Simple Headshot: Two Lights and a Backdrop

In areas with high concentrations of actors, dancers, and other performers, headshots are the bread and butter for many photographers.  You can easily create a professional-looking studio portrait like the one shown here with minimal lighting.  For this quick example, I placed a Canon 580 EX II on a stand high and to the camera-left rear of the subject, zoomed at 105mm and aimed down directly at her head.  The flash’s power was set to 1/32.

The main light was another 580 EX II at the 45/45 position, camera-right, with power set to 1/16, modified with a translucent shoot-through umbrella.  The flash units were set to manual and were triggered with PockeWizard Plus II’s.  Canon 7D, 85mm lens at f/2.8, ISO 100, 1/250 sec.

For more info on creating great lighting with small flash units, see Phil Steele’s excellent videos >>



Ed. How would you light someone who is worried about shadows emphasizing their wrinkles?

Ed Verosky

Greg, minimizing the shadows is the key. In order to do that you’d bring the main light closer to the front of the face and use a reflector to bounce some extra fill in there, too. Clamshell, or any flat lighting will help. However, since I prefer a little more contrast in my lighting, I’d opt to do a quick retouch in post, if feasible.


Hi Ed
What flash zoom range did you use for the main light ? Is there a guideline for flash zoom range selection?

Ed Verosky

Kiad, since my goal is to modify the main light with the umbrella, I’m looking for a wider, rather than narrower, dispersal of light. I usually keep the flash zoom at around 50 which gives me the effect I like given the distance from flash to umbrella, flash power, distance to subject, etc.

Jerome T

Hi Ed,
This question is off topic. When you are shooting portraits do you prefer a zoom lens over a fixed lens? I’m using a Canon 40D and I have the 70-200m L2.8 but I find that due to limited space I can’t use the lens. So I end up having to use my kit 17-85m zoom.
Great Podcast & e books!!!


Ed Verosky

Jerome: Whatever works. The kit lens isn’t bad, especially if you’re getting results you like. I like the 85mm 1.8, too.

Al D

Hi Ed,

I am having a lot of trouble getting catchlights in the eyes. Am I putting the umbrella up to high?



Steven Scholten

I was wondering if you used ambient light in this portait? The “shadow side of her face is fairly well lit.
pd: I have your e-book, it’s great.

Ed Verosky

Steven: With the shutter speed and other settings as they are, normal ambient light wouldn’t have much of an effect. The relative size and position of the light gives you this effect. There will be a little bit of light bouncing around the walls, too.

Leave a Comment