Can Headshots Be Taken Outside?

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By The Light Committee

When you’re looking for a headshot photographer, eventually you’ll also need to decide if you want your headshot done in a studio our outdoors location. So, sometimes the question is asked if headshots can be taken outside. In other words, can your headshots be done in natural light? The short answer is, of course, they can be. However, are they better done in a studio?

A natural light women's actor headshots made in Los Angeles
With the Right Photographer, Good Natural Light Headshots Can Be Created to Complement a Headshot Portfolio

Natural light is usually a very hard light on a person and not very flattering. Contrary to popular belief, a cloudy day is typically preferred by a photographer over a bright day. If your photographer has you facing the sun, in addition to the very unflattering light, you’ll likely be squinting. If it’s a hot day, that can cause you to sweat too, or shiver if it’s a cold day. Regardless of whether you opt for natural light or studio light, there are obstacles like these to overcome. So, can headshots be taken outside? Let’s take a closer look.

Natural Light Advantages and Disadvantages

You might be considering your options being in the market for mobile headshots in Los Angeles or just shopping around for Los Angeles headshots. Thus, you’re trying to decide where and how to take headshots. There are more disadvantages to using natural light than there are advantages. One advantage is that it is low cost. The sun is free to use. But, as with most things that are free, they’re usually not the best option. If a photographer knows what they’re doing, they can make great photos for you using natural light. Also, if you’re doing lifestyle photos, natural light is a great option. There are also great locations for a good backdrop, such as cityscapes in Glendale, CA, or local parks for greenery, and more.

That natural light / or the direct sun is a hard light has already been mentioned. It does not flatter a person to have the harsh sun directly on their faces. Another disadvantage is the sun is constantly moving. So, a photographer must adapt to the changing light. One might think high noon is a good time to go so there is plenty of light. But, to a photographer, this is as bad as the sun can get. The best light is roughly an hour before sunset. Thus, time is limited. A common step taken to avoid the harsh sun on the skin is to shoot in the shade. But that goes against using the sun, which is what most people are expecting when they ask, can headshots be taken outside.

woman real estate agent headshot outside Los Angeles
Another Example of a Headshot Done Outside in Natural Light

Studio Lighting Advantages and Disadvantages

Studio lights are expensive, especially high-quality lights. Each one can cost several thousands of dollars. Then there are all the modifiers to use with them that add to the costs. In addition, you can’t just throw up a light, aim it, and click – contrary to how simple some people think studio photography is. It takes a keen understanding of studio lighting and camera equipment to properly light and expose a subject. So, in addition to the expense, it can be too technical for many people.

But studio lighting offers a studio photographer the one thing they want when they set out to start a studio – complete control. With studio lighting, a photographer can shape and position the light to great effect. If you want to go from a beauty look to a commercial look to a dramatic look, that is conveniently possible without chasing the sun. Studio light modifiers also help the photographer control how dramatically hard they want the light to be to how immensely soft they want the light to be.

A theatrical actor headshot of a dramatic man in leather in a studio near Los Angeles with a red background
Studio Lighting Lets a Photographer Have Complete Control of a Studio’s Environment for Far More Creative Effect

So, What’s the Verdict – Outside or Studio?

So, can headshots be taken outside? If you’re looking for executive headshots and only need one for the company website, LinkedIn, etc., opt for a studio headshot for all the advantages listed above. Basically, it affords the photographer you’ll work with the best opportunity to get the look you’re after because he or she can control the light. If you’re an actor or model, opt for studio headshots as your primary shots and consider natural light headshots to complement them. So, in short, you will usually want to get studio headshots primarily and then opt for natural light headshots to complement them. But, this is not to say a natural light headshot cannot also be your go-to first option. Photography is as much an art as it is a science – so long as you work with a photographer that understands both.

For example, if you’re an actor, get studio photos for your main commercial, comedic or theatrical looks. Then you might later opt for a lifestyle session to complement those main photos. If you’re a model, get studio headshots for your main beauty and full-body shots and use lifestyle headshots to better brand yourself to a niche you’re after.

A professional headshot of a woman outside near Burbank, CA
One More Example of a Headshot Done in Natural Light

Whatever You Do, Work with a Pro

It’s easy nowadays to think a friend can snap a few photos of you or that you can have another friend use their phone. After all, many people think themselves photographers since we all walk around with a camera in our pockets. This is precisely why you should use a professional headshot photographer.

Many people can ask an amateur-photographer friend to snap a photo. And, everyone can use a phone to make a headshot that looks like everyone else’s phone-shot headshot. So, when you’re looking for head shots in Los Angeles, using a professional photographer that knows what they are doing is your opportunity to clearly stand apart. This is important because a lot of people lose sight of why they want a headshot in the first place. It’s for business, to help make you money or advance your career. It’s an important tool in your portfolio to get work. So, it’s important to get the best headshots from a professional.