The general “rule” for photographers when lighting a headshot is to light it evenly, diffuse it nicely, and keep shadows to a minimum. The idea is to take a portrait of someone that shows every inch of their face- because that’s what a headshot is– a photograph of a person that is a clear representation of what they look like, to help casting directors, agents and anyone looking at the photo know who that person is.
So most of the headshots I take are very bright and lit rather simply and minimally. But that can get boring for me. I didn’t spend all that money on cameras, strobes, grids, and fancy electronics to take high school portraits, did I?
To keep me happy as a photographer, I like to try new things and get a little creative with the lighting. After all, “rules” should be in quotation marks, because if you know what they are and why they’re there, can’t you try breaking them now and then?
So here’s the challenge: make a headshot more interesting with a more dynamic lighting setup, but still be true to the headshot’s main purpose: to be a clear representation of a person. When you start changing lighting and angles in a photograph, a person’s face can appear a little different than it did in the photo before. Our faces are 3D and photos are 2D, so any change in angles and representation will make a person look slightly different… which we don’t want in a headshot– a photo of someone that doesn’t look like them.
I was taking headshots for Hannah yesterday, and after taking a majority of the photos in a more “standard” headshot lighting setup, I changed the lighting to make the headshots more “artistic.” Hannah asked which would be better for a casting agent.
My only answer is whichever photo you are more comfortable giving, and which one you feel looks more like you at your best. If the more “artistic” or interesting-looking headshot still conveys your look, your style, and your attitude, then print that sucker and hand it out. But if you’re more comfortable with a “standard” look, then go with that. Some may say that the “artistic-looking” headshots will give you a leg up on a casting director’s desk– if the photo pops, then the person pops too, right? Others might say it’s a gamble. But I think as long as a headshot is doing its job, then it’s already a winner.