How to plan a headshot session for your employees

Several different portrait styles to choose from – try one or a few depending on your needs

September is a good month to plan for a headshot renewal session for your employees. As the weather turns ever so slightly colder and the summer season fades into Instagram memories, the return to regular routines brings a new kind of energy planners can leverage for engaging employees.

Key advantages of headshot sessions

We are often approached to conduct profile portrait sessions for staff on-site during a normal work day. The advantages are obvious:

  • Time savings – employees just have to wander over at their appointed time slot and check in for a quick headshot.
  • Cost savings – booking a session for multiple employees (anywhere from six to 100+) brings cost savings as the contract will benefit from volume discounts
  • Better uptake – more than just scheduling efficiency, having a session conducted onsite means more of your staff are likely to avail themselves of the opportunity

If you are going to make the effort to set up a day where your executives and rank and file workers can get a new headshot, you want to maximise the number of people who get it done on the chosen day. This confers not just the advantages listed above, but also ensures a consistent look and feel to the portraits should you be planning to use them on corporate websites, or even just as ID photos or intranet profiles for use on in-company social networks like Yammer.

Active pose or staged shots can be useful for web or editorial purposes

FAQs on planning a portrait session

When planning out the day a few commonly asked questions are:

  1. How much time do I need to allocate per person?
  2. We’d also like to do a few group shots – when should we schedule these?
  3. What size room do we need?
  4. What kind of lighting should we use?
  5. What should people wear (men, women)?
  6. Should we also book a makeup artist?
  7. What kind of backdrop should we use?
If time permits, consider including a few hours of day-in-the-life type portraits as well

1. Time requirements

Set-up time takes between 45 minutes to 1 hour, depending on room chosen for the session. The set up may entail bringing in a backdrop stand and backdrop, setting up lights and test shots to ensure everything is running smoothly. Once the studio is in place, the session is ready to begin. Very high-quality portraits can be taken in surprisingly brief encounters. In fact, in our experience, speedy portraits often capture more natural expressions as subjects don’t have time to really get worked up or nervous about having their picture taken. A good rule of thumb for planners is to book 10 people per hour. For executive and leadership teams, aim for 6 people per hour.

2. Group shots

Team photo taken after individual sessions completed

Group and team shots should be scheduled after all the individual portraits are taken. Depending on the size of the group (company wide or a specific team) the group photo may need to be taken in a different area within the company or even outdoors or in a lobby space so plan for a buffer of at least 30-40 minutes after the headshots are done to allow for a new set-up (if needed). A good idea is to schedule all the individuals of a given team together so they are all done and ready for their group shot later that same day.

3. Room

99% of the headshot sessions conducted onsite are taken in a large conference or boardroom. While it is not absolutely necessary, the additional space found in these areas is used to provide some breathing room between the subject and backdrop and the subject and light dispositions.

4. Lighting

Lighting is the photographer’s concern not yours. Lights on stands are often used. Sometimes on camera flash is more appropriate (especially in cases where offices are too small to properly set up lights), and natural window light can also be used. Keep in mind that if you are aiming for consistently lit, more professional looking images shot on a white or grey seamless paper background, the photographer will likely want to control the lighting which means having the ability to close blinds and block out other light sources as deemed necessary.

5. What to wear

There is no hard and fast rule for wardrobe. Just as norms for what people wear at work has changed with only a few more conservative industry still requiring men to wear suit and ties to work, there are no fixed rules for how to dress for a portrait.

That being said, in our long experience, for a professionally useful headshot, men tend to look better with a collar shirt and suit jacket (with or without tie). The colour of the shirt matters with respect to the backdrop against which the photo will be taken (so white collar on white backdrop not good). As well busy patterns can be distracting or send the wrong message so unless it’s a retirement party maybe leave the Hawaiian shirt at home.

For women, in photos as in life, wardrobe choices are much broader. Keeping in mind that unless a group or full length portrait has been added to the bill this is just a headshot, so shoes, skirts and anything below the mid-riff will not appear in the photo. In a professional context, the kind of blouses and jackets worn at work on a normal day are usually good for photo days as well. Scarves, dangly or looped earrings and busy necklaces should be avoided (this is sometimes just to help with the editing after if needed on a given photo), and classic, simple, solid colours will give the image a longer term life.

6. Makeup artist

Working with a makeup artist always enhances and improves a photo session. Subjects enjoy the extra attention and the skillful touches and insights a makeup artist provides make subtle but noticeable differences in the final image. (For more on this check out an earlier post here.) That said, a makeup artist is not essential and booking one will add cost to the session. If budget and time allows (women will need at least an additional 20-30 minutes pre-shoot, and men at least 15-20 minutes), then definitely ask for one. Otherwise, don’t worry about it as you will still get very good images from your session.

7. Backdrop

Example of portrait being taken against a grey seamless backdrop at an event

A backdrop is what stands behind your subject and fills the frame around the edges. By definition it is in the background and while extremely valuable and important as an element in the image, keep in mind that the main focus of the photo will be the person being photographed. Backdrop considerations should be taken in light of the intended use of the final image. If you are posting all the images on your company website which has a branded colour or uses simply a clean white background on-screen then a seamless white paper backdrop is best. If you are more interested in showing your people in natural environments or your branding guidelines allow for more creativity and flexibility in how profile pictures can look, than you can look to use interesting walls if available (green walls, bricks, large art, etc) or opt for an in-context shot within the work environment or in front of a window with a good view.

Ultimately, there are many things to consider when setting up your company headshot session but nothing that can’t be easily sorted out in a quick call with your provider. Sessions can be planned for working hours, in-office, or at company events, town halls, board meetings or conferences. Hopefully this post helps as well. Feel free to share with your team when planning your session or reach out to us for help.