Site Overlay

Five-minute headshots

5-minute headshot

As a people photographer, my ideal is to spend some time with the people I’m shooting, even for something as basic as a headshot. Why bother? My take is that a headshot is often the first opportunity someone has to relate to my client; and more than simply making a good first impression, I want my client to look like someone you’d want to relate to.

So I gave some hard thought to this desired end and the process leading up to it when I offered to do headshots for my chapter of BNI (Business Networking International). 18 people, 18 headshots. All to be taken over a few weeks, in half-hour sessions after each meeting, say 5 or 6 people per session, so, what, maybe 5 minutes each. What was I thinking?

5-minute headshot

More constraints: No assistant. And I live in Brooklyn, our meetings are in Manhattan, so whatever gear I used would have to be stuff I could carry with me on the subway: camera, lights, background. What was I thinking?

I played around with the gear issue. I was going for a more forward look than a standard gray background, and I’ve got a dead black Photek background that’s light, so that was in. I could drape it over the backs of the tall banquettes in the restaurant we meet in, so no background supports would be necessary.

I thought about lighting, and settled on my Canon Speedlites, three 580 EXes, all on manual: one with a Honl grid, clamped to some decor over the banquette as a hairlight, one in a small Photek Softlighter II as the key, and maybe one in an Orbis ringflash as a fill if I needed it. Elinchrom Skyports to trigger. Canon 5D, 24-70. Done, and it would all fit into a Hakuba lightstand case, a ThinkTank Shapeshifter backpack, and the stuffbag the background came in.


The plan worked, with some caveats. I did a setup at home, carefully measured the distances from lights to subject so it would be easily repeatable. When I’m standing on the subject’s tapemark on the floor, the face of the Softlighter is at the end of my outstretched fingers, about 3 feet. Second tapemark on the floor for the photographer’s position, one armspan (about 6 feet) from the subject. Ditto for the hairlight. (If I depended on a tape measure, it would be one more thing to carry or forget. Learn to measure with your body parts!) Double-check power output on Speedltes. Use auxiliary power packs on the Speedlites: the Softlighter and ringflash suck power, and the auxiliary battery packs—I’ve got a Quantum SC Turbo and a Canon CP-3—keep the recycling times quick.

I did some quick skin retouching, then added a high pass filter, and you see the results before you. More 5-minute headshots here.