Where to Take Headshot Photos

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By The Light Committee

Sometimes, deciding on a setting or location for where you want your professional headshots made in Los Angeles can be difficult. First, there is a studio session versus outdoors. Then there are case-specific considerations for actor headshots, business professional headshots, modeling digitals, and so on. So, if you are shopping around for headshot options, what are some considerations for where to take headshots?

A theatrical actor headshot of a black man in a studio near Pasadena with a police scene background look
Studio Lighting Allows for Greater Control to Get Precisely the Shot You are After

First, Find the Right Photographer

The most important thing to consider about where to get headshots is to first make sure you are hiring someone that can produce great results. So, be sure to follow some tips about it, whether an actor, a business professional, a model, and so on. Doing some homework on photographers is step one. Without a good professional photographer, it does not matter where the headshots are made.

Assuming you have found a photographer you like, you will need to decide between studio lighting or natural lighting. Your photographer may also be able to help you decide. But, again regarding finding a photographer, make sure the photographer you decide to go with can do either studio or natural light.

There are advantages and disadvantages to both.

Studio Lighting Versus Natural Lighting Headshots

Typically, if you are going in for your first-ever headshot, you might want to opt for a studio. You are likely to be more comfortable about it compared to being in public. Also, the photographer can have more control over how you are lit. This makes it more likely you will precisely get the look you are after. If you have already gotten some studio headshots done and are getting extras, natural light is a great option to add to your portfolio. However, none of this is a steadfast rule to go by. Photography is an art form.

Generally, in a studio setting the photographer can closely control the light for whatever effect you are after. However, this assumes the studio is properly equipped for changing looks via lighting. For example, if for an actor, can they change the lighting for commercial and theatrical looks? Or, if for a business professional, can they increase light output on the background while not necessarily on you or parts of you?

A photographer’s portfolio is often telling, for example you might come across a photographer where all the backgrounds are the same or similar color or that all faces are lit similarly. Sometimes, this is a capabilities limitation and sometimes it is by choice, in that the photographer has focused on a specific look to offer.

Regarding natural light, it has its own pleasing aspects too. Backgrounds can be interesting complements to the photo. Color tones of sun light that might be desirable are also difficult to reproduce with low-quality studio lights.

However, control of the light for specific looks is far more limited.  The photographer is limited by wherever the sun is, or is not, when your session starts. It might be cloudy, rainy, and so on. Also, where you choose a location will have an impact. If you are in the middle of downtown Los Angeles, buildings will likely block a lot of light whereas in the open desert you will have the opposite issue. So, it takes planning whether for a studio or outdoors session.

Studio or Natural Light Actor Headshots

Most actors are usually after a commercial and theatrical look or two commercial looks. As mentioned, a photographer will be in more control to properly light for these in a studio setting. But getting commercial and theatrical looks using natural light is not necessarily impossible.

A dramatic actor headshot of an Asian woman in a studio near Arcadia, CA
Lighting to Create Such a Theatrical Headshot is Much Tougher to Do with Natural Light

For some actors, they simply like the overall look of natural light. One thing to consider is that in most cases and on most sets, even when outdoors, an actor is usually being artificially lit. So, you might factor in this consideration when deciding between studio or outdoor headshots. Do you want to look in headshots the way you might on a set?

Budget permitting, an ideal situation might be to get some of each – studio and natural light. Actors are often advised to have around a 5-7 headshots anyway. So, you can rotate different shots onto your profile and learn which ones are being more fruitful in attracting casting directors.

A commercial actor headshot of a woman in natural light near Sherman Oaks
Natural Light Can Be Very Pleasing in its Own Unique Way for Actor Headshots

Studio or Natural Light Business Professional Headshots

Business professionals looking for professional headshots should also first consider studio-lit shots. Backgrounds can be kept simpler, so the focus stays on you. It is also easier to light in ways that match any branding requirements. Often there are corporate requirements for using solid-colored backgrounds.

But again, natural light is still a solid option. If you opt for natural light, there are often good spots around a photographer’s studio. Brick buildings make for good backdrops as do courtyards or local parks. Try and determine if you prefer greenery or cityscape. Much of this might be driven by your profession.

Sometimes a photographer can place a background into a photo using Photoshop, but you should keep in mind that the real thing is going to look better just about every time.

Where to Take Modeling Digitals

Models will need around four specific photos. First is a headshot with a natural look. No makeup is often preferred. Second, a full body shot is essential. Some modeling agencies will ask that a body shot be in a swimsuit. In other cases, tight or form-fitting clothing will do. In addition, it is often good to have two more other shots in different outfits. This can be another headshot, or another shot that is half-body or three-quarter body, or any combination of these.

Another shot to consider is a beauty shot, whether male or female. This specific shot is to capture how you might look in an actual advertisement, if a closeup were to be used. So, full makeup and retouching is okay in this shot.

As you can tell, there are many potential outfit changes with modeling digitals. Plus, using a very basic or solid-color background is good so the focus stays on the model and not the surroundings. As a result, in almost every case, modeling digitals should be done in a studio. Of course, extra shots taken can be done outdoors using natural light. This might be a good idea if some of the work you are targeting is outdoors in nature.

Lifestyle Headshots

Lifestyle headshots are headshots in a specific environment to convey a message or reinforce a brand. This could be a lawyer in front of the courthouse or a musician on a stage. It could be a doctor in the operating room, a real estate agent in front of a home to sell, and so on.

So, lifestyle headshots are driven by the location you want to use to convey the branding message you want. In this case, it can be indoor or outdoors. It could even be staged in a studio setting. Some additional examples might be a chef in the kitchen, a yoga instructor in their studio, an architect at a construction site, and so on.

Social Media Photos

Social media is now strongly a platform for influencers to make money. But it is also a platform that potential hiring agents look at. If you are a creative, you will likely want to put your best foot forward when it comes to the content you post.

Almost everyone has a smartphone they can use to snap a picture. To truly stand out, many people opt to do photo shoots to really enhance their social media profiles. Depending on how much your social media influences the work you get, some monthly budget might even be set aside for content produced with professional photography.

Like lifestyle photos, social media photos and where they are taken are driven by the branding you are attempting to push. A musical creative might want to do some in a studio setting while a fashionista might want to do some with a cityscape backdrop.

Creative Professionals Headshots

Creative professionals also demand high quality headshots. Dancers use them for auditions as well as for promotional content related to dance performances. Musicians have many ways in which they can use headshots, from album art to social media, to promotions, and more.

There are also authors, paint artists, and entertainment industry professionals that could use headshots to promote themselves and their work. Whether they are done in a studio or outdoors should first be weighed against the application. Dancers are sometimes required to have a standard headshot for some auditions. So, a studio setting might be ideal. A musician might use headshot photographer to create shots to promote events they will be playing at. A studio setting might be ideal for this too. But if you play a lot of outdoor venues, perhaps something outside is more suited.

So, to summarize the question of where to take headshot photos, it depends on various factors. Sometimes there are just requirements to meet that determine where. Sometimes it is about the branding. Usually it involves creative considerations. Just keep in mind the capabilities of the photographer will be important – can they shoot with studio lighting, just natural light, or both? So, get specific with the photographer you plan to work with.