Headshot photography indoors

edited September 2015 Posted in » Nikon D3100 Forum
Hi there, I need to shoot a number of students for their year book. Need to keep it simple and against the classroom wall. Classroom has fluorescent lights.

Please advise best setting for this.

Thank you


  • edited September 2015
    Your main challenge will be lighting the faces evenly. You can set the white balance to whatever sort of light is shining, and adjust the color set as well, if you shoot in Raw mode, and post process in View NX-2. That gives you a lot of latitude on color. If the shots are to be black and white, this does not much matter.

    You will have to experiment with the lighting, to make sure that you do not end up with unpleasant shadows and distracting highlights. Most portraiture is done with a flash, or even multiple flashes, or other explicitly placed lights, and a good bit of control. The built in flash on the camera is likely to give harsh shadows and to be worse than ambient light unless you can diffuse it. An off camera flash would be desirable (and a whole lot of other things you can ask for and not get...).

    Your worst enemy here is likely to be that the light is coming from above, and will tend to give your subjects shadows under the eyes. Try, if you can, to get the light as evenly facing them as you can, so as to avoid "raccoon eyes".

    For the best portraits, you will want to use a longish focal length and the smallest aperture you can get. If you have the kit 18-55mm lens, zoom out to 55mm and open it up as much as possible. The goal here is to have the whole face in good focus but as little else as you can get away with.

    A longer focal length will decrease depth of field, and tend to flatten out perspective, which is generally complimentary to faces. A short (wide angle) focal length (on the kit lens that would be 18mm) will have more depth of field, and will tend to exaggerate perspective, which will make noses look bigger, and heads look deeper.

    Ideally, you want the background out of focus when the faces are sharp, so have the students stand away from the wall as much as possible. If you have a fairly shallow depth of field, the wall will end up at least a little bit blurred. Try to maintain as little detail in the background as possible.

    When setting this up, remember to look carefully at the whole background, because it is not all that hard to be so concentrated on the subject that you don't notice distracting details in the background. Especially look out for anything directly behind the subject's head. Also remember that the final image will include a small amount that is outside of your viewfinder view.

    Make doubly sure that your horizon is good, especially if there are going to be any horizontal lines in the background. A tilted horizon is easy to miss when shooting but it screams from a final image.

    I'd do this in aperture priority mode, with a tripod if possible, and the lowest ISO you can manage. If you have a tripod, you need not worry about shutter speed. If no tripod, try to keep your shutter speed up over 1/60, and if necessary raise the ISO, but the best results will be with the lowest ISO.

    Use auto focus in S (single servo) mode, with a single focus point, and focus on the nearest eye of each face.

    That's about all I can think of for what is likely to be a challenge to do well.

    Remember this is a digital camera, which means you can take lots of experimental shots and try to find what works best. If you can do anything before hand, try to get a subject into the place you're going to work, and try different distances, lighting and so forth.
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