up it looks very fake. I use frequency separation in Photoshop to make sure I keep the texture of the skin intact, even in the highlights, while I fix any temporary spots and blemishes. If there are dark areas under the eyes I leave the texture alone and adjust the skin tone to make sure I keep a natural look and shape. I even out skin tone in colour, before converting to black and white.
I'm hoping to do a much more complete discussion of Photoshop techniques soon, but I hope this is a useful start. Thanks to Leah for letting me share the headshots.