Why the "Triangle Set Up" is the Best Lighting for Headshots
The best lighting for headshots depends on different variables such as the type of lighting you would like to have on the client (e.g., shadows, exposure, etc..), your artistic influence, the equipment you have, and the list goes on.
A Google search on "best lighting for headshots' produces almost 2 million results. Bottom line, there are lots of ideas and options.
When I first started taking headshots, I used one speedlight, a golf umbrella, and very helpful daughter and spouse!
How the Triangle Set Up Became Popular
The Headshot Crew is comprised of professional headshot photographers from across the globe and has a very active online community to provide education on both the technical aspects of headshots (e.g., lighting, positioning) and the business side (e.g., making money)!
Within the Headshot Crew, there are two suggested lighting set ups: 1) Triangle set up, and 2) Key, Fill, Kick.
During my photography journey, I have focused on the "Triangle set up", which involves, not surprising, three (3) strobe lights. The second set up, Key, Fill, Kick, is for another day, another blog.
Why is the Triangle Set Up the BEST Headshot Lighting
The Triangle Setup produces the best lighting for headshots because of how the three different strobes work in conjunction to produce a soft light that illuminates the face in a natural, pleasing way, and compliments the subject.
The caveat to the "best" is, if a photographer has a different creative vision for the image they are trying to create, a different lighting configuration may be better.
Which Strobes I Use for the Triangle Set Up
- Strobe 1, Flashpoint EVOLV 200, with a Westcott strip box, 1x2
- Strobe 2, Flashpoint EVOLV 200, with a Westcott strip box, 1x3
- Strobe 3, Flashpoint EVOLV 200, with a Westcott strip box, 1x3
Note, the EVOLV 200 strobes, are the same as the Godox AD200s
Each Strobe, has a specific purpose for how it lights the subject, and together, produces a flattering and soft light, that makes people look amazing!
Examples of Headshots Using the Triangle Set Up
This strobe, is affectionately known as the "bottom light", as it is at the bottom of the triangle and faces up towards the client. Ideally, if you drew a line from the centre of the strip box, it would go just over my forehead. The purpose of this light is to provide "fill" light from the bottom and minimize shadows.
Here is what it looks like with only Strobe 1:
This strobe is vertical, with a slight downwards angle, and casts lights across the subject. In this photo, it is on the camera left, but could also be camera right. It depends on the subject and their facial characteristics. A line drawn from the centre of this strip box would intersect with the opposite shoulder. In the image below, that would be my left shoulder (camera right).
Here is what it looks like with only Strobe 2:
This strobe is almost, but not quite horizontal, with the goal of getting light into the subject's eyes. A line drawn from the centre of this strip box would intersect approximately with my right shoulder (camera left). Notice, how my right eye (camera left) has light in it.
Here is what it looks like with only Strobe 3:
Now, here is what it looks like with Strobes 2 and 3.
Finally, the lighting with Strobes 1, 2, and 3:
If you look closely in my eyes, you will see the "catchlights", in my irises, which are the reflections of the three different strobes:
So, there you have it, the "Triangle set up" is one option, using three strobes, to create some awesome lighting.
Back to my daughter.......
Alternatives to The Triangle Set Up
- Constant, or continuous light photography
- Another popular option is the use of "constant lighting". Like most things in life, there are advantages/disadvantages.
- Clam Shell Lighting
- Is typically with two lights, one light is angled up at about 45 degrees towards the subject, and the second light is angles about 45 degrees downwards toward the subject.
Read more about professional headshots:
- What makes a good headshot - Part 1
- What makes a good headshot - Part 2
- What makes a good headshot - Part 3
- General questions about professional headshots
- How do you do professional retouching?
Peter Istvan Photography
Peter is a professional headshot photographer. Available in studio, or on location. Serving Parry Sound, Muskoka, Sudbury, North Bay, Barrie, Toronto, and surrounding areas. View pricing and scheduling.