Camera Tech & Why It's Important
A good photographer can create great photos with any camera, but you can do a much better job if you have the right tools. I have invested heavily in tech products in the last few years to create great headshots as natural and unaltered as possible. Here is some of the equipment I use and why:
My camera is a Nikon D850. It gives me images large enough to paper the wall with. I know. I’ve done it. The real reason I like this camera is its use of facial recognition to aid in focusing. By using the right auto-focus setting, it will lock onto my clients' eyes. This lets me use a shallow depth of field to create a more powerful impression of my client's expression. I’ve been working with this camera for three years, and it hits focus dead-on almost every time. I can’t believe how accurate it is. The engineers did a great job on that one.
I prefer to use fixed focal length lenses because the quality is significantly better than what you get with zoom lenses. Fixed lenses are much more expensive and remarkably inconvenient when compared to the Zoom lenses on the market, but my priority is creating the best quality work I can. If I shot events or weddings, I would probably use zoom lenses, but because I work in a controlled environment in the studio or on location, I can afford the time and space needed to use the better quality gear.
My favorite lens for headshots is my Nikkor 85mm 1.4G. It’s long enough to get a great representation of a person's expression with no discernible distortion, but short enough so I can work closely with my client.
When I was photographing interiors, I used my wide-angle lenses to get inside the design and create a sense of intimacy rather than show lots of stuff. The 85mm is a short enough focal length to create a sense of intimate engagement with the person in the photograph but long enough to not invade their personal space. I use it to create headshots that have the feeling of how close you would get when consulting with a trusted professional colleague with whom you’re very well acquainted - close, but not too close.
My second most used lens for headshots is my Nikkor 105mm 1.2D. I like this lens because it gives my client a little more breathing space but allows exclusive engagement between us. This helps people who feel less comfortable in front of the camera express themselves more authentically because they feel less pressured by the camera. One drawback to this lens is that it compresses perspective slightly, but this is advantageous when I want to “flatten” someone's features. This is why I bought the lens, to begin with. The psychological advantage it provides to some of my clients was a discovery I made after using it a few times.
I have a Nikkor 50mm 1.4G lens for a full body shot that we need for dating profiles or when I photograph groups, and finally, I have my 60mm 2.8 Micro Nikkor that I use for waist up shots or teams of two people.
I’m using state-of-the-art flexible LED daylight-balanced lighting that is absolutely wonderful. The Westcott Flex Cine Daylight 1x2 “Hurley Flex Kit.” Digitally, accurately and repeatably adjustable across a range of eight stops in increments of 1%, rated to last 50,000 hours, and has a CRI of 96. These things are sweet.
My wife was shocked to find I was spending almost $5K on only three lights, but there are none better on the market (at time of writing.) I love the color representation and the even consistency of the light. My MUA is in love with them as well. She says they make her work look better than ever.
I lease my 27” iMac Pro, Macbook Pro, iPad, and watch to update my tech every three years (I lease my watch, but I buy my phone :\ ). It’s really nice to know that I’ve got the latest, greatest, biggest, and best tech backing me up without coughing up $20k.
Honestly, you don’t need to have all this gear to create good photographs, but there’s nothing like having the right tools for the job. My camera, lights, tech, and studio components of an elegant system that allows me to focus my efforts and energies on giving my clients the best experience, best photographs, and the best value possible.
All this gear allows me to do things that are not indistinguishable from magic, but it's really freakin’ close when comparing it to how I started back in the 1980s.
This is both an aesthetic or stylistic preference of mine and a carefully considered decision intended to use psychology to give my clients a strategic advantage over their competition by giving them stunning headshots that will have an emotional and psychological impact on the decision-makers they need to influence.
I prefer a plain, featureless background in neutral colors for several reasons. First, the featureless background ensures the only thing in the photo that can catch the eye is the person I’m photographing.
We have minimal real estate in headshots, and we have less than half a second to make a lasting impression on the people seeing the photos. My feeling is that there should be nothing in the frame except the person. No out-of-focus background, no spots of color, or dramatic gradients can distract the eye from the only thing in the photograph that is important - the person I’m photographing. One reason my headshots are so powerful is that the only thing that can make an impression on anyone is their expression, their confidence, approachability, and “presence.”
Occasionally, I’ll add color to my backgrounds, but I prefer to work with neutral colors because they can go with almost any color scheme without causing conflicts. If the color needs to be added to fit in with a brand, any competent graphic artist or designer can change a neutral background effectively.
If we shoot on a mottled blue and grey background like we did for school pictures, it adds distracting complexity to the image and makes it harder to change later, like mixing grated cheese with the hamburger. It's fine unless you don’t want a cheeseburger. And even then, it will make a mess, and it will be more difficult to clean the grill. It just makes no sense.