There are different types of business portrait styles that can use when photographing executives for print and web use.
- Studio Portraits
- Environmental Portraits
- Action Portraits
- Team Portraits
Studio Portraits, also called business portraits or head shots, is the most common business portrait style used. Called a studio portrait because the subject is photographed in front of a “studio” background such as a seamless paper or muslim cloth. This is a good place to start since it is a must have for everybody from the CEO on down. Most corporate websites have a bio page of their executive staff. Having that or even a Linkedin page without an photo does not look very professional.
Executives are busy people so it is best to set-up a studio at their location. Not a lot of space is needed. A conference room generally works very well. The color or type of background should be determined before the shoot. Most times backgrounds can be matched to the ones already being used on a companies website for a cohesive look. The 4 foot wide backgrounds are set up with a light stand like an old time movie screen. Not to worry if a conference room is too dark or the lighting is uneven. A small A/C pack is used to power portable lights. The use of umbrellas and proper placement of the lights will create a soft wraparound look that is very flattering. Also a small light or two to directly on the subject can create a highlight which produces a portrait that is more then one dimensional. After the shots are taken the background can be altered through the use of Photoshop to create other pleasing effects. A little retouching (not too much!) on some of the facial features is a must since the camera shows every little detail.
A telephoto lens helps give the subject a little space while still getting in close. The example on the left was shot with a 70mm to 200mm Canon zoom lens at about 185mm. It is better to shoot a little loose (farther back) in high resolution and crop the final photo as needed.
Unless they are professional models people can be tense going into their photo session. Arriving early and having everything set-up, tested and ready to go is a must. The best advise for both photographer and subject is “take a deep breath and relax”. Having a wireless speaker playing quietly playing a little Jimmy Buffett in the corner often helps. See this page on my website for successful wardrobe choices.
Environmental Portraits are portraits produced using the background to help tell a little story about the subject. Photojournalists are great at doing this. Pick up a magazine or newspaper and look at the photos. In an instant you can tell a lot about the subject before reading the caption. Unfortunately newspapers and magazines are going out of business but you can still get that story telling look for your website or print media.
These type of portraits require much more from the photographer.While digital photography makes it easier there is no substitute for experience when it comes to location lighting. It is rare that you can walk into someones offices and produce a high quality image without the use of at least one off camera light.
Do you just want fill the shadows on the subject to match the ambient light?. Maybe overexpose the background a little to make the subject stand out. Perhaps you want the background to go just a little dark but not totally black. How about a little highlight on the side of the subject like in the example on the left? Thats two lights. A light behind the subject lighting the wall and you are up to three lights. And you have to balance it all with the graphics on the computer screen. A tripod is going to be mandatory in this type of situation where you shutter speed is around 1/2 a second. Every office is different.
With experience, and if you are lucky enough to have the budget for an assistant, these can be done on the fly. But there is nothing worse then having a very busy executive standing around looking at their watch while you fumble with lights. Experienced or not, If somebody wants environmental portraits, it is a great idea to stop in and scout the location beforehand.
Photos taken outside are also considered environmental. A client has a building with a cool look and wants that included, great! Have them with their back to the sun so they are not squinting, expose for the building and put some off camera light on their faces to balance things out and you generally have a nice look.
If the client does not own the building, and there is on-site security, yourself or someone from the clients office should talk to them a few days before the shoot so no last minute permission issues shut you down.
Among other business portrait styles for marketing action photos should be considered. Simply a photo of an executive working in their environment. It could be at a desk or in the field. It is a photo that tells a story. These type of photographs look great on corporate websites because they allow the viewer to get an immediate picture in their mind about what the company is all about.
Many times they photos are set-up to work around the schedule of the individual or office. A little more natural look can be achieved if the photographer is allowed to be a “fly on the wall”. While this is not not always practical, letting the photographer capture the real workings of the office or executive generally creates a better image.
Sometimes stock images are used in fill in for this type of image on a company website. In my opinion stock photos look like stock photos. When you have a working photographer in the office take few moments to schedule photographs of the real people that run the company.
Team portraits are great when it comes to company branding. They represent solidarity. The show that more then one person is working toward a goal. This is a situation where added preparation for the photograph makes the shot. Just showing up and saying “stand over there” to a bunch of busy people is not going to create a photo worth using.
When scouting out an area listen to what the photographer has to say. They want to make the best image with as little stress on the subjects as possible. It might be better to move a group outside rather then trying to get a photo in a office crowded with cubicles. If you are going to be outside the time of day matters. Plan your outside shoot when the sun is in the best position (there is an app for that). If a photographer is at all professional they will have everything set-up and ready to go when the subjects show up. A good photographer will also be a take charge guy. Looking through the viewfinder they know what the photograph will look like in the end. Positioning people so no one is hidden behind another might take a little time. Give it a few moments. If everything is arranged in advance group photos large or small can be an easy and great asset to a companies marketing profile.