In London there are plenty of great locations suitable for outdoor headshots, and in this article I will talk you through my outdoor headshots workflow to give you an idea of what to expect from an outdoor headshot session.
How do I shoot headshots outdoors?
When shooting headshots outdoors my first consideration is always lighting. If the available natural light is not good then the headshot won’t be good. As a rule of thumb for headshots I try to stay away from direct sunlight, as it tends to be too harsh and it creates hard shadows under your eyes, nose, and chin. However, if there is not enough light then your eye sockets will go dark and the overall headshot will look dull. My favorite solution is to work with natural light that bounces off the surfaces around me. As an example in the headshot below, I posed my customer as close as possible to a light coloured wall that was bouncing up a ton of natural light, and I placed a small portable reflector at chest level to bounce up even more natural light into her face and eye sockets. That creates a soft and flattering light that is ideal for headshot.
Another technique I like to use is posing the subject at the entrance of a narrow street, as you can see in the photo below. Normally, at the entrance of the street there is going to be more light which means that the subject will be brighter than the background, and given that our eyes are attracted by brightness, that will put all the focus of the attention on the subject. The other perk of this technique is that if the street is symmetrical, it will create a sense of depth that will give the headshot a more dynamic and three dimensional look.
When shooting outdoor headshots, I also like to use walls to create depth, and focus the attention on the subject, as you can see in the picture below. The lines on the wall lead the eye towards the subject and create a sense of depth.
However, when shooting outdoor headshots, it is always important to remember that as sunlight bounces off objects and walls in our surrounding environment, it will also pick up color from those objects, and that will affect your skin tone. As an example if you are near a tree, you will notice that your skin will pick up a green tinge. For that reason I always try to pose my subjects near light coloured, smooth surfaces, as they will bounce up more light, and give less of a color cast to the customer’s skin tone. I then finish up in Photoshop by color correcting the photo and removing any remaining color cast from the skin tones.
What are the best areas for outdoor headshots?
When selecting a location for outdoor headshots I always look for locations where I know I can get good lighting. As an example one of my very favorite locations to shoot outdoor headshots is the area around Bank station in central London. There are plenty of tall buildings that can both provide cover from harsh direct sunlight, but at the same time they bounce up flattering soft light which is ideal for outdoor headshots. It is also ideal because it provides a wide variety of suitable backgrounds, from brick walls and dark alleyways, to bright city streets and glass buildings. What I normally try to avoid is large empty areas, like parks for instance, where there is no cover from direct sunlight, except for trees, which tend to give skin tones a green tinge, and nothing to bounce up sunlight. The other downside of shooting in a large homogeneous area like a park, is that you won’t get much variety, and in order to get variety you would have to walk away from the park and that will detract from the time you spend shooting.
Outdoor headshot background
When shooting outdoor headshots it is also important to select the right background. As an example for a moody acting headshot I might position the subject at the entrance to a dark alley, whereas for an outdoor corporate headshot I will pick a brighter background that will fit better with the mood we are trying to create, like trees or a bright city street. However, it is also also important to remember that the background in a headshot is meant to complement the scene, and not distract from the most most important thing in the photo, which is you. For that reason I always look for backgrounds that give context to the photo, and complement the subject without distracting. As an example, in the outdoor headshot below I wanted to give the feel of a central London street, but I did not want the background to distract from the main subject.
I also look at colors when selecting a background, and as an example, in the outdoor headshot below the green of the trees complements the pink dress my customer was wearing.
How to pack your outfits for an outdoor headshot session
First of all it is very important for your clothes not to get wrinkled, and they need to be easy to transport as we will be walking around. For that reason the best solution is to use a suitcase, which will allow you to neatly fold away all of your outfits, and it will be easy to carry around with you during the shoot. If you do a quick search on Google or Youtube you will also find plenty of helpful guides and tutorials on how best to pack your clothes in order to prevent wrinkles.
How to change outfits during an outdoor headshot session
When working outdoors, swapping outfits can be somewhat challenging, but there are a few tricks that will help you change with ease and get the best out of your outdoor headshot session.
The easiest solution to be able to swap your outfit while working outdoors is to wear underneath a light coloured top that won’t show, as that will allow you to swap your top layers with ease while working outdoors.
Do also keep in mind that for headshots it is only the top part that matters, and by mixing different items of clothing you can create multiple looks. As an example with two different tops and jackets, you can create six different looks. For that reason I would also recommend bringing items of clothing that fit well with one another. Also, even though it is only the top part that will be in the photo, your choice of trousers or skirt, can affect how your top looks. As an example if you are wearing a smart shirt, it will need to be nicely tucked in your trousers, otherwise it will look loose and ruin the headshot. For that reason I would recommend picking a skirt or a pair of trousers that can fit well with all the tops you will be wearing.
Do also keep in mind that to look a hundred percent, you need to feel a hundred percent, and wearing the full outfit, even though only the top part will be in the photo, can help you feel more confident and positively affect your body language and facial expression in the photo.
That does not mean that you should only bring full outfits, but having a pair of shoes, and trousers/skirt that can work well with all of your tops can help you feel more confident.
Talking of shoes, I would recommend wearing comfortable shoes, as there will be walking involved, but, even though the shoes will not be in the shot, if it can make you feel more confident to wear a pair of shoes that matches your outfit, do bring those along as well.
I would normally stay away from any outfits that can be difficult to change while working outdoors. That is the case for instance with certain dresses that will not allow you to wear anything else underneath, as you won’t be able to swap those outdoors.
The only solution to that would be a changing tent, which from my experience is extremely impractical, and especially when working in a crowded area, or to find a shop where you can use the customers bathroom to get changed. The main issue with that is that not all shops have a customer's bathroom, and not all shops will allow you to use the bathroom unless you are a customer. On top of that it will take time to find one which means that we will be left with less time for shooting.
My workflow for outdoor headshots
Independently of whether we will be meeting at my studio, or some other location, when shooting outdoor headshots I normally start the session by asking you a few questions to get an idea of what type of photos you need, is it a corporate headshot or an acting headshot? And if it is a corporate headshot are you going for a corporate look or would you prefer something more relaxed?
We will then discuss what outfits you have brought with you and I will advise you on what would work best for the type of photos that we will be creating.
Once I have built a clear idea in my mind of how you would like to come across in the photos, we will start walking around looking for spots with both good lighting and a suitable background.
I do normally shoot in areas I know, which means that I will already know where the light will be best at different times of the day, and I will also know down which street we will find the best backgrounds for the mood we have in mind.
However, even if I am shooting at a new location I normally do a bit of reconnaissance on Google street view before the shoot, and while we walk around discussing a few ideas for the photos I keep my eyes open for possible locations that would work well.
As we walk around I will also explain how I work and give you a few tips and tricks that will come in handy during the session, and there will be time for you to ask any questions you might have.
Depending on your comfort level, I might also try to find quieter areas where we can work undisturbed, but depending on the time of day, and location, that might not always be possible.
Once we have found a suitable spot, I will explain what shot I have in mind, and I will guide you step by step. As I shoot I will also take short breaks to review the photos with you and ensure we are creating the right photos for your needs.
I normally keep taking photos at each specific location until we have a good range of shots that I can tell you are happy with, before moving to a new location.
How do I receive my headshots?
After the session, I will get back to my studio and put together an online viewing gallery from which you can select your favorite shots to be edited. I will then edit them and upload them to your gallery, ready to be downloaded.
About the author:
David Tramontan is a professional portrait and headshot photographer based in East London.
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