Professional profile photo critique

gossamer

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Hi, I have a Nikon D500 with a 24-70mm f/2.8 ED VR and a Flashpoint XPLOR 600 with a 38" octobox. I'm an avid amateur trying to take some profile pics for linkedin and a political campaign. This is just a test shot. The actual client has spent time with hair/makeup, etc.

The shot was taken at f/2.8 1/160th at 52mm ISO 200.

The "client" has stated they want a white background. I'd otherwise use something like a light gray and bounce some light off the back to create more of an effect. I believe it creates more depth to the picture when you do this, correct?

The XPLOR 600 is set up high directly above my head. I believe that's called "butterfly lighting"?

What can I do to improve this picture? I'd like to make the woman look a little friendlier. Do you have any tips for making older women more attractive? How can the lighting be improved? Does it appear a little harsh?

Is the catchlight attractive? Is it desirable to have her right shoulder a little OOF?

Also, I used my Lastolite LR1250 12-in Ezybalance card to set white balance (setting the camera to D1 and choosing the white side), but it still looked blue in photoshop. I had to choose "auto" to get the color the way it is now. I also tried "flash" and it was very similar to "auto".

DSC5137-30.jpg
 

Designer

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I think the WB needs some adjustment.

DSC5137-30 - Version 2.jpg


The background needs more light to become white.
 

ronlane

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In a studio setting, I would use settings closer to f/5.6 - 8.0 and get the shutter to about 1/250. I would also suggest a white reflector or bounce card under to help fill in the shadows a little. Lighting the background will help it be more white.
 

Destin

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No reason to be shooting at f/2.8 in the studio. Start by stopping down to f/8 to f/11.

You also want to make the client appear friendly, yet professional. I’d lower the camera angle just slightly so you aren’t looking down on her, and have her lean into the camera a little more, extending her neck in the process. By asking a headshot client to bring there chin “up and over” and imaginary bar you can eliminate wrinkles in the neck and any potential double chins.

You should also add a light specifically on the background to get true white. Generally clients looking for a white background want a seamless, bright white background with no visible texture or change in shade.
 

Derrel

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I think the contrast is way too high. The lighting is harsh and too specular. Every wrinkle and line in her face is revealed by a main light placement that is far too high up. I would definitely lower the clarity to soften this up, unless you can do a reshoot and re-light it with a softer, lower-contrast lighting scheme. I do not think this is a good profile photo, it just looks too hard, too contrasty.
 
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smoke665

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When you get my age, most of your subjects are older women so you learn to deal with the challenges, they present.

Instead of 50mm zoom out to 70mm. It's more flattering and thinning. I shoot in studio at f/8, 1/125, ISO 100, and adjust the light to match my settings, not the other way around. You can do it without an Incident Meter but it's a pain. I assume you're saving as Raw, if not you should be. The first shot in a series should be of you target card, set your camera to auto WB, adjust your WB to the target shot, then sync all your other shots in the series to that.

Last thing you want to do is have any light hitting an older woman's' face at an extreme angle. Older women don't have the tight blemish free skin of youth, so any light raking the skin is going to accentuate those wrinkles. Clamshell lighting will help, but bring your soft box down to center about the top of the head, and as close to on axis as possible. If there's a lot of red in the skin a silver reflector in front down low pointed up will help to diminish the red, if not then a white reflector is fine. Bring the soft box in as close as possible, the closer the softer the light will be and the more it will wrap around. Wrinkles show up because of shadow, so the softer the light the more it hides the wrinkles. Makeup doesn't fill the wrinkle it just disguises it

It doesn't matter if the background is black or white, what matters is how you expose it in relation to the subject. You can turn a white background black and a black background white, by changing that relationship. Since you said they want a white background and I'm assuming you only have one light (unless I misread), start with a white. By using the clamshell approach and the key close to on axis you should be able to put the subject fairly close, any shadow from the subject will be hidden. The fall off from you key will hopefully get it close enough that you can pull it up post in PS. If you have the second light to light the background even better.

Last thing is posing older women. I tried to find a chart of poses for examples to illustrate but I can't find it now. Using the drop shoulder is fine, but have them turn their face flat to the camera. Loose skin under the jaw is probably going to be there. Turning the head will tighten it slightly as will lifting and extending the chin. Sometimes you have to hide it, as in collars or scarfs. Older women seem to be self conscious with their hands, use them. The classic hand under the chin or side of the chin, will hide a lot of sagging neck. Just be sure to tell them to rest lightly or it distorts the face.

Even after all this you may have to do a little clean up in post. I like to use a layer with surface blur and a black mask. I then use a soft whit brush at a low opacity to reveal the effect.
 
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gossamer

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Thank you all so much. You guys are always amazing, and my photography has improved so much as a result. I agree the contrast is too high. I've just returned from the actual photo shoot and have posted her picture here. I wish I had more time between to digest your comments and account for those changes prior to the shoot. Hopefully you think this one is better.

I should also mention the "studio" for this first shot was my living room with a white muslin 5x7' backdrop. One of the reasons I used f/2.8 is because there were some slight wrinkles in the backdrop and I wanted to blur them out.

The picture below of my actual client was shot at f/2.8 1/125th ISO 200 at 52mm. Now I know to go more towards 70mm, but then I always end up getting part of the strobe in my photo somehow.

I actually have two of the Flashpoint XPLOR 600s but thought I could use one for this effectively. I also have an SB-700, but don't have the equipment to fire it off-camera. What's the easiest way to light the background with this second XPLOR or the SB-700, given I also have the trigger for the XPLOR in my hotshoe?

How would I configure the flash in this setup to do the backlight? Perhaps set the second XPLOR 600 in always-on mode at like 1/4 power or something? Do I include the softbox with it?

I also realized the the key light (or only light, really) was probably too far from the subject. It was set in TTL, so I assumed it would fire to expose properly, but it was definitely under-exposed and I had to fix it in post.

I realize her eyes have dark shadows under them, but don't know enough about PS to fix them effectively (eraser didn't work well). I've brightened her teeth and reduced the clarity a bit (perhaps too much?). I could probably also do a little more with her neck. In this picture I also used a reflector under her chest (Glow 40x60 5-in-1 white). Perhaps it wasn't high enough? I also used the clone stamp at about 40% to reduce some of the highlights on her cheeks.

This is a substantially reduced version of the original. The original NEF is available here:
_DSC5172.NEF

DSC5172-30.jpg
 

Destin

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Second photo of the actual client is MUCH better.

Still, you need to increase the aperture to at least f/8. You also need to bring the light down lower. The nose shadow falling directly below the nose is unflattering and you need more light in the eye sockets. Portraits like this absolutely revolve around having a catch light in the eye to give life to the photo. I’d lower the main light a little and get a reflector on her lap aimed up under her chin.

To light the background I’d use the xplor with its stock 7 inch reflector. Aim it at the background from low behind the subject. Adjust power as needed, being careful not to wash out the edges of the subject into the background through overexposure.
 
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gossamer

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Would someone also help me better understand what "clamshell lighting" is? I just watched this video, and learned a ton (specifically about how the light being farther away create more harsh shadows), but I still don't understand specifically what is meant by clamshell lighting.

My current light setup includes two Flashpoint XPLOR 600s with 38" Glow Octoboxes.

How to Photograph a Headshot With Clam Shell Lighting
 

smoke665

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help me better understand what "clamshell lighting" is

Here's a simple definition for you - A soft main key, placed slightly above the subject’s eyeline, a few feet from the subject, in combination with a secondary source/reflector (the lower-fill), angled up to reflect light upwards which fills-in any surface irregularities in the subject’s face, producing a smooth, youthful appearance. Both are generally as straight on as you can get it (not angled to either side). The idea is that each will cancel out shadows of the other.

It's harder to do with a large softbox because you will likely be bumping into with your lens while taking the shot. A beauty dish by virtue of it's smaller size makes it a little easier.

specifically about how the light being farther away create more harsh shadows

I'm not sure you understand soft vs hard light. Moving a light source further away makes it smaller in relation to the subject which makes in harder. I won't go into all the explanation just to keep it simple, but hard light won't wrap around edges. It doesn't "create" shadows, it just doesn't illuminate those areas. Moving a light closer to the subject makes it larger in relation to the subject which makes it soft. Again the simple explanation is soft light will wrap around the edges illuminating the shadow areas.
 
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smoke665

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Here's a good example of a clamshell setup. This one is using two softboxes, but you can easily switch out for a reflector.
studio011.jpg
 
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gossamer

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Awesome. I can do that. Any chance you have a recommendation for a light stand that can be used for the lower flash?

Can I use my SB-700 for the light behind the subject? Or perhaps I should use the SB-700 for the lower flash and the strobe for the back light?
 

Derrel

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You have a 38-inch softbox: PLENTY large enough for a headshot! The issue I see is that the light is placed far too high-up: causing a very unattractive nose shadow that drops down and onto her upper lip: most unflattering. it also casts a shadow of her face on her neck. It also casts shadows under her eyes. It also prevents eyeball catchlights. In a word, you've simply got to get the main light placed at the "right height" and also in "the right location".

Do not worry about close main light or far...when it's super-close, the light falls off in intensity very rapidly, causing uneven lighting. There is absolutely,positively NO need to worry about placing a 38-inch diameter modifier close to the subject when doing a headshot...that's not the priority! The priority is to get an attractively-lighted person.

You need to look,very,very,very carefully, at ___exactly__ what your main light is doing to the sitter's face and eyes. Are there catchlights in her eyes? Is her face showing wrinkles and lines, or is it lighted so that skin texture is somewhat minimized?

There is wayyyyyyyyyyyyyyy to much emphasis on the 'net and on YouTube with people telling others to place their main light "close", so as to get "soft light"; that is a grave error, and absolutely HORRIBLE advice! The size of the light is the BEST way to control softness, and a 38 inch light is _plenty_ soft for a headshot! The light is many times bigger than the person's face! Get the light in a position that makes the eyes sparkle, and which places the nose shadow above the top lip.

Skip the clamshell concept, and go to a modified loop lighting arrangement, and she will look better. Or, stick with clamshell, use an under-chin reflector, and make sure her skin looks smooth, not all lined. Look, realllllly carefully, at what different light placements do.

One of the best things you can do is to gt a roller-base light stand, and move the main light through an arc, and look, intently, at what the light is actually "doing". FORGET the YouTube tutorial videos made by noobs...and look,and I mean really,really look, at what _YOUR_ light is actually doing. FORGET the bad lighting diagrams that litter the world wide web (many are actually incorrectly-drawn pieces of junk), and look at what the light is doing, and you'll be miles ahead. Forget formulas. Move the light up,and down, and around, and watch what it does. When it looks pleasing, that's a valid light placement.

*****Fire a light at the background wall or paper....make sure it's enough light to make the background read as "white", in relation to the f/stop and lighting power that is lighting the woman in the foreground. Use a softbox or umbrella on the background light, or not. It's not that critical.
 

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