Positioning your lights for a headshot is really a very important part of making headshots. Generally speaking, you want to have a nice soft light on the front and if you can do it, a rim light from behind, and those should be opposite each other.
This could be the sun, I often use the sun as my backlight shining in this way, or window light and you’ll be able to see a rim of light shining forward on somebody’s face. And that’s really nice. You want to take care that it’s not too bright, and it should always be opposite your front light. If you do it on the same side, it just feels a little bit unbalanced, and you may completely lose that rim effect. So having the front light opposite the rim light, is a really good way to go.
As far as positioning the front light, you want to make sure that you get catch lights in both eyes and a catch light just means the reflection of this light shining in both eyes. It makes a vitreous quality to the eyes, it helps them look like they’re alive, they look wet and shiny when there’s lights reflecting in them. If you do a split light so that the light is only shining in one eye, it’s not going to be as powerful and it’s a little bit edgy looking, too, and so make sure that this light is around the front enough that it’s shining in both eyes.
Also, make sure that it’s shining in this little pocket of shadow right here next to the eyes, you may end up with a really dark spot here just depending on the shape of somebody’s face. And the position of this light is totally dependent on how pointed or how sharp a face is, how deep a nose is, how tall cheekbones are, so I can’t tell you that it needs to be exactly 45 degrees from the person, because it just depends on each person’s face.
Lighten the shadows
This camera view right now is where my camera would be if you were making a headshot of me. And so I’ve got this light shining in both of my eyes, and then I might also bring up a reflector, and this reflector can be used either on the side or from underneath and tilted to the side. It’s going to help lighten the shadows on the side away from the light. And the closer you bring it to the face, the lighter those shadows will become.
I usually have the main light as close as possible without being in the frame. It lightens the shadow areas, and helps people look more awake. And it’s a powerful way to polish off your headshots and give them a much more professional look.
One more note about the backlight, I’ve got an umbrella on here right now, which makes it a softer and gentler light when it’s shining forward on the face. You can also do it as a bare bulb if you need to, but I do prefer having a modifier on here to help soften that light that’s shining forward, otherwise you end up with a lot of detail from the hard light, like you’ll see pores and you’ll see pimples more easily with that hard light shining from behind. So it’s a good idea whenever possible, to soften your backlight with a modifier, too.
So to recap, use your big soft light on the front, make sure it’s shining in both eyes, use a reflector a little bit underneath, a little bit to the side, to ease the shadows and make them a little bit brighter on this side, and then use your rim light coming from behind, opposite your front light, you’re going to be making some great, really professionally polished looking headshots.