First written in 1918 by William Strunk Jr., The Elements of Style, later revised and updated in 1959 with E.B. White has consistently been referred to as one of the top 100 most influential books in English. Through its common sense advice and pursuit of clarity and simplicity in writing, it can be fairly credited with making the world more intelligible. In short, its use makes good writing better.
In corporate portrait photography there is no such universally appreciated guide. There are many styles to choose from and the right one is often a question of what is right for the brand or company you work for, rather than one single monolithic “right” way to shoot a portrait.
As a corporate photographer, I regularly produce executive portraits for clients and in the absence of any corporate guidelines, I am the one who determines the “right” look for the portrait.
I recently spent a day shooting a number of corporate portraits for a team of wealth managers. The shoot was coordinated with a part-time employee and though there were many emails back and forth, with me sharing content for how to prepare for a portrait session, what to wear, how to conduct an onsite portrait session, there were no specific guidelines or style books given in return. This sometimes happen when either the company doesn’t have any specific guidelines, or the person booking the work doesn’t know that there is one.
Grey, white or environmental?
Corporate portraits come in three basic flavours – subject on a white background, subject on a grey background, or subject using an environmental background (ie, an office, a view through a window, a board room, outdoors). The first choice in setting up for a shoot is which of these flavours to set up for.
If the client has no opinion or preference, I will usually opt for a basic neutral grey backdrop. The benefits of this set-up are more consistent lighting for all subjects, no distracting visual elements, and the future flexibility of the image which is easily masked and cut away from the background if there is a need to do so.
Can we add in a few group shots?
As often happens, a few non-scheduled group photos were requested. These kind of ad-hoc requests while seemingly easily accommodated present a challenge for the onsite photographer who has set up for a single portrait. One reason is the width of the standard backdrop (four feet wide), and the other is the disposition of the lights. In nearly all instances of on-site portrait sessions done in-office, the improvised “studio” is in a meeting room of some kind (if you’re lucky), where there are tables, chairs and podiums to account for that need to be worked around. Making changes to the set-up to accommodate groups too large for the backdrop can be difficult or require the use of a separate lighting source (ie a large window).
For clients currently in the planning phases of booking a photographer for a set of corporate portraits, here’s a bit of advice to help ensure your expectations are both communicated in advance and met (or exceeded) on delivery:
- Provide a style guide if one exists – and if you don’t know because you are new on the job, check in with marketing or HR
- Provide reference images to your photographer of existing company portraits you wish to emulate
- If possible, include details on the actual image dimensions and intended uses of the image to ensure deliverables fit the print/web infrastructure where the photos will be displayed
- Review the photos as the shoot is being conducted – images can be quickly viewed on-site to ensure that they are meeting your needs and if not, adjustments can be implemented immediately
- If given the option for a makeup artist/stylist – take it
Better communication always pays off. It’s better to overdo the prep than to have to undo what has been done when you’ve the missed the mark – even if you didn’t know the mark was there. Ultimately getting the right result for any type of portrait is a creative collaboration between subject and photographer. Working together always results in a better image.