Contemporary Lighting for Contemporary Headshots
Updated: Sep 14
I like to use clean, crisp, and contemporary lighting for my headshots. It’s very appropriate for headshots of Silicon Valley professionals.
Traditional Low-tech lighting.
Most photographers use “Rembrandt Lighting,” developed in the early 1600s. This lighting style depends on positioning the light to the side and slightly ahead of the subject to cast shadows that create depth and form in an image.
It’s a fine solution given the low level of technology available to them at the time. They only had daylight, mirrors, candles, and lanterns; positioning was the only way to manipulate the light available.
My lighting relies on applying the inverse square law, a scientific principle unknown to the people of the 17th century.
For my application, headshot photography, the inverse square law states that for every doubling of the distance from a light source, the intensity of the light is reduced to 1/4 of what it was.
A high-tech technique for the high-tech industry.
I arrange my lighting to create an effective or virtual light source an inch in front of my subject's face. The contrast that defines the contours of their face is created by the dramatic reduction of the intensity of light as it washes over them.
Because my subject's cheeks are twice as far from the light source as the tip of their nose, they’re darker. Their ears being twice as far from the light source as their cheeks, those will be correspondingly darker, as well.
I like this lighting because it’s radically different from any lighting I’ve seen in headshots before. It commands the attention of the viewer to be focused on the expression and presence of my customer.
Using state-of-the-art LED lighting makes it easy to see the results directly and manipulate them to best affect each individual I work with.
Dean Birinyi is an award-winning photographer, founder, and owner of Professional Headshots Palo Alto and Silicon Valley Headshots. He specializes in expression coaching to guide his customers on presenting themselves as confident, approachable professionals ready for the next opportunity.