The last time Randy had a headshot done was about 11 years ago, and he’s been using the same picture ever since. Well, now he’s up for an award recognizing his contributions over a more-than-40-year career and he figures he needs an updated picture — if nothing else, he no longer wears eyeglasses.

11 years ago

It was my pleasure to make pictures for him the other day. It was especially poignant for me because I made that last headshot 11 years ago.

As I recall, my wife and I were in the car heading out of town when he called, so we stopped by his house on the way. Back then, I had all my camera gear in a small rolling Pelican Case, except for my collapsible 5-in-1 reflector.

We stood on his driveway on a spring afternoon to make the picture. I propped a foam-core reflector (stowed folded up in my case) on the lid of the garbage can on the left and my wife held the diffuser on the right and I photographed Randy down the middle with a 70-200mm lens. It worked well.

Last week

This time, we were in my studio at the university where we both now work — and it’s a good thing because the temperature on his driveway was about 9° F.

A headshot may be used in all kinds of places online and using a white backdrop is a good way to provide a light and bright photo. I used a v-flat as the backdrop and another v-flat as a reflector on the left side. I made the backdrop perfectly white and made a rim light from the left by shining a flash into the backdrop v-flat from the right,

The main light on Randy’s face was a strobe in a big softbox — about 30″x40″ positioned horizontally. That light reflected off the v-flat on the right and eased the shadows on that side of his face. I used a 70-200mm lens again.

This makes a light and bright headshot. Pretty standard, but useful and enjoyable to do.

Add the hat

Randy wanted an additional photo with his hat, which he usually wears while lecturing on economics. Anytime I can make a picture with a prop that reveals more personality, it’s a good day.

The same setup worked here because that softbox was so large. I positioned the middle of it at about the same height as his hat brim, so there was still plenty of light shining on his face.

Add the bolo and the drama

Well, a hat is one thing, but a bolo tie and vest are really getting me excited. Now I wanted a little more drama, a little more mystery. When the background is white and everything is lit, it’s an open and honest photo. I wanted more intrigue.

So I turned off the strobe in the back and removed the backdrop, revealing a black backdrop that is always up. Now I positioned the softbox so it was pointing straight to the right, not hitting the backdrop at all. Moving the right side reflector closer or farther adjusts the light on that side.

Add the vest, notice the cuff links

This guy, I tell ya. He also brought his Wyoming Traders Banker’s Vest (which I noted immediately because I wear the Wyoming Vest). Now we’re getting the rest of his usual teaching outfit. I also noted that his cuff links matched his tie and he said that his son and daughter-in-law gave them to him. They had to be in the shot, too.

I grabbed a stool and set him on it and asked him to sit as he usually does, which I knew was with one hand raised — offering a view of the cuff links. The trick now was that the white shirt was the closest thing to the light, so it would be the brightest thing. If I exposed his face properly, I’d lose all detail in the shirt. So I made sure that the shirt was not blown out. I knew LuminarAI‘s portrait tools would brighten his face without issue. Here’s the shot straight out of the camera and after retouching:

The trick is to be nimble

Nimble means to be flexible and light-footed. If you go into a shoot ready only for what was in your mind, you might miss out on making art based on what your subject has in mind. Randy loved his pictures, he had a fun time, and I even texted one to his son across the country who also loved it. I made something memorable for several people because I wasn’t locked down to my own notions only.

And of course, I made a black and white version, too.

Portrait Tips come out each week, and you can see them all right here.