Top tips to get the best creative corporate portrait of you or your staff.
Corporate portrait photography should be enjoyable and undemanding. I can show you how this can be achieved through preparation and a concise brief. I have a great fondness for taking photographs of people and I am very privileged that photography allows me to meet new people frequently. The job of a corporate portrait photographer is to capture a dignified and refined portrait that reflects my client’s brand or tells a story, at the same time the experience for the subject should be enjoyable and prompt. In order to do this I need to be prepared and responsive to my client and the subject. Putting people at ease and guiding them through what can be for some a painful and un wanted experience. I hope this guide will help those planning a corporate portrait shoot get the best from the session and achieve results that reflect your brand and expectations. The guide covers the following criteria:
PRE SHOOT PLANNNG
1. PORTRAIT USAGE and STORY
The first question I ask when booking a corporate portrait shoot is what are the images going to be used for? What is the story they need to tell and how many people are going to be photographed? There are many possibilities and the answer could be one use or multiple uses within for example a corporate website ‘About Us’ page with staff profiles, an annual report, press release, marketing material or simply a Linked In profile. The relevance of this question is to understand the level of production and control of the environment required and whether multiple looks are required either between individuals or for each individual. Obviously the larger more prominent the image the greater degree of control will be required to finesse an image that holds up for instance as full page. The answers will generally also help with deciding the parameters of location, style and pose.
2. PORTRAIT STYLE or LOOK
The look or style of a corporate portrait can be changed with the pose, lighting or simply with the background. It flows from establishing the usage/story, time available and also the location(s) available.
When shooting on location and with multiple setups for many subjects, the extent to which a different look or style can be changed is limited by the time available. If more than three people’s portraits are to be taken I would suggest sticking to 2-3 styles this would be the most straight forward and time efficient approach.
I often like to try and utilise available daylight as much as possible alongside my own flash lighting. This can be a very time efficient approach and allows for different looks in a short time frame.
As the two images below demonstrate, the two different qualities of light can create very different looks, with daylight giving an open, natural and approachable feel. Artificial flash lighting being harder and more defined. Artificial flash lighting can create many different looks, but generally within a corporate context keeping things simple and not overly stylised is the most pleasing option.
If the aim is to capture a corporate portrait that tells a very specific story about your brand through the look and style of the image then discussing this pre shoot with example images from other shoots can help the process of deciding on the best approach to lighting, pose and background.
- Create a mood board using found imagery from my website or other source.
- Have the story or brand message ready to share ahead of the shoot.
- If a consistent style is to be replicated on different days or sites, this should be mentioned in the brief so that I can keep a careful note of lighting/camera settings, position and background.
3. PORTRAIT BACKGROUND and LOCATION
The next question is what type of background is required. Will it be a plain seamless background or an environmental background or both. The answer to this will most likely determine the location. Quite often I’m asked to produce a suite of images that can be used in different ways and so the background is an important consideration as this can help create very different looks that tell a different story for each image.
Ideally I will scout the location with the client prior to the shoot day. To agree the locations and the number of different shots that can be achieved. Often it’s possible with the right location to shoot many looks in only one space. If a pre shoot scout is not available then I will ask my client if time can be made available before photography on the shoot day in order to scout suitable locations. This really is very important to ensure the best images are captured and the shoot flows in an efficient and calm manner. If the requirement is to capture multiple looks and backgrounds. Its just not possible to set up and scout locations with only 15mins available before the first person is to be photographed. Especially if that person only has 5 mins or less time available. Agreeing the location(s) before photography commences ensures that the right equipment can be set up in good time and that I can concentrate on photographing the subject and helping them relax.
One exception to this is capturing reportage, candid style photographs. Photographing staff at work or interacting with others can create some very dynamic and natural portraits and this can be achieved with very little equipment. I shall cover this in more detail in section 6.
If I’m shooting with a seamless background I need to ensure there will be space available to set this up along with lighting. Sending a specification to my client with the minimum space required saves time on the shoot day to find a suitable space and also hopefully move furniture that may be in the way as this can often be done by staff. Typically for most headshots the space required will be 3×4 meters.
Sometimes I am asked to provide a risk assessment often this is straight forward as my equipment is generally kept to a minimum and utilise space that is away from the main office space or public areas.
- Do the locations need to tell part of the story and set the tone for the portrait or will a seamless background be required.
- Does the room/location have natural daylight and what direction does it come from i.e North, South East, West. Can the daylight be blocked with blinds etc.
- The room lighting can this be turned off manually or it is set automatically by a PIR (motion sensor) Can this be over ridden?
- How long is the location available for.
- Will setting up lighting and other equipment cause a hazard to other people or block access.
- Dimension of the space including ceiling height.
4. CLOTHING and APPEARANCE
Most people it seems have an awareness that clothes with bright patterns are generally not a good idea. While this does hold true for most corporate portraiture, it’s important to consider whether the clothing you or your staff wear reflect your organisations values and brand while at the same time expressing the personalities of the subject if desired. I typically advise people to wear plain colours or complimentary colours and sometimes to bring options. Consideration should also be given to where the images are going to be used and whether clothing choices will jar with a design.
Make-up is generally a personal preference for women and men go out of their way to avoid it. Which is probably a good thing as men tend to look like they are wearing makeup. I would highly recommend hiring a good make up artist (HMUA) for female subjects. They can provide piece of mind and help with basic hair styling.
What you eat and drink on the day can even make a difference believe it or not. I don’t want to sound like a clean eating guru, but avoiding hot drinks especially caffeine and a heavy meal before being photographed helps avoid looking flushed or shiny. I mean literally right before getting in front of the camera!
- Bringing a choice of clothing
- An iron can be useful to have available.
- Have to hand sticky tape roller, hair clips/bands and hair brush.
- Provide staff with enough time to prepare before the shoot and also should they have to arrive in wet or windy weather time may be required to sort out some issues.
- Advising that people pay a visit to the hair dresser before the shoot and that men shave on the day if not wearing a beard/moustache.
- Avoid a hot drink and a heavy meal before photography.
5. CORPORATE PORTRAIT POSE
POSE: This is what worries everyone the most. “What do I do with my hands?” Everyone likes to hold something when they are being photographed especially nervous subjects. holding an object like a pen, cup, phone or paper can be effective, but it can sometimes look a little contrived. I often like to have people lean on or hold a piece of furniture. This could be a desk, chair or hand rail. The pose is not going to be so important for a headshot as it is for 3/4 length or longer.
The pose is really going to be determined by the final use of the images and whether it’s serving the story or representing the brand. Is it a headshot, 3/4 length or full length, seated, working or in discussion? The answer to this will in part be determined by the first question of usage and story.
With any portrait its important to capture different angles. A headshot can be made more interesting by changing both the camera angle but also the angle of the head and body this can make for a formal/informal or dramatic portrait very simply
and so examining this before the shoot in relation to your brand or story is going to pay dividends, especially where time is limited. Knowing the required angle will make the shoot flow and unnecessary time will not be spent trying to shoot every conceivable angle. In general most corporate portraits will be shot at eye level.
I appreciate that once in front of the camera knowing what to do or how to pose is concerning. I like to distract my subjects from the process as much as possible with humour and having confidence in the outcome to guide the process. Knowing the story will determine how I guide the subject through this process. Also preparing and being setup in advance allows both photographer and subject to relax. Paying attention to whether the brief requires that the person be joyful, expressive, authoritative, emphatic etc is a good consideration to determine before photography begins. My approach to posing is to allow the person to reveal what makes them comfortable and feel natural and to expand on that, if it’s not telling the right story then I change things. Only working with what looks good and fits with the personality of the subject. If you don’t ever put your hands in your pockets, then your most likely not going to feel right doing it in front of the camera and this will show. But there are always exceptions and a willingness to try things on both sides of the camera will pay off.
6. REPORTAGE STYLE PORTRAITS
Capturing staff at work or interacting can be a genuinely natural event or can be set up to look natural. Generally its a lot quicker to set up a candid looking image than having to wait for something interesting or photogenic to happen.
By giving the subjects a scenario or task and then finding the most creative angle and lighting to shoot them. Very often a balance between allowing some natural activity to take place and guiding those involved though the process can be very effective and time efficient.
Setup up to look candid
- If a completely genuine candid portrait is required. Time should be allocated to allow decisive moments to occur.
- Remove ahead of time unsightly elements in the background or foreground of the shooting area or inform me of anything which must be avoided.
- Have props and extra staff on hand to make the environment look realistic or busy if the brief requires.
This is really about making sure everything goes smoothly from the outset. Often when taking a corporate portrait in London for example the most challenging hurdle is getting access into a building with several heavy bags of equipment. I have in the past been delayed because either security was not informed of an early arrival or been told that I required to enter the building via a specific entrance. It can delay the start of a shoot and add unnecessary frustration. I often have to arrive very early to a shoot in order to unload, park, recce, setup and be ready to start taking photographs on time. Setup can be anywhere from 10mins to 2 hours depending on the brief. With that in mind its important to establish not only a shoot start time but also an arrival time at the site. Below is an example of a general time line of arrival:
Arrive by car at drop off point or closest access to building and report to security >
8am – 8:15am
Unload equipment and leave either with security at reception/loading bay or transport directly to the client’s office >
8:15am – 8:30am
Return to car and park in the nearest available space. Walk / taxi back to the designated location within the building >
8:30am – 9:30am
Liaise with client to establish the location for photography and storage of equipment >
9:30am – 10:30am
The arrival time may be out of normal office hours and so someone may need to be made available to meet me or my assistant if access is required to a shared premises. Security should be informed not only of my presence on site but also the time of arrival. Sometimes crucially with more than one bag of equipment its important to establish whether I need to report to the main front entrance or other entrance such as a loading/service bay area and if it is okay to leave equipment under supervision with security or my assistant in order to park.
During the shoot the brief may require set up at different locations within the office. This may be within one space, floor or on several floors or even another building. If lighting and background equipment needs to be moved, this is going to add time between shoots and so having an idea of the distances involved and the route between locations will indicate how long the shoot may last and highlight any problems that may arise.
If it’s required to have the same staff photographed with different backgrounds at different locations it will obviously be more time efficient to photograph all the staff consecutly at one setup before moving on to the next and so on.
- Inform Security of time of arrival and request site entry details for medium suitcase size items.
- Ensure time is allowed for setup and transport between shots.
- If considerable distance is to be covered between shots, carry out a test run to see how long it will take and what the best route is. Make sure I’m informed of the distances involved so that I can arrange to have an assistant help with moving equipment and or have a hand cart to move heavy bags.
- For large numbers of staff to be photographed schedule staff in batches of 2-3 at a time.
Decide on the usage and story and how this may determine the number of images location, and style.
Agree a set number of style changes and how these are to be made i.e. location, pose, lighting.
Ensure suitable location(s) are available and fit with the brief.
Agree on clothing dress code and whether a HMUA should be booked.
Decide the best tone through pose that tells at the most relevant story.
Lock in timings and access agreements with security and staff.
I have 20 plus years experience, taking corporate headshots and portraits on location of chief executives, senior management and teams for blue chip companies right through to individuals and small local business owners.
Some of my other related content