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.
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.
"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.
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.
In less than a year, this group of financial advisors changed four times from the original group photo composed in May, 2014. So...without reshooting the group each time at considerable time and expense, new people were added by photographing them individually and people who have left the firm were removed. Where it was appropriate, the group was recomposed to keep it looking balanced. The original group photo is the top image and it progresses to the bottom, most recent group.
Two recent projects I shot are great illustrations of the value of Virtual Photography. This shooting and processing technique gives a client numerous options saving time, effort, and ultimately money when creating Business Portraits and Group Photos. In this first example, one of my good clients, , recently added a new staff member. Reshooting the entire group can be a logistical nightmare. Because the group was virtually created, we photographed the new person and simply slipped her into the image. "Slipped" in is somewhat of a simplification. I use several techniques to make the people in the group look natural and authentic.
In the next example, a new attorney joined one of my law firm clients. To provide continuity with the rest of the attorneys displayed on their web site, we photographed the attorney in the studio against a white background. Previously, background images were shot throughout their offices. The office backgrounds provide unlimited possibilities to create a new virtual image so that everyone does not look like they were plastered on the same background.
I've just completed a project for an accounting firm. I took individual portraits of their staff on a white background.
I also took photos of their office for use as backgrounds. This is one of several I took.
Using a variety of post processing techniques, I retouched each photo, extracted each person from the white background, and placed each person on an office background. Shading and background blurring, amongst other techniques, were used to make the photos look authentic.
The reaction from the firm's marketing director:
I looked at all the photos, and they look great! The coloring and texture of the backgrounds makes such a difference!!
Natural cosmetic retouching for business portraits. On occasion, I'll have a new or potential client say, "We don't want to pay for retouching. Our staff looks just fine." Here's what they are missing. Natural retouching enhances skin tone, brightens eyes, teeth and mouth, removes eye glass glare, and provides an overall toning and background brightening. OnOne Software's Perfect Portrait used along with Photoshop CC for processing.
A small, but growing law firm, is using my virtual group product to give them flexibility as well as save time and money. For the first part of the project, I took individual photos of each attorney and staff person in my studio. I also went to their office and shot background photos.
Editing the photos involved cosmetic retouching and a process called masking. Masking extracts the individual from the white background. The staff was placed in the background photo using several techniques: 1. Each person's height was used to scale them to the correct and realistic size and height. Hands, eyes, and head size were also evaluated to make sure each person was in scale. 2. Shadowing and an edge blur was added to each individual to make them look like they were standing next to each other. 3. The background was realistically blurred just like in a regular photograph that emphasizes the individuals.
Just 2 weeks after the original photos were complete and the group was composited, a new staff member joined the firm. Traditionally created group photos would have rendered the original photo obsolete. Instead, the new staff member was sent to my studio for photos and a new group photo was created.
This photo shoot of a group of financial advisors illustrates there is no limit to the ways you can use portraits and group shots. The advisors came to my studio on a couple of different occasions and had individual shots taken.
Subsequently, I visited their offices and took a number of background images. Using masking software and a number of custom editing techniques, I created new images of each person to make it look as though the photos had been taken in their work environment.
Head shots were also created in the same way.
Finally, a photo of the entire group was created.
Earlier this year, I worked with a financial advisory group to create business portraits and a group photo. The original group photo was created virtually (see the previous post). The firm wanted to update the photo using an image I took from the balcony of their Downtown Minneapolis offices. Individuals and the group were scaled to make sure they realistically fit on the balcony. Here's the result:
Here is a sampling of some of the business portraits I've shot on location recently. These "In Your Space" portraits are designed to show a little more personality: genuine, modestly posed, natural photos of individuals involved in manufacturing, finance, consulting, and restaurant ownership.
Post processing techniques are critical to ramping up the quality of a photograph. Even if a talented pro takes a top notch image, the way it's processed can make a huge difference. In this case, OnOne Software applications including portrait retouching (skin smoothing, eye and teeth brightening) and photo effects such as Dynamic Contrast (sharpen and boost tonal quality) and an tool called Summer greatly enhance this image.
As part of a business photo engagement, here is an example of how I created a group photo for a financial advisory group. First, I created a business portrait, full length, of each financial advisor taken against a white background. Following the shooting, each image was retouched and masked or removed from the background.
During the photo shoot, I shot several background shots of the firm's offices and processed them as HDR images. I placed myself in each scene for scale (I'm 5'6").
All 9 individuals were roughly placed in the scene to approximate, but not exact scale.
Several steps were used to scale all of the people (bringing them slightly closer to the camera) as well as scale them to each other. Shadowing and edge blurring were added to each person. In addition, the background was darkened at the bottom and blurred as if the scene was taken with the camera wide open. Finally, the tone and brightness of the group was adjusted to match the tone and brightness of the background.