How to run a rapid, company-wide portrait session


I was recently booked by a large corporation to shoot over 200 employee portraits in just two days. With such a high volume of clients there is no time for fussing around with fancy light setups, make up artists or even much time for banter with the subjects.

Key to success is having an onsite ally within the client who can organize the schedule and keep employees to it. These kinds of mega-portrait sessions are a way for large corporations to give a real benefit to their employees in a highly cost-effective way. (Read on or skip to the end for how to price a large portrait session).

Year-end is a good time to start thinking about planning one of these sessions for your employees. A new year is just around the corner, and with it comes the new energy of a fresh start that many people like to use to level-up their online game, update the profiles across their various social media personae, and refresh their headshot.

When booking your photographer, a few questions that can be addressed ahead of time are:

What to wear?
How long will each portrait take?
Where will the shoot take place?
How to pose?
How will the photos be tracked and delivered?
How much will it cost?

What to wear?

Classic styles and simple solid colours tend to work best in my opinion. While you can wear whatever you want, especially if you are ultimately receiving a cropped 8×10 headshot, you still want to make the focus be on you and not your clothes. For men, a solid-coloured, collared shirt (with or without tie depending on your company culture/intended use) with a jacket closed at the top button does the trick. Women have more options but necklaces, large earrings or other adornments can seem out of place for professional use. If wearing a necklace, make sure it hangs straight down the centre so it doesn’t look off kilter. While it’s not necessary to stick to the collared shirt and suit jacket (though it’s fine if you do), too much of a plunging neckline can look a tad out of place on LinkedIn or your in-house network. Think of where the final image is likely to get the most use and dress for that audience.


How long does each portrait take?

On these big days, you’ll have no more than five minutes in front of the photographer. That will be enough time to shoot two shots of each side. Only rarely will you need more than four images for the photographer to select from. The lighting will be the same on all faces, and though the background can change (if you are shooting in front of a window, for example, you’ll have changing lighting in the background throughout the day), so the poses should all also be consistent.

Where will the shoot take place?

Typically these large sessions are done onsite at the client’s offices or workspace, wherever that may be. The conference room or board room is best, or if the site is equipped with warehouse space, set up in there. Pay attention to wire placement of your lights (the last thing you want is someone tripping and injuring themselves) and if shooting before a window as is often done these days, place your lights wide enough apart so that they don’t reflect in the glass sparing you hours of tedious photoshopping later.


How to pose?

You will get asked this by everyone who walks in the room, two hundred times in my case recently. While I enjoy taking my time in one-on-one portrait sessions and really working different looks and angles, this luxury is not available to you, humble corporate portrait photographer. You need to get your people in, shot and out on a very tight schedule. While you can vary the height you shoot from a little (I use a step ladder), you want everyone to give you two angles, and do your best to make those who need a little thinning look thin, and those who need a little happiness boost, look happier. The real art of the portrait photographer is in these brief interstitial moments when you must connect with your subject and quickly put them at ease and make them trust you. If it helps, let them look at the shots you’ve taken of them and for the ones who seem particularly fussy, let them choose the shot you’ll edit afterwards.

How will the photos be tracked and delivered?

If you’re lucky enough to have a well-organized client, you’ll start the day with a printout of all the scheduled people each with their assigned time slot (more or less). Jot down one file number from the range you shoot for each person so that afterwards you can either rename the files, or at least have a common language with your client so that the inevitable requests to tweak this, or edit that can be done smoothly and efficiently. For delivery, while I use Photoshelter, you can use WeSendit, Dropbox or whatever large file transfer service you prefer. (Be careful with Dropbox as many clients either can’t access the site from behind their firewalls, or don’t have professional accounts and you will quickly burst through the default 2 gb limit on free accounts).

How much will it cost?

Pricing for portraits requires a political approach. The answer really is, it depends…The reason, of course, is that you, as photographer must balance out the effort with the huge volume of work you are receiving while your client is looking to leverage the volume to get a discount. Personally, I always charge a set up fee for going into an office to cover the cost of equipment usage and transport, and start from there. As I work with minimums (and you should too if you want to stay in business), the cost per head on a portrait session decreases as the number of portraits taken increases. While each portrait in post will require the same amount of work, once you are up and running in a shooting session, your time onsite will go quickly. How much of a volume discount you offer is for you to determine vis-a-vis your client’s budget but keep in mind how the portraits are being used and for whom on the client side when you are pricing it out. A CEO portrait with his or her executive team that will be shared around the world, used in media, annual reports and company wide web diffusion is worth a lot more than the cropped headshot of the first year intern who is only using the headshot for a company intranet (effectively a digital id photo).

The power of the last minute

“Were it not for the last minute, a whole lotta things would never get done” ~ Cowboy Logic

I once had a little book of collected wisdom from cowboys called Cowboy Logic and among the many gems, the above quote has never left my mind since I’ve been a professional event and portrait photographer in Montreal. I can’t count the number of jobs I book with a frantic caller worried about how last minute it is, and how there is really a short window and would I be available er, this afternoon or maybe tomorrow?  I am always happy to oblige whenever I can, much to the relief of my clients, and I’m happy to have the opportunity to deliver. The reality of a working photographer’s life whose clients are corporations, PR consultants, office managers or communications professionals is that their work is almost always high pressure, deadline driven projects and they are relentlessly overworked, understaffed and regularly working to the last minute.

While it seems odd that a corporate portrait is something that urgently needs doing, I am no longer surprised by the caller asking me if it is at all possible to do the shoot and have the final edited images back within 24 hours. I realized long ago that people tend to stick with any good headshot they have of themselves for as long as humanly possible. It is not uncommon for a working professional at an executive level to be using a headshot that is 5 years (or more) out of date. And then suddenly they’ve been asked to speak at a conference, or are getting a promotion, or have an article about them or their business being published and they need a new, updated corporate headshot desperately. Like right now.

I get it. Most non-models do not like having their portrait done. They are busy, and underneath their well designed polished exteriors, they suffer from the same insecurities about how they look as regular working Joes. While that CEO may be running a multi-million dollar operation, he (and yes, men seem to worry more about their appearance than women) will be conscious of how his smile looks, or if he’s showing too much teeth. So they avoid scheduling a headshot.  Even though the shoot can be done in their office, and fairly quickly (as I’ve written about a few times here and here), hiring a photographer to come in for a photoshoot seems like a hassle and is likely why, when I am hired, I end up doing the whole team at the same time.

The last minute is on many projects, not just corporate or event photography related ones, the most important minute. And there’s no need to apologize or feel guilty about having to use it to get the job done. That’s just the way it is.

And if you like the way cowboys think, like I do, here’s another quote for you that is fairly irrelevant to this post, but good advice nonetheless: “Always drink upstream from the herd.”


Your portrait is your personal brand

In today’s world you are everywhere. Your face is popping up on your contacts’ mobile phones when they call you. Your profile picture is displaying to complete strangers who find you on Google+. Your Facebook page, no matter how tightly you control your privacy settings is displaying your profile picture to people who may be doing research on who you are, trying to glean information about you however they can. Your Linked In profile is being scrutinized by prospective employers, colleagues working with you on a project, vendors looking for leads and old high school friends. Your Twitter picture is displayed on Tweetdecks and other tweet stream aggregators on iPads, desktop computers and laptops. And that’s just your personal publishing empire. You may also have a photo up somewhere on  your corporate website, it may be sent out to media with your bio or included in a magazine article about you, your team or your organization. Wherever you live, work and play, the image you use to show the world these days increasingly is the first thing people will see when they contact you. In many cases, if you have any online component to your business (and who doesn’t?) your profile image may be the ONLY image people have of you.

Yes, we judge the book by its cover

As humans, we highly value visual stimuli (our brains are wired for it) and by extension, no matter how appealing it is to our higher natures, your book is being judged by its cover. Given its importance in a hyper-connected, always online world, it is worth investing a small amount of time, effort and yes, money, in getting a professional portrait taken for the widespread use it will enjoy.

Your photographer as therapist

As a portrait photographer, I believe my role is to provide more than just an expertly taken photograph with proper lighting, editing and formatting for all online and print use. In order to really get your portrait right I need to understand what your business is and what you will be using the photos for (primarily). I need to know and understand who you are. And we need to get along well so that you feel good, confident, relaxed and at your best when I start shooting. A perfect portrait should look effortless, like all things done well, but it isn’t achieved without hard work, experience and a sincere commitment to the art form that it is.

Don’t worry, by happy

People across all industries and at all levels of professional development, whether the CEO of a multinational corporation, or an independent artist just starting out, carry around insecurities and hang-ups about the way they look. They worry their hair is too grey or too thin, their bodies too fat or too skinny, their skin too mottled or too wrinkled…Most people are skilled at hiding these concerns and most of the time, the pace of life is such that these anxieties are simply buried – but stand before a camera, a big white soft box and a clean white backdrop and suddenly, people begin to feel nervous. One of the most important parts of my job as a portrait photographer begins before I ever press the shutter button on my camera. My first job is to put you at ease and have you enjoy the photo session we are about to start. Once that happens, amazing photos always follow and you will be surprised, and happy, that all the things you worried about, don’t matter any more.

In a competitive world you’ve got to use everything you have to get ahead. Don’t let a poor quality profile picture stand in the way of your success. My goal as a portrait photographer, whether for corporate onsite portraits, personal or professional headshots is to deliver top quality images and impeccable customer focused service. Why settle for less? Please click on image below to visit my portfolio site.