This is a set of group corporate headshots I did on location for a bank in Langley, BC. These headshot photos were all shot with studio strobes and softboxes against a light grey background set up in the staff room.
Working in Vancouver, it is often difficult to get those interesting on-location hi-key photos during the winter months. The cold weather and dark rainy days limit shooting outdoors, and we get so few sunny days during these months. Many of my clients also work during the day, so a lot of my headshot photo sessions are done in the evening to accommodate busy work schedules. Quite often, I’m shooting in-studio using a plain backdrop, and using complex lighting setups to get the hi-key look for some of the portraits I produce.
So when I want to produce headshots that look like they were shot on-location, I sometimes need to rely on producing Photoshop composite photos to achieve the final product I’m after. Here’s a sample of what a Photoshop composite headshot looks like before and after:
There are many Photoshop compositing tutorials on the web, so I won’t go into the nitty gritty detail of how to produce composite photos. But here are some valuable tips I’ve picked up along the way that will help you produce headshot composite photos that are easy to achieve and look realistic:
If you are planning to produce composite photos that is hi-key (i.e. lighter and brighter background), shoot the headshot against a background that approximates the color or key of the replacement background. So if the background you are adding in has a lighter tint (such as in the example above), try shooting the original headshot on a background on white or something close in key or tint.
Doing this will make it a lot easier to cut out your subject using Photoshop’s masking tools or a third-party tool like Topaz Labs’ Remask. This is especially helpful when you go to mask out the subject’s hair. If I had shot the above example on a darker backdrop, it would have taken a lot more work to mask out the subject’s hair for the lighter background.
Whenever I see a cool potential background that combines colour, light, and shadow in interesting ways, I’ll shoot it out of focus and will save a copy on my computer for later use. As I shoot it, I’m keeping in mind the type of headshots I typically produce and apply just the right amount of out of focus blur in-camera. I also try to collect a number of different backgrounds I think can work for darker or moodier headshots as well as hi-key or brighter headshots.
Producing your own out of focus background doesn’t require you to scout out interesting locations. You also don’t need to purchase pre-made backgrounds for composites, although there are good resources out there if you do. Most of my shots are take around the studio, at home, or at a local park during a walk. There’s no need to find these backgrounds in hard-to-access places or to spend a lot of money buying them since they’re going to be out of focus anyway. Almost any place with a mix of interesting light, shadow, and color will do.
Photoshop includes a good masking tool for a large number of objects, but I’ve found that other tools do a better job at extracting or masking out hair. If you’re extracting an object with a relatively smooth edge, Photoshop is fine. However, for subjects that have intricate edges (e.g. human hair or fuzzy sweaters), I’ve found that using a tool like Topaz Labs Remask, OnOne’s Perfect Layers, or Vertus Fluid Mask 3 makes the producing an accurate and clean mask a little easier.
After you’ve extracted your subject and placed him or her on a layer above your chosen background images, the next set is to match up the direction of light. It’s usually easier to match up the background with the foreground subject than the other way around, but of course, that all depends on your particular image. A good way to achieve this is to use the Photoshop Curves tool to bring the overall exposure up or down to match the foreground subject. Then use a gradient mask to produce a directional lighting effect that matches the direction of light of the background with that of the foreground subject.
You may also need to flip the background image to match up with the direction of light on your foreground subject. In the image example above, I shot the background with the window light reflecting off a white wall on the right of the frame, but because I shot my subject’s headshot with an Elinchrom Rotalux Octa from the left, I decided to flip the image in Photoshop (using the Flip Horizontal adjustment under the EDIT > TRANSFORM menu) to match up the direction of light.
Keeping these tips in mind before and during production of your composite headshot photo will help you achieve final images that look as natural as possible. If you have any questions or comments, please leave them behind in the comments section below.
Small businesses can really benefit from headshot photos for their website. Good headshots can help create that personal connection between businesses and customers that is so critical to doing business in today’s hyper social media world. Establishing personal connections quickly have always been important for establishing trust, but in our connected world, where a customer can access numerous other business in minutes, it is more important than ever that a small business is able to show “who” they are.
Having a brand and “about us” page is helpful, but if you want your customers to really know who you are, it is good practice to show who the actual people are behind the business. Customers see logos and mission statements all the time, but what really separates a small business from another are people who represent the company. This is why presenting good headshots of a company’s staff is so important for business.
A local well-known business recently contacted us to help them produce a set of photos for their staff. The company has a history as a family business and displaying photos of their local business operators has been an important part of their marketing for some time. Since opening a new funeral home in the Dunbar neighbourhood of Vancouver, Martin Brothers has been investing in their marketing to local families in B.C. As part of their online marketing effort, they wanted to create a set of headshots of their local staff for their company website. Here are a few of the photos we took for them, both in studio and on location.
It was such a pleasure to meet Sean Murty, a real estate agent based in Vancouver. He came in ready for his headshot session and was easy to work with. It made the whole photo session relaxed and easy, and produced some really good headshots for his growing business. I could tell right away that Sean is a good realtor, he’s got a great attitude, friendly, but very professional as well. Here are a couple of photos I shot for Sean in studio.
I often do lawyer headshots on location, where I’m photographing a number of lawyers for a law firm, but for this headshot photo session, Grace visited my studio in Vancouver on a sunny November afternoon, so I decided to set up the shoot to make use of natural light for a handful of photos. The headshots taken here are a just a couple from the set of photos taken that mixes natural light with flash strobes.
Here, I’m using natural light from the windows bouncing against a large reflector. I’ve added fill light using one of my new favourite studio strobes, the Elinchrom RX One in a Rotalux Octabox. I particularly like the RX One with mixing with natural light indoors because it allows for a very low power setting, making it easy to balance the ambient light with fill light coming from the front.
Getting the right look is about finding the right shutter speed to let that clean natural high-key backlighting come through. The result is a clean high-key headshot in studio as shown below.
I was commissioned to do business group photos for a Vancouver financial management firm who needed photos for their website and other marketing needs. The group photos were taken at my Vancouver photo studio and shot against a large white background. As with all my corporate studio photo sessions, we took a large number of photos and my clients were able to review images live as we went. Instant review of photos always helps to make sure we’re on track with the type of images they need and speeds up the turn-around time for headshot photos. Below are a few final photos after some editing work to keep the photos consistent looking.
This is one of a handful of formal business portraits for one of our professional clients. This photo was taken at my Vancouver photo studio using three studio flashes and a number of reflectors to soften skin and fill in shadows. Such portraits are great for LinkedIn profiles and professional web portfolios, and they take only 20-30 minutes to produce.
One of the most common types of headshots is the headshot on white background. It’s a timeless option if you are looking for a clean and minimal headshot portrait that will look great on almost any website or for your LinkedIn profile photo. These headshot photos were taken in studio and features a subtle high-key gradient.
A few sample photos from a corporate headshots session I did for a group of managers and executives from a property management firm in Vancouver. Photos were taken on location at their office. The setup was in a tight space, but the portable lighting system I often use on shoots fit perfectly. These corporate headshots are being used as profile photos for the managers, but are large enough to be used in print marketing as well.