Recently, I photographed a group of more than 50 members of an ad agency to update and improve their visual marketing assets. An important goal for this type of photography is to insure a level of continuity and consistency from person to person. Lighting and post processing must all be the same so the photos look good next to each other whether they are presented on the firm's web site or printed in other materials.
Business portraits are not created equally. Many managers and even business owners have the mistaken belief staff photos are simply a commodity item. Their directive: get these photos done as quickly and cheaply as possible. In the worst case, the protocol is to use a cell phone to take photos. In the example shown, I've tried to illustrate the difference between different levels of business portraits.
On the left, the "Ugly." Photos like this, usually taken by someone in HR or a desperate marketing person with no budget and no photography skills, the subject is told to stand up against the wall. A cell phone is used with obvious issues having to do with color and tone (distorted), raccoon eyes because there is no direct lighting on the face, no separation from the background to give the subject definition, and poor framing and cropping. The photo reveals too much body with no expression (hands behind the back) and too much head room (meaning the subject is too low in the frame).
In the middle, "Bad." This is where you hire the cheapest "professional" photographer you can get. The results...not "bad"...well not so good. Lighting is decent but the subject is placed with shoulders and chin straight on to the camera. Camera position is straight into the eyes which flattens the face. Most lower end photographers crop to a 4x6 frame which also includes too much torso and results in too much head room. Shooting is usually too fast resulting in not enough choices. Outcome: you are forced to choose from the best of the bad in terms of pose and expression. Worse yet, lower end photographers either don't know how to retouch an image or can't provide retouching at a low price. The resulting final photo includes hair flyaways (even on the face!), dull eyes, and blemishes.
The "Good." Well, the "Great!" The final image on the right overcomes all of the faults of the previous two photos. Besides the technical considerations, setting a mood, getting the subject comfortable, creates the potential for authentic, flattering portraits. I generally shoot about 60 shots per portrait session just to give the person a chance to relax into the process. From a technical standpoint, elevating the camera just a few degrees above the subject forces their chin a bit up and forward. Posing the subject with his or her torso to the right or left gets their head around to a more elongated, flattering angle. Speaking of torso, cropping to an 8x10 ratio automatically eliminates the unneeded torso and makes the photo look more professional. Skilled lighting includes a main light, backdrop light, kicker light (off to the right), and a reflector to the right of the subject. The result separates the subject from the background and adds balance and tone. Professional retouching lightly smooths the complexion, lightens and brightens eyes and teeth, and removes flyaways on the face and around the edges of the hair. Finally, professional camera equipment results in clear, high resolution, correctly colored and flattering portraits.
Recently, I've both been asked and have taken the initiative to add a new dimension to my business portraits. Alternately described as compelling portraiture, outside the box, and next level photography. The goal is to create "made ya look" portraits that are authentic, stylish, and unexpected. Believe it or not, the images displayed here were taken for a CPA firm. Unstandard standard photography:
Unstandard because: Poses are not uniform but are related in style. Camera position is lower than a traditional portrait resulting in more dramatic lighting. There is a 2-stop difference in light from one side of the face to the other. Hands are used in some of the portraits. Expression is more thoughtful...not necessarily a big smile. Composition is more "open" and less head and shoulders oriented. Portraits as a group are more dynamic and will enable the web designer to create a more dynamic staff or leadership page.
Standard because: All portraits have the same style. All portraits can be cropped to head and shoulders. All portraits use essentially the same tone and color.
Small bathrooms can present a considerable challenge when shooting an architectural project. Here is an example of the challenge I had in shooting an image from the corner of this small but elegantly designed bathroom. The best place for this view was in the far corner of the room. Unfortunately, there wasn't room for the camera and me. Moreover, I wouldn't have been able to get behind the camera to look through the viewfinder to focus the image or even read the settings. I employ a device called a CamRanger. When connected to the camera, I have full control wirelessly with my iPad. I was able to shoot a series of photos, including vertical panoramas and focus stacking images, from outside the room. This project was photographed for my client, a design-build firm.
Increasingly, architects and architectural clients want to show people using the spaces they design. This represents a challenge on a couple of fronts. First, the best architectural images require long exposures to achieve a large Depth of Field. Getting people to stand completely still is not humanly or logistically possible. Furthermore, not all spaces are controllable in terms of being able to get people to stop their action. This particular scene, from a photo shoot at a local bank, required 22 different shots. Numerous shots were taken to capture the activity in the scene and several shots were taken at different exposures to account for highlights and shadows and to allow the final image to be processed as HDR (High Dynamic Range). Here are the 22 original shots:
From the 22 shots, 2 were chosen for compositing and several were chosen just for HDR purposes. The photo below shows the HDR processed image followed by the other two photos.
Using a process called masking, the three images were combined. Individuals from each image were either added or eliminated to create the final image below.
As I've posted previously, my brand of architectural photography is more than just taking pictures, it's MAKING pictures. The final image shown just below was created from numerous images using advanced equipment, advanced shooting and processing techniques, and several applications.
24 shots were initially taken. 12 shots were taken for the top half of the scene split into 6 images shot with the focus point in the back of the room, and 6 images shot with the focus point in the front of the room. This was repeated for the bottom half of the image. Each set of 6 images was taken at different exposures to reveal shadows, mid-tones, and highlights. A Canon 24mm T/S lens made this possible. In addition, my newest piece of equipment was used, a mast. This Manfrotto mast, a large tripod, can potentially go as high as 24 feet. In this case it was raised about 10 feet. The camera was controlled using the CamRanger and an iPad.
Following, two people were placed in the scene and several single shots were taken. The following was the shot used for the final image.
The top half of the image, consisting of 6 images focused to the back of the room, were processed as HDR using Nik/Google's application, HDR Efex. The same was done for the 6 images focused to the back of the room. And, this was repeated for the bottom half of the image. The two top half images were focus stacked using Helicon Focus to maximize Depth of Field. The same was done for the bottom half of the image. Nik/Google Dfine was used to reduce noise after HDR Efex.
The photo with the two people was masked into the bottom image.
Using PTGui, a sophisticated panorama application, the top half and the bottom half of the images were stitched together. The people had to be masked into the top half of the image. Following, Photoshop CS was used to crop the image to square, eliminating some canvas on the right side of the scene, and the image was finished in OnOne Suite 9.5 Perfect Effects Dynamic Contrast.
So...this is creating an image literally out of the traditional 35mm frame's box and going far beyond the idea of just "taking" a picture. Extending the point of view, adding Depth of Field, and extending Dynamic Range.
In South Minneapolis, near Lake Harriet. A splendid do over of a mature and radically updated home. The images here are a combination of HDR, vertical panoramas, as well as focus stacking. It also was the first shoot using my newest piece of equipment, a "mast." This is a very tall (up to 24 feet) tripod. The camera is controlled via an iPad. This project, in total, was definitely "out of the box."
Recently, I had the opportunity to shoot this splendid Lake Minnetonka project. It includes an infinity pool, indoor/outdoor spaces, a cigar deck, fire pit, and lots of other great details. Here is a sampling of the 26 final images submitted for this project.
Lately, I've been playing around with some phrases relating to the kinds of work I want to do and the types of clients I want to work with. I've been thinking a lot about creativity and vision "outside the box" of the traditional, conventional, and the widely accepted. Here is an example of what I'm talking about. More so than ever before, I'm striving to create images that are literally and figuratively "outside the box." For my client, Mom's Landscaping and Design, I shot this residential landscape project in Eagan, MN. A traditional 4x6 ratio scene shot with a 35mm camera would result in a photo something like this:
I wanted to go further. Missing from the above photo is context. What's above the frame of the shot and what's below? Revealing more tells the viewer more about this project and its features. Using a tilt/shift lens, I was able to shift the lens up on its axis to shoot a portion of the enclosed portion above. Going the opposite way, I shot the bed bordering the lower deck area. Here's what the upper and lower photos looked like:
Essentially, I created a vertical panorama. Using a sophisticated application that stitches panoramas together, I joined the upper half and lower half to reveal a much bigger, more highly resolved scene.
But, there's more. The upper half and the lower half were each composed of 6 images processed in two ways: HDR to reveal highlights and shadows (using the HDR Efex application) and focus stacking to bring the foreground and background into equal sharpness and clarity (Helicon Focus application). Finally, the image was cropped to a true 1:1 (square) and "polished" in OnOne's Perfect Efex.
Over the past 2 years, a financial advisory group has made five staff changes from the original group portrait I created for them. This is a great illustration of the power of Virtual Group Portraits. Flexibility, convenience, and cost savings in the long run. Rather than keeping an outdated group photo on their web site and in other marketing materials, the group is revised each time a staff member leaves or joins the firm. Each person only has to have their photo taken once. The firm only has to send the newest person to my studio. No scheduling hassles. The group photo is revised and revised again. Here are the images represented from the most recent version back to the original one.
Creating a total project portfolio has many advantages. It's more cost effective because the total cost is divided by more images thus lowering per image cost. More images tells a more complete story about a project because it can be seen from different views, different times of the day, and through both intimate and grand views. Marketing and editorial placement potential is expanded. Editors want more images of a project to properly evaluate it and, if they like them, will publish more of them. I've had up to 16 images from a single project published in one magazine article. These project photos represent a sample of the 40 images shot for this residential landscape project.
Whenever I shoot a project for a client, whether it's an architectural project or a landscape project, I look for the potential to create a panorama. More than just cropping a wide photo, these are high resolution images combining several images. A panorama style head is used on my tripod. Very specific techniques are used to insure the camera, tripod, and head are level. If they are not, either a crooked horizon will be evident or the image will fail do to a condition called parallax where the individual pieces of each photo are mismatched. Post processing involves a specialized application involving numerous decisions concerning control points from one panel to the next. Here are the individual photos as captured:
The final image was the composed using HDR (3 images/panel) and further processed in OnOne Software's Perfect Effects Suite 9. From a resolution standpoint, this image size is 256mg equivalent to (or better than) a medium format image.
"Making" a superb portrait, whether for business or other purposes, is much more than just clicking the shutter and snapping a photo. Here's an example of some of the steps involved in making a portrait for one of my clients. The goal of the shooting and the subsequent editing is to create an image with genuine, professional expression and provide a level of consistency with other portraits taken for the same firm. The first photo seen here is one captured on a white background. This is straight off of the camera; no editing.
The first steps involved in editing the photo include cosmetic retouching. Although this subject has excellent skin tone and texture small flaws such as tiny moles were removed. Additionally, some of the hair fly aways were reduced or removed. In the course of shooting, neither of us noticed a small amount of her bra strap showing on one side. This was removed, too. Although she has great eyes, white teeth, and superb make-up and lipstick, these features were also slightly improved. The image was also cropped to a standard 10x8 aspect ratio. This will further be modified to provide continuity with other portraits shot previously.
Continuity is king especially when creating portraits of multiple individuals for the same client. Head size, eye position, and head room (or in this case head cropping) should be consistent. By shooting on a white background, I am also able to extract the subject from the background and place the firm's standard background behind her.
This particular project was technically challenging in several ways. Photos were taken using HDR techniques (1 stop differences over and under), at 1/10, 1/20, and 1/45, at f/16. The challenge came from using two people in the photo for content and scale. Not only were they moving slightly between shots but there was a moderate breeze. These variables pushed the HDR processor to the limits. The image was also created as a 4-panel panoramic, from left to right. Stitching the images together was also somewhat of a challenge...but it worked! Perspective correction and application of some color and toning effects rounded out the processing. The first image shows all 12 original photos followed by the final image. This was shot for one of my clients,
Group portraits are always a creative challenge. Sometimes just changing camera position and getting subjects to loosen up helps. In this case, I created a group portrait for a financial advisory group. Which one do you like the best?
The case for a more "opened up" business portrait. Most business portraits follow a fairly traditional 8x10 ratio cropped to the head and shoulders. By opening up the pose, we can introduce more personal expression, adding to each person's visual narrative.
From Kate LeTourneau, one of my business portrait clients: "Looking to revamp your professional profile? I could not have been more happy with Steve Silverman's great work. He took awesome photos that I am proud to use in all my personal marketing platforms." Process driven. My goal is to create visual narrative for an individual.
Transforming traditional business photos into more contemporary and compelling portraits. Portraits that tell a story, reveal a secret, evoke personality. From a technical standpoint, adjusting lighting ratios, moving camera position, and directing the subject's gaze can dramatically alter the photos's impact. Coupled with alternate processing including conversion to my own black and white recipe or adding a background and special processing finishes off the look.
This project, photographed for my client, ATS&R Architects, features fairly conventional photography with less traditional techniques. The project is a community gymnasium in Maple Grove, MN, featuring 6 basketball courts. Since its recent opening, the facility has been busy every day, seven days a week. The first images in this portfolio are more traditional from an architecture standpoint. Devoid of people, photos were taken at slow exposures with a high Depth of Field. Multiple exposures were combined using HDR. Additionally, images were mostly focused stacked (to increase Depth of Field and sharpness) and were created as vertical panoramics to increase the view "beyond the frame." Other images are much less traditional. Mostly shot at higher ISO's and at a much more shallow Depth of Field. Even though these photos are less technically refined, they do a great job communicating how the project is used.
The following images are from a visit to the early 1920's Don CeSar Hotel in St. Pete Beach. This iconic hotel stands apart from all of the other ordinary properties along this 7-mile beach.
Additionally, I was also awarded Best of Houzz Design 2015 and Best of Houzz Service 2015 and was named to the top 10 Minneapolis photographers. More here: Houzz