If you’ve been watching our Headshot Photography 101 workshop and are itching to jump in and get going in your own headshot photography studio, this video by Vanessa Joy for Adorama TV offers some great tips on what gear to acquire. Of course, you can make do with less and we’ll show you how in our workshop, but if you want to go all-in, these are the basics to get started.
A white background is a great choice for a headshot studio because it’s neutral and versatile. The versatility lies in the fact that it can be more than just a white background depending on how you light it. When fully lit, it is of course white. But, you can light it at a lower power or move lights further from it to use it as a gray background, or don’t light it at all and block any spill from the lights you’re using to make it a black background. Less useful for headshot photography but still good for your bag of tricks: you can use colored gels on a background light and you’ve got a whole world of colored backgrounds from a single white background.
Vanessa is using a white cyc wall in her studio, which is great but not practical for every space. Additionally, a cyc wall isn’t portable, so if you’ll be shooting headshots on-location you’ll want to opt for something like a roll of seamless paper or a collapsible backdrop.
While you can certainly get away with using fewer lights, having at least three lights in your studio will give you versatility in how you choose to light your subject and many classic portrait set-ups use three lights. Commonly these are used as a key, fill, and hair or background light.
Vanessa is using Profoto D1 (D2 pictured) studio mono lights. These are not a budget option, but their recycle speed, consistency, and reliability make them a great choice. If three Profoto lights would break the bank, any studio strobes of repute will do.
Vanessa’s recommendation for a first softbox is a 3×4 foot variation. These make a great soft light when brought in close for a headshot but are large enough to create a spread when pulled back that will light a full body. As with most of the options for a home studio, it comes down to preference but if you like the look of a rectangle softbox and want to start your studio with some, two of this size for your key and fill is a nice beginning.
In Vanessa’s setup, she’s got a standard reflector on a light for the background. We would also add spot grids to go with this type of reflector. They are used to narrow the strobe’s beam and can be used to throw a circular gradient onto your backdrop as well as provide a lovely look when aimed at a subject’s hair for a hair light.
In your studio, it’s nice to have grip equipment that’s a bit more heavy-duty than what you’d want to take on location. There is a peace of mind in knowing that your lights are sturdy as you’ve got clients walking around your studio. This goes double if you photograph unpredictable subjects like animals or kids.
Along with those heavy stands go sandbags. Sandbags are a vital piece of studio safety equipment, plus they’re needed outdoors if you want to use modifiers that will catch a breeze and go sailing, so they are an essential to have on hand.
The back of the camera is no substitute for viewing images at full size and with more accurate color and contrast. One benefit to working in a studio is the ease of tethering compared to on-location. Set up a laptop with Capture One Pro preferably or Lightroom in a pinch. TetherTools makes a great laptop table for tethering, but any surface will do. You will need a tethering cable to connect the camera to the computer. We recommend TetherTools for this. Tethering is their specialty and their cables are reliable and well made. The orange ones are common to see in use because their visibility makes them less of a tripping hazard, but if you can’t deal with the color they are available in black as well.
These are the basics, but check Vanessa’s video for a few more of her favorite things to have around the studio and to see exactly how she’s set her studio up. You can find more from Vanessa on her site, and Adorama TV.
And of course, if you want to get started with headshots, check out our Headshot Photography 101 workshop!