How to Shoot a Bright white Background for Headshots with only two Lights

Last week I caught a little bit of Peter Hurley on Creative Live and of course I was feeling quite inspired. I’ve been shooting headshots for awhile now, mostly on dark grey muslin backdrops, but I really wanted to try to get something a little brighter and full of light. I’ve had a white muslin for a couple years but the photos taken with it always looked a little flat and blah. And although I hope to one day soon acquire some great continuous lights like the ones Hurley uses, for now I only have my one strobe and a speedlight.  So how did I get this look with just my two lights and a dull offwhite muslin backdrop?

The main idea is to adequately light the background without having light spill onto the front of the subject. To pull this off I had my Nikon SB-700 speedlight setup with a reflective umbrella pointed at the background behind her on the right. This left the left side of the background looking too dark still, and if I turned the umbrella too much light would spill onto the subjects face in a not so flattering way. So I busted out my 32 inch reflector turned to the silver side and put it on the left to reflect the light from the speedlight. Big improvement. Then I had my subject lit from the front left with an Einstein E640 in a large 47 in Octobox. The speedlight power was set to 1/8, almost full power, while the strobe was set at the lowest setting. Camera settings, ISO 64  f/2.5  1/100 with my 50mm 1.4.  Here’s my setup, though the umbrella had a speedlight, not a strobe.

Lighting Setup Andrea Marie Studio

The shot wasn’t perfect right out of camera, I did have to do a bit of post-processing to get that background to really glow. Also, I learned that when putting a subject on white, I need to push the skin tones more to the cooler side, or the contrast between the white and the skin tone will make it look too yellow/orangey. The opposite is true for the darker background. I was able to push the skintones to the warmer side and it looked great.

Headshot on Dark Background by Andrea MarieWell thanks for reading and following me along in my journey into studio headshot photography. I’m not and expert but when I learn something new I get excited and want to share.  And although I love shooting families in the beautiful outdoors, studio headshots is something my heart is drawn to. I just love the challenge and all the technical details that goes into it.

Much Love,



no comments
Add a comment...

Your email is never published or shared. Required fields are marked *

Andrea Marie Photography is a family photographer located in Haymarket Virginia, Prince William County, Northern Virginia. Email: