My favorite gear for shooting headshots
Updated: Sep 16, 2020
I began my career as a photojournalist before the era of digital photography. Technology has changed so much in the last 25 years! The photography industry has seen a huge explosion of photographers and available gear. It's easy to get overwhelmed down by all of the choices.
Since I have been specializing in headshots and business portraits, I've narrowed down my gear to a some reliable staples in my studio and on location.
Camera & Lenses
Although I began my career on team Nikon, I've been a Canon photographer for 15 years. I switched when Canon release the 10D, one of the first affordable DSLRs. I've stuck with Canon because of their great customer service and because I've invested in so many of their lenses!
My current camera body is the Canon 5D Mark 4. I always have my Mark 3 in case my main body breaks down during a shoot. My favorite lens is the 85mm f1.8. I love the 85 for it's sharpness and affordability. It's so light that my hands and wrists are not sore after a long session. It also forces me to have a consistent focal length with my headshots so they look cohesive.
I'm have tried a few different studio strobes, and my favorites are Profotos. They are definitely one of the more expensive lighting systems, but I love their consistency. The Profoto B10s are amazingly lightweight and small battery-powered lights. Three of them fit in a backpack with my laptop that I can easily carry into an office for a location shoot.
The key light modifier is the key to a good headshot. The bigger and softer the light source, the happier most clients will be with their photos. My favorite is the Photek 60" softlighter. Unlike soft boxes, it sets up in minutes and it's super affordable.
I usually use one or two hair lights to separate my subjects from the background. I use Lastolite strip boxes and Profoto speedrings.
My other favorite affordable piece of gear is a mini boom arm from Paul C. Buff. This allows the light to go slightly over the subject, which is great for versatility when photographing a lot of people. At $15, it's one of the cheapest pieces of photo equipment you will ever buy. Matthews has a longer version, but it's $100.
Stands and backgrounds
My favorite stands are the Manfrotto three packs because they click together to conserve space. I've got them in the smaller version that extend to 9ft tall and the larger size that go up to 12ft. I always have one larger stand for the main light because it's very sturdy and will will hold the mini boom arm slightly above my subject.
For backgrounds, I like the pop up option Lastolite Collapsible Reversible Background 6 x 7', White/Mid Gray because it's portable and easy to set up.
My very favorite reflector is the Westcott Eyelighter. I love the catch light that is visible in my client's eyes when using the eyelighter. But, it's cumbersome to put together, so I often leave it in the studio an use a pop up reflector and arm when I'm out on location.
Software and tethers
A couple of years ago, I started shooting sessions tethered to my laptop and I haven't looked back! It so much easier for my clients to see their images on a 15 inch monitor rather than the back of the camera. I use Tethertools connector cables to connect to a Macbook pro. For almost two years, I used Lightroom CC to capture and process my images, but it can be unreliable and slow when tethering, so I switched to Capture One.
Important non-photo gear
My goal is to help everyone look their best with the least amount of retouching. I always carry a lint roller and a hand mirror. Another great tip I've picked up is to bring Matte powder and disposable applicators to sessions. Everyone's skin has a different consistency. Oily or shiny skin can be distracting in headshot photography. It's 100% easier to take dab on a little translucent powder than to fix shininess with retouching.