Actors Headshots: Studio Photography vs. Natural Light - Aimee Spinks

Actor Headshots: Studio Photography vs. Natural Light

There are many different approaches to headshot photography and one of the main differences between headshot photographers (other than price), is whether they prefer to shoot in a photography studio or to take actors outside and use natural light.

I must admit I am a fan of both, though they each have their pros and cons.

Outdoor Headshot Photography:

Shooting outdoors has the advantage of making photos, particularly headshots, look more natural than their studio counterparts. This is largely because a studio backdrop is a contrived space, so no matter how natural an actor’s expression might be, we are instantly aware they have deliberately posed for a camera. A good photographer knows how to put an actor at their ease to achieve a great result no matter what the space however there’s just something instantly more natural about seeing a shot taken in the great outdoors.

Outdoor Headshot Photography: The Pros

  • A world of backdrops to choose from…
    • Whether you’re a fan of the brick wall, leafy haze or sky; there are so many different locations you can use as a backdrop to your headshot.
  • Bring the photographer to you…
    • Are you an actor living in London but absolutely love the work of a Birmingham headshot photographer? By having your headshot photography session outdoors, the photographer can come to you without having to worry about additional studio hire charges.
  • Flattering light…
    • If you’ve got yourself an overcast sky, you’ve got yourself some instantly soft and flattering light to work with without having to spend ages working out a complex lighting setup – giving you more time to work on your perfect headshot look.
  • Save money…
    • A lot of headshot photographers will charge less for outdoor photoshoots as there are no studio costs to take care off. It’s also a great way for photographers without studio access to create great images.
  • Bokeh
    • You know that nice out of focus haze you get on headshots taken outside? Gorgeous isn’t it? Good luck matching it in the studio.


Outdoor Headshot Photography: The Cons

  • Rain!
    • Arranging a headshot photoshoot outdoors leaves you to the mercy of the unpredictable British weather. Even in summer you never know when it might rain: that’s why all of my outdoor headshot photoshoots have a backup plan so that you’re shoot can go ahead uninterrupted and without your images suffering in quality!
  • Lack of privacy…
    • Most outdoor locations are often public spaces so there’s never a guarantee that you won’t have an audience or find that the area you wanted to shoot in isn’t occupied by happy picnic-ers. Again, always have a back-up plan! A good location is one that has many opportunities for a range of backgrounds should one not be ideal or available.
    • Want to have a change of outfits? Need a full length mirror to check your hair or touch up your make-up? This is another consideration to be aware of when booking your headshot photography outdoors. Make sure your photographer has an area where you can make all your necessary adjustments!
  • Background Distractions…
    • If you’re lucky enough to not be distracted by others during an outdoor photoshoot, you need to make sure your image has no visual distractions. A good actor headshot is all about showcasing the actor and not letting the viewer be distracted by a rogue leaf, conflicting colours or that annoying strand of hair the wind blew across your face. To help prevent these problems, I always recommend what clothing options to consider so that a cut or colour doesn’t prove distracting as well as reviewing each image as I shoot to check for other tiny distractions.
  • Fewer lighting options…
    • Though I have my own flash lighting I can take out on location, most photographers’ kits don’t have anything powerful enough to overpower the sun. So if you want something dark and dramatic and are only free to shoot around midday, you’re probably best having a studio headshot photography session.
  • Limited working hours…
    • Once the sun goes down, unless you want a dramatic night shoot (probably not the most ideal for a Spotlight-ready actors headshot) you’re pretty stuffed. Especially if you need your headshot session to fit around your crazy schedule during the Autumn/Winter months!




Studio Headshot Photography:

Many headshot photographers favour the studio over using an outdoor location as it provides them with a secure, tried and tested space that is within their full control. Though this is the case, a good studio headshot requires much more technical understanding by the photographer in order to achieve a great look as they are responsible for moulding the light from scratch for every set-up.

Studio Headshot Photography: The Pros:

  • Privacy…
    • Unlike shooting outdoors, a headshot session within a photography studio provides full privacy; great for the more camera shy subject!
  • Make-up and changing areas…
    • Following on from the privacy point, by having you headshot taken in a studio, you also have access to changing areas and make-up rooms to make preparing for your session nice and easy.
  • Lighting control…
    • Based in a fully equipped photography studio, I have access to all the lighting equipment I could need to create a vast range of looks. From dark and dramatic to bright and cheery, no matter what your preferences, chances are I can create the right look for you.
  • Review your images on a big screen…
    • It’s all well and good checking out your headshots on the back of a camera, but why do that when you can take a seat with a cup of tea and have a proper look at your photos on a big screen?
  • Full Control…
    • Once you book a studio headshot photography session, it’s booked. No having to worry about the weather or if the area you want to shoot in is available – by shooting in the studio you are guaranteed a fully professional working space without any distractions (including freezing temperatures)!
  • Any time…
    • Do you have a busy schedule to fit your headshot session within? Though we may not have much sunlight in the wee hours of the morning or late at night, the studio can provide all the light you need any time; day or night.
  • Background choices…
    • Though most headshot photographers only offer one or two (usually just black and white) coloramas to have your headshot against, book your headshot session with me and you’ll have access to a studio containing almost every colour backdrop you can think of as well as wallpapered room sets should you want to mix up your headshots with some more contemporary portraits.


Studio Headshot Photography: the Cons

  • Price…
    • Studio photography sessions are often more expensive than their outdoors counterparts due to studio rental costs. If you want the best of both worlds however, I offer up to 90 minutes of photography both in a fully equipped photography studio as well as outdoors for just £175. This includes your 5 favourite images fully edited and supplied as full res JPGS in colour as well as black and white.




To be honest, I’m struggling to find more cons about studio headshot photography. Of course a lot of it comes down to your choice of photographer – I have seen many studio headshots over the years shot by photographers who just don’t know how to use lights creatively. They often shoot completely flat images against a plain black or white background or go for a completely blown-out high key shot usually used for catalogue or product photography.

A good studio photographer knows how to craft their lighting to create an intimate looking headshot that makes the actor stand out. But in this regard, it’s not just about the lighting. You know that sharp-eyed focused look you find in some actors headshots that just make them jump out from the page? I have several tricks, tips and exercises I often get actors and models to try in order to make their headshot appear much more striking than their competitors and make their eyes really speak out.

Since I’m deviating slightly from the original topic of outdoor photography vs studio headshot photography, I will call it a day on this blog entry and look forward to your thoughts on your own preferences.

So, let me know – do you prefer your headshots taken outside in natural light or done in a photography studio?