Headshot Portrait Lighting on a Budget

Chances are, no matter what your specialty is, you’ve been asked to photograph headshots. Professionals from many industries use these images to brand themselves or simply to introduce themselves to others. Headshots are also increasingly popular on social networks and dating sites.

Even if you don’t have a studio setup that seems conducive to headshots, you can seize these income opportunities by using equipment you already own. Pye of Lin and Jirsa¬†shows how his studio makes use of its everyday gear to create Peter Hurley-style headshots:

The square lighting look that defines Hurley’s style consists of using four constant lights placed in a square configuration. The camera shoots right through the center of the setup. In the above video, the same look was captured using one light source along with three reflectors.

In this case, the main light source coming from directly above the subject was an Einstein with parabolic modifier, because it’s what this studio had handy. A strobe shot through an umbrella would work similarly–there’s no need to buy anything extra.

With the primary light source in place over the subject, the silver side of one Westcott 40-inch 5-in-1 reflector was placed to the right of the subject and another to the left. A third reflector, held by the model, filled in the face from below.


To add a bit of a kick, Pye placed an additional strobe behind the subject’s head. This light is optional, but it creates a pleasant halo of light that sets the model off from the background.

Using a Canon 5D Mark III and a Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 Mark II lens, the photographer successfully shot the high-quality portraits that headshot clients are after:




If you have a strobe, an umbrella, and reflectors, you’re on your way to taking some impressive headshot portraits for potential clients. Don’t let your lack of specialized equipment stop you from stepping outside of your photography niche.

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2 responses to “Headshot Portrait Lighting on a Budget”

  1. Sanjeev Vallabh says:

    I’m looking for the Hurley link from the video posted. I can’t seem to find it. Please email me the link. As well as the link to these great tip videos. Thanks.

  2. Lori says:

    Hi, Thanks tenfold for the info, but what type of flash are you using on your camera?

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