Fundraising teams face a continuous battle against apathy. Each year they are faced with the challenge of raising millions of dollars using the same tried and true methods, often from the same individuals and organizations. Fashion shows, art auctions, casino nights, gala soirées, silent auctions and the perennial golf tournament are the mainstay of fundraising organizations everywhere. They are in competition with one another from other teams using the same tactics, and playing from the same playbook (sometimes even the same person who’s moved from one team to another), and having photographed all of these kinds of events, I can see how much of a challenge it is to keep it fun and to differentiate yourself from the others.
I was recently covering a hospital foundation golf tournament fundraiser and tasked with, amongst other things, capturing the fearsome foursome shots. Foursome shots are to golf tournaments what table shots are to big gala evenings. A necessary, but rather dull, posed photograph documenting attendance. They are often top of a client’s shot list, as they serve the useful function of identifying who actually showed up for the event and they can be given as gifts to attendees by way of onsite prints, or post-event photo with a thank you note from the organizers.
However, like their table shot cousins, having a group of four stand, clubs crossed, facing the camera for a standard shot gets a little boring for both guests (and photographers!). As most of the attendees are on every fundraiser’s list, they may attend two or three of these tournaments a year and I suspect they have a collection of these nearly identical shots. From a branding point of view, it doesn’t strike me as a good way to differentiate yourself from the competition.
This year, in collaboration with my client, we decided to shake things up a little and play around with the idea of the foursome shot. Instead of just posing each one in the same way, we asked them to do something creative (and offered a prize for the formation judged the most creative). Not only did the teams embrace the idea, we ended up with some fun photos that are unlike any other from any other golf tournament they’ve ever attended.
Why not try out some of these poses (or better yet, come up with new ones) at your next golf tournament?
When a young family begins to blossom, many parents are motivated to hire a photographer to shoot their family portrait. Even though parents document nearly every waking (and some sleeping) moment of a new child with iPads, iPhones and inexpensive point and shoot cameras (there are still a few around), there is something about hiring a pro to shoot the “official” family portrait that still has appeal. I’ve done my share of family sessions, in studios, in parks, living rooms and backyards, but one still stands out for its singular point of view.The idea for this eye-level family portrait actually came from my client herself (99% of all family portraits are booked and organized by the mother of the house). She had a vision for exactly the kind of photo she wanted for her family portrait and I helped execute it for her. This is also an example of the co-creativity involved in producing real, meaningful portraits and this approach can be applied to any kind of portrait, not just the family, but for corporate or professional head shots as well. Sometimes all it takes is stepping out of the office and into the street, taking advantage of the natural urban setting, or finding a convenient, non-traditional backdrop, as in the two shots below.
Other times, a really non-traditional portrait can be created by focusing on mood or atmosphere, or playing off an idea generated through discussions with clients about how and what they want to present as an image. Here are a few which turn the concept of a traditional portrait on its head, but still achieve a distinctive look that could be interesting and useful for some purposes.
Whatever your purpose is for having a portrait taken, consider your creative options before doing it. You may want and need a straight up conventional shot for an updated LinkedIn profile or to add to your bio when publishing a piece of your work, but you can also explore and have a little fun with your image, generating portraits that say something about how you feel or wish to be perceived, whether that is for a private audience or more personalized project in which you want to show something of yourself that is unique, creative and clever. Non-standard crops, artsy Photoshop filters, even blurred images can produce interesting images that might look good printed on canvas as a gift to a loved one, or just to show a different side of yourself to the one everyone expects to see. Whatever your goals are in creating a portrait, taking time to explore your creativity with your photographer can often produce images that are as memorable and unique as you are.
School may be out for most classes, but the hard-working students at the McGill School for Continuing Education are in session right through the hot summer months, and yesterday posed for their class photos on campus. The weather was hot and sunny but this Montrealer is not complaining as winter is always just around the corner in this city. After this brief portrait session was done, I reflected a while on what it takes to create a great portrait whether you are just snapping a few shots of your family on vacation, or looking online to gather a few guidelines to inform your next corporate portrait photo shoot.
Draw out the connections between subject(s) and their relevant subject matter or theme: whether your subject is someone famous, or just one of the millions of hard-working corporate workers out there in the world today, or a group of young summer students taking a course in a Classical Studies program, your job as photographer is to come up with ideas that can be translated into images that represent visually what is relevant to your subject. For example, if your subject is a Math Professor you could set up your shot in a classroom posing your subject in front of a blackboard covered in formulas and equations. Or if your subject is an author, you could set the subject in a contemplative space, perhaps the one where they write, or surround the writer with books. In the case of the McGill Classical Studies students, we (why we? see next point) sought out “classical” looking backgrounds to imbue the young group with a bit of the weight and substance of what they had gathered to study. In brief, contextualize your subject within the essential context of what makes your subject portrait-worthy in the time frame of your photograph.
Collaborate with your subject(s): In my many years of experience photographing all types of people alone or in groups, from CEOs to
toddlers in diapers in a family living room, I’ve found that the single most important element of creating an excellent portrait is having a rapport with the subject. This rapport or relationship is created by including the subject in the creation of their own image. Even world-famous executives with a private jet waiting to whisk them away can and do enjoy a brief moment to create a photograph in which their likeness features that says something about who they are as a person. All portraits have an element of playfulness about them, even the serious ones, and the best ones happen when you as photographer can encourage that innate sense of play in your subject.
Communicate with your subject: this is really just another aspect of collaboration, but it merits its own point as it is really so important when trying to capture an image of someone as they really are, which is the true call of a portrait artist. Talk to your client/subject throughout the creative process. Explain to them what you are thinking or wanting to do. I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen my initial ideas improved upon by sharing them with my clients who gamely take up the challenge and often contribute new ideas and have even better backgrounds in mind than I come up with on my own. While I don’t think it’s important, or at all interesting, to tell the client the technical aspects of what’s happening (I’m not sure how many clients I have had who would care what aperture I am shooting at or what lens I am using) I do think it is critical to engage your subject in a dialogue about what you are doing and give them the space and opportunity to contribute their ideas to how they will be portrayed. At the very least, it gains their confidence, and more often than not leads to a better portrait.
A good portrait, whether of an individual or a group, should aim to capture some of the context of the subject, both physically and conceptually. Using both setting and features of the context of the subject will help to strengthen the portrait. After all, what is a portrait but a window into the heart and soul of a subject. The best ones, particularly photographs like Yousouf Karsh‘s epic shot of Winston Churchill reveal the essence of a person’s character – at least as they are in that moment. Portrait photography is the short story of people-oriented photography and the artistry involved is not something that can be easily reproduced. However, the core concepts connected to creating a great portrait are accessible to anyone who takes the time to learn and implement them. Central to all great portraits is establishing a rapport with your subject by collaborating and communicating during the session. And finally, as always, cultivate a sense of play and playfulness throughout your session so that the experience reveals not just who the subject is, but the best version of themselves.
Not all corporate portraits have to be cookie-cutter just-add-barcode-on-forehead head and shoulders shots. Once and a while it can be fun and fruitful to play around with relevant props and even (dare we) use a little humour and have fun with the shot.
I was recently hired by Queens School of Business to shoot a portrait of a senior VP at Monster and, while I was asked to provide straightforward corporate shots, was also given the leeway to shoot a few playful shots with my subject. Of course, a client needs to have the right attitude, be flexible and willing to play ball, but if they are, the in-office corporate portrait photoshoot can be effective and fun. Here are few takes from the shoot at Monster Canada’s offices in downtown Montreal.