I got pulled into a last-minute photo project at work.

The goal? Shoot some headshots.

But corporate headshots are sooooooo boring, right? Some of them are just downright abysmal. So I turned it into an editorial portrait shoot. To make it more fun I used video lights instead of strobes. Everyone loved the results, so I wanted to share how I lit and shot them!

But first, here are a few of the finals.


Here are the details. It seems more complicated than it is.

Background: I used a black seamless for most of these, then switched to a rust texture.

Background light: Arri 1K fresnel to add a spot of light behind the subject. Avoid spilling extra light on your subject. Just hit the background with it. Barn doors are in order here.

Key: Lowell Rifa (200W) w/ softbox. I used a boom arm to bring the light 18″ above the subject’s head at a 45 degree angle. Make sure it doesn’t blind the person though–if you want to do this make sure your light isn’t more than 200W. Anything more and it would be too bright for your subject (these are video lights after all). Make sure you use a high-quality boom arm–we don’t want any light stands to tip over. Keep that light just barely out of the top edge of your frame.

Fill: Arri 2K fresnel with a grid, set at 50% power, 20 feet back from the subject. But you could use a less powerful light and just put the light closer to your subject. Just make sure it’s a relatively soft light, or use some sort of diffusion. That’ll fill in eye shadows and create a softer look.


  • Don’t let your subject’s take this too serious. This should be fun. If it is not fun for them, figure out why and fix it. This should be casual.
  • The best headshots, corporate or whatever, are the ones that reveal a person’s true personality.
  • Interact with people while you take their photos. Make them laugh. Be weird. Keep them comfortable and relaxed. Take short breaks and get their story (if you have time).
  • Set up lights beforehand so someone isn’t waiting on you–then when they arrive you can focus on interacting with them and tweaking lights.
  • Ask people how they look when they think. How they look when they have a big idea. Call out emotions and have people copy those. Just have fun. Then shoot smiles when they naturally come! That’s the real secret. Shoot real smiles by creating real smiles.

Good luck out there. Keep shooting.

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