Be wary of business headshot photographers (or any portrait photographers for that matter) who proudly promote themselves as “natural light photographers” (this can sometimes translate into “I am a one trick pony and I don’t know how to correctly use flash”). There is nothing wrong with natural light portraits if coupled with studio lights and / or some type of modifier, however using the sun as the sole light source creates headshots that are usually either too flat (on overcast days) or too contrasty (on clear days). Both of the aforementioned can oftentimes result in “raccoon-eyes” (dark, unwanted shadows in the eyesockets due to overhead lighting). A professional headshot photographer who understands correct lighting techniques can make his client’s business portrait literally pop off the page. Without elaborating upon lighting ratios, quality and direction of light, let’s suffice it to say that there is good reason we call this profession ‘photography’, as ‘photography’ literally means drawing with light (photos = light; graph = to draw).
Many people have heard of what photographers refer to as “The Golden Hour”… basically the first hour of light after sunrise and the last hour before sunset (the golden hour is not precisely 60 minutes. Its an approximation…obviously duration of the golden hour is related to time of year, distance from the equator, and other factors). During these times the sun is lower on the horizon and its light is filtered through more of the earth’s atmosphere. The light is less contrasty during the golden hour, has nicer shadows, and any photos taken will have a pleasant soft, warm glow to them. Many portrait photographers prefer to shoot outdoors during the golden hours for all of the aforementioned reasons.
Personally, I like to be self sufficient when shooting outdoors / on location (that is, take most if not all of my gear with me… one never knows when / if there will be an equipment failure). Self sufficiency ensures that shoots like this can be conducted:
The photo here was taken at the base of a waterfall in North Carolina. I was about a mile (as the crow flies) from the nearest paved road. I hiked 30lbs of gear to the site. To compete with the sun (i.e., to illuminate my face since I was backlit… note shadow on the ground), a 640 watt/second studio strobe powered by a Vagabond mini (portable power pack) was bounced off a 36″ umbrella. The lighting apparatuses, placed camera left (on the left side of the photo, just out of the picture) enhance the illumination to a more even and aesthetically pleasing ratio from front to back. All that is to say, without the portable lighting equipment, my face woud be lost in the shadows. Given the waterfall’s slipperiness and the pitch of the surrounding area, a 20′ power cord was needed to tether the light stand to a nearby tree. If not secured, the rushing air created by the waterfall would blow the umbrella and strobe down river… not the best use of one’s time or money.
Headshot photographers worth their weight in salt should ask you questions throughout the vetting process. They want to discern what your interests are, what personality you want to radiate to your target market and what might or might not make a good location for your headshot in order to determine the type of lighting that best conveys your unique style and expertise. Given identical composition, poses, framing, etc, by varying simply the types of portrait lighting setups (broad, split, Rembrandt, etc), the photographer will communicate vastly different messages to your audience.