Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Announcing my newest portable background for corporate portraits

Me against my new Corp #7 Background.

Just in time to delay the launch of my newest portable backdrop due to circumstances beyond all of our control (I hope you and everyone close to you are safe and well), I thought I'd go ahead and write a short post about it anyway, and share a few light-hearted tips on planning for your next business portrait, so you're ready to roll when all of our businesses resume. I have used myself as a stand-in model many times due to my on-call availability and unbeatable rate. This time I was absolutely going to use someone else as my model, then the health crisis hit so here I am again, with a choice of me, or me. With that, allow me to introduce my new backdrop, creatively and illuminatingly named Corp #7.

First off, look how happy I appear (above). That's because I am a good actor! But seriously, I still need to do what I coach clients to do, which is to think about something that makes me feel warm and happy. Here below is how I looked before... Who would you rather work with?

Am I mad at the camera or maybe the world?

Let's talk about hair very briefly. I made the mistake of hurrying to tidy my hair for this shoot, which prompted me to mention a couple of things. If you have long hair consider leaving it down; if you tie it back or put it up you may look like you have really short hair in your portrait. It's not like real life, or video, where you can see the pony tail or bun (or whatever) as you move around. I put my hair back only because this photograph is all about the background. 

Clients with long hair will often say to me, "You decide how to style my hair," even though they care a lot about how their hair looks, and whatever we do will be "locked in" on their portrait until they get a new one to replace it! While I am always saying "trust your photographer", hair can make or break a portrait and make it one you love or hate, and it's so personal. So before your session think about how you like your hair best. And set yourself up for success...don't arrive with your hair in a bun and take it down on set expecting it to look like it hasn't just been stuck in a bun. If you really are flexible I'll happily help!

Left: I thought it might be worth showing this little "don't" for those who do choose to tie their hair back -- in my haste to get shooting I did mine a little sloppily, resulting in a too-small-to-count pony tail  sticking out distractingly beside my jawline. Right: Yes, subtle difference, but definitely better overall.

Onto wardrobe...every time I do one of these test shoots, when it's time for me to choose something to wear, I experience renewed empathy for my clients. It can be amazingly difficult to get it just right, and I have the luxury of a whole closet full of clothes at my finger tips. That said, though, what I own a lot of is sleeveless tops (so I stay cool during energy intensive shoots), and as I've said before, unless you have Kelly Ripa arms it's usually better, and just looks more professional, to cover them at least partially. If, like me, you are also not an executive with a lovely selection of beautifully tailored suit jackets, you may find yourself struggling with what to wear instead. 

Exasperatingly, I ended up trying six different tops. Here's a run down which I'll share to point out some easily avoidable mistakes:

The first top I tried was a sweater (which I almost never recommend for a business photo as they tend to look too casual). I thought I'd dress it up a bit by adding a decorative scarf accessory, but the style of the scarf with its random, loose bits of wool, combined with my tiny hint of a pony tail made it look as if there was a small animal attached to my neck. Also, keeping the sweater symmetrical was harder than I'd anticipated so the wide neckline looked really uneven.

The colour combo is good but that's about all that's working with this wardrobe.

 Not only that, but it turned out that this sweater is pilly and it showed. 

I never think of this sweater as being pilly but clearly it is, and it shows. I see this at a lot of (non-executive) shoots.

Bottom line: if you are going to wear a knit make sure it fits properly, does not pull anywhere, and is not pilled.

Next I tried, yup, another sweater, just to make absolutely sure I couldn't get away with something as simple and easy to grab and throw on! Again, I didn't like the neckline, the gray looked dark and blah, it didn't look any more professional than the first sweater and it certainly didn't do anything to support my credibility as an expert in corporate portraiture.

What's with the vintage sweater? Not a great choice for this "environment".

By this time I was clear I needed a collar, and a good colour, like blue which I thought would look great against this backdrop. Unfortunately, the top I chose is loose fitting linen, and while it didn't look wrinkly to me when I had it on a hanger, as soon as I put it on, and stood in front of a directional light, every wrinkle was emphasized in a bad way. What a mess. One more example of something working fine in real life but not in a still photo, and a reminder that it's important to wear something that fits you well.

Holy pile of excess fabric and wrinkles!

I wore this next blouse (below) once before for a test shot. The colour is fairly neutral and actually works OK against the background. But the top itself looks kind of unusual and just not like something you'd wear to work in a corporate environment. The take away? As obvious as this may seem, it's advisable to avoid trendy (or out-dated), or highly stylized looks that will distract viewers from seeing you, unless maybe you are a fashion designer. (It's worth noting that although all I'm trying to do is show you a new background, even in this circumstance what I'm wearing has the potential to impact the successful communication of my message.)

Unusual and somewhat dated blouse...can't get away with it...too distracting!

I will also quickly mention that I know enough by now not to even try a black suit jacket because with my fair colouring it just looks too heavy. I have no pic to illustrate this, but please trust me. Black jackets are kind of ubiquitous in the business world so I see a lot of them. If you have fair hair and a fair complexion, I strongly suggest you wear something lighter than black if you can, but not too light, as a very pale jacket on a very pale person can make that person look very washed out. In general, mid-tones rule!

I was starting to lose patience with this process (as you can see by my expression below). I have also worn this next top in a previous sample shot. In this case, though, its dark colour was a little too reminiscent of a black jacket -- it looked too dark and heavy -- and against this pseudo-institutional background the vibe was all wrong.

This top is too dark, and wrong for the "environment".

Finally, a note about a certain kind of wrinkle: I didn't even put on my favourite jacket, the shoulder of which is pictured below, because I knew these wrinkles were deal breakers. If you have a suit jacket that has those "baked in" wrinkles on the arm, please get it cleaned and pressed or wear something else. I see these sorts of wrinkles fairly regularly, especially in men's jackets, and I can tell you that they are virtually unremovable in retouching, especially if there is any kind of pattern or texture to the fabric. They will show, and they will not look good.

"Baked in wrinkles" on the upper arm of a jacket.

That's a whole lot of wardrobe don'ts! What about the do's? Referring to my final choice the white patterned blouse I finally settled on was not one that even occurred to me initially but it worked. Why? It has a collar which creates a flattering neckline, the 'v' is not too low so various crops will work, it fits nicely (not too tight or too loose), and it's not too dark or too light but looks balanced against my colouring and in the shot, not blending in too much with the background or standing out too much. It's white but not the dreaded "plain white". And while solids are often a safe choice, a pattern like this, ie. repeating, medium sized, organic, and somewhat subtle, not a small hounds tooth or large distracting geometric, can work well.

What can you do, given that you won't have a closet to go though at the time of your session? As contrary to my instincts as it is to suggest people photograph themselves, here's a thought: you could try taking selfie test shots to see what neckline, etc. looks best. Keep in mind that the most common crop is head and shoulders so you'll want to know that a tight-ish crop will work well. Lower cut tops can disappear below the bottom of the frame. You may not know going into your session what the photographer or, later, your communications department (or whoever) is going to do so always be prepared in case it's more than just a head and shoulders set-up. I'll say it again...this means your top, whatever it is, should fit well..not too tight, not too loose, and if it has a button (as on a jacket, for example) you should be able to do it up comfortably. The other things you may not know going in are how light or dark, or what colour the background is going to be. In many cases this information could be made available prior to the shoot, so wardrobe could be selected accordingly. Feel free to ask. Another thing you can do is bring an option...cleaned, pressed, and on a hanger.

Moving on, back to the main topic...the background. One of the tricky aspects of designing my portable corporate backdrops is ensuring they will look good regardless of how the final portrait is cropped. To this end they can't be too busy, or too plain, too blurred or too sharp. This new background allows for cropping quite loosely (see the image at the top of the post) and much tighter (see below).

Corp #7 was designed like its predecessors to crop well to different formats.

Final tidbit for today: often at the end of a session I will say to the subject that I am going to "shoot a plate". What does this mean and what is the purpose? Don't worry there's no need to remember this, but in case anyone is curious, all I am saying is that I want a shot of the background without a person in front of it, to facilitate cleaning up of any hair fly aways during post producton. If you have a plate shot, instead of Photoshopping out the fly aways the hard way you can create a layered file with the portrait photo on top of the background-only photo and simply erase the fly aways to reveal the backdrop. This only works if the camera remains pretty much locked in one position so if your photographer is not using a tripod this will likely not be happening. 

The backdrop photographed by itself.

Here I have a two layered file. The bottom layer is a photo of just the backdrop while the top layer is the portrait. I've erased part of myself in this example to reveal the background beneath, just to illustrate the technique.
This just shows very roughly the part of the portrait that gets erased. Where you see white here, you would actually see the layer below, ie. the clean background image, revealed.

Left: Lots of distracting frizzies around my head. Right: frizzies erased to reveal the clean background photo beneath.

Enough about me (referring to the latest overdose of self-portraits here)! I hope you see some possibilities with the new backdrop, I hope this has been somewhat helpful, and I look forward photographing someone other than myself soon! 

Lastly, I hope you and those you care about are well, and stay well, and I wish everyone strength and resilience! If you have a photo question I can help with please don't hesitate to reach out. See you soon!


Wednesday, March 25, 2020

What should I do with my hands? A guide to hand positions for portraits...

One of the questions I get the most when shooting waist-up portraits: "What should I do with my hands?"

Sometimes instead of allowing for a head and shoulders crop the intended uses for a business portrait dictate we show a bit more body, for example from the waist up. Particularly for people who do not do a lot of public speaking this can present an uncomfortable challenge as they wonder what to do with their hands. The natural starting point, understandably, tends to be hands by their sides, which looks stiff and boring and can result in the hands being cropped off, so that's no good. We need to get those hands up!


One advantage of including your hands in your portrait is their ability to help tell your story. Wherever they are the message they should be helping to communicate is that you are confident and relaxed. The key is to keep any sense of tension out of the wrists, hands and fingers; so rather than stretching all the fingers out, or folding them all in, position them somewhere in between these extremes. I will co-opt the words of the talent agent character Danny Reed in the movie "Holiday Inn" (although he's talking about orchids), when he says (your hands should be) "loose, looking like they don't care".

Left: we pretty much never want to see a "starfish" hand (ie. all fingers fully extended and evenly separated) as it's not pretty and exudes stress. Middle: much better...hand and and wrist are relaxed, fingers gracefully cascade from less to slightly more bent. Right: clenched fingers scream "uncomfortable".

 Please note: throughout this article the blue tinted pics are the "dont's" and the plain black and whites are the "do's".

I shot over 200 frames for this article partly because I kept getting my hands "wrong", which leads me to acknowledge that while it is really easy to get it wrong it is also way easier to get it right when your photographer is guiding you. I ended up with so many bad ones I got carried away selecting example after example of what not to do, until I realized I had an overwhelming number of, in many cases, quite subtly different images. I know from the experience of choosing selects with clients that staring at a bunch of subtly different portraits can result in their all starting to look the same. So I hit the reset button, culled out some of the subtler "wrongs" and chose the following examples to share with you. Obviously I will not cover all the possible hand positions, and there are no hard and fast rules. It goes without saying, too, that hands are just one of the many things we can get right or wrong in a portrait, so for the sake of this article we will to some extent ignore the other things and just focus on the hands.

Let's start with a popular pose for those identifying as women, especially: arms crossed. This pose offers a great way to keep your hands up and not have to think to hard about what to do with them. It doesn't work for everyone, every style of wardrobe, or every body type, but when it is possible it can help make a person look comfortable and confident...unless the hands are tucked away under the arms as if in hiding (below left), or "starfish" fingers are stressfully gripping the arms (below right). The key is to success with this pose is to rotate the wrists upward a bit and gently rest the fingers of both hands just above the elbows.

Left: hands tucked under arms as if diving for safety. Middle: both hands exposed and resting gently on arms. Right: both hands showing but looking like "starfish" or claws, and very tense.

There are a number of other ways to hold the hands up around waist level in a natural and comfortable looking way. I say comfortable looking because many people are not comfortable being photographed in any case, so as always the goal is to appear comfortable, whether you are or not.  There are, however, dead give aways as illustrated in the examples below. It is, once again, always about the lack of tension in the hands.

Top left and bottom right: death grips, dead give aways that the subject is not comfortable. Top right: loosely clasped hands with fingers bent to varying degrees, sort of "care-free" clasping. Bottom left: holding a pen. (I carry a set of silver pens to every corporate portrait shoot just to use as props.)

Lightly holding a finger on the opposite hand can look reasonably relaxed and unposed.

Another example of hands very gently, loosely together. Again, it's all about a total and obvious lack of tension.

The key to this pose is the relaxed fingers on the upper hand -- the fist is not clenched and fingers are bent to varying degrees in a casual, relaxed cascade. Also, the vertical arm is not straight up and down but lists slightly to one side.

Further to the example above here are a couple of variations that can work, or not, depending on some subtle details. Again, these won't work for everyone.

Top left: hands are both curled closed into fists, so looks a bit aggressive and emotionally "closed" as opposed to top right: hands are just a bit less curled up, looking more relaxed so the subject looks more approachable. Bottom left: OK I admit this one is not my favourite but it's OK, and at least looks fairly relaxed, unlike the bottom right pose showing fingers "desperately" intertwined.

Continuing on with the subtle differences and picky details...the next set of images includes a prop -- a table for the subject to lean on. 

Top left: hands gently touching, almost as if the subject is not conscious of her hands. Bottom right: fingers of the right hand rest casually on the hip and are spaced out unevenly, in a good way, while the 'cascading' bent fingers of the left hand appear reasonably relaxed. The wrist could have been a tiny bit bent to allow the hand to droop slightly for a subtly more relaxed look. Top right and bottom left are the "wrongs". Top right: "starfish" fingers on hip hand and hanging hand fingers all extended fully and evenly look more posed, and less natural. Bottom left: fist looks uncomfortable but so does the hand on the hip with fingers all perfectly aligned and fully extended with no gaps in between them.

Next...some seated poses, hand positions in which may be similar to some in the standing poses. Again, for those less comfortable with the whole portrait process the tendency is to place hands together, often in a tight grip.

Very tightly clasped hands belie the subject's attempt to appear comfortable and confident.

The top row are the "wrongs". Bottom row are the "betters". Top left and right: obviously tightly clasped hands which look the opposite of relaxed and confident. Top and bottom middle: this difference is subtle... in the bottom one hands and fingers looks a little more "random" (note the way the index finger on the top hand is separated to sit over the thumb of the bottom hand). The top middle one is not terrible but the fact that all fingers on the top hand are neatly beside each other makes it look more formal and posed, which again works against an overall appearance of naturally occurring comfort. Bottom left and bottom right: hands look reasonably "tidy" but not too perfect.

Another useful prop can be a table or desk at which the subject sits, circumstances allowing. This can be a great help, especially for more casual portraits, in terms of getting the hands up and into the frame.  An added bonus when using a desk or table is that additional props may be added and not seem out of place. I used a pen here, again. Another option might be a cup or glass, if appropriate. As always the desire is for the hands to support the overall appearance of comfort and confidence rather than to betray it, and to make sure the hands and fingers look as aesthetically pleasing as possible, meaning, for example, no "log jams" (as shown in the bottom middle shot below where all the fingers are prominently intertwined and positioned distractingly straight toward the camera).

Oh-oh...model is getting a but grumpy! As I said near the beginning of the article we are here to look at hands so please excuse my increasingly dour demeanour! By now the reader will know what I am going to say about each of these. I'll add that in terms of the props, it's important to make sure the prop does not become too much of a focus point...it's just there to give the hands something to do, not to look like a product that the subject is selling. If the subject gets even less comfortable worrying about how to hold it "correctly" ditch it!

One final set of at-the-table poses to illustrate, especially, a pet peeve of mine -- the back-of-fist-to-the-camera scenario shown in the bottom left image. This has a simple fix which is to rotate the wrist to expose the side of the fist to the camera in a much more aesthetically pleasing way (bottom middle).

Top left: fingers look like a tense log jam compared to top middle: nice and relaxed. Top right: something like this can work but you need to make sure it doesn't look weird and posed like this one does. Bottom right: The top hand is not terrible although it looks a bit posed (the chin is obviously not actually resting on the hand), but the hand on the table is curled into a fist, which does not contribute to a feeling of approachability.

I realized after doing the first shots for this post that many of the poses I was suggesting work much better for female identifying subjects than male. So I decided to put on a suit (since I photograph a lot of men in suits, and suits can affect the kinds of poses that will work) and shoot a quick example of a common, more casual, usually male pose...hands in pockets (often not an option for women because as we all know and complain about incessantly, women's clothes tend more often that not to be missing pockets). Turns out I don't have a business suit, so I donned the closest thing I had, noting that when men put their hands in their pockets when wearing a suit jacket their hands aren't actually visible. (My little jacket is much shorter than a suit jacket.)

Left: One thing subjects often try right off the bat is putting their hands behind their backs which is a no-no as it can make you look as if you have no arms, and it is not a comfortable look. Right: Putting hands fully in the pockets can work really well if your jacket covers your hands, but works less well if you can see the hands disappearing into the pockets, and in this case stretching out the pants. Brief wardrobe note: I cannot fail to acknowledge the shirt wrinkles. No matter what I did to try to mitigate this my crisp, white shirt pulled in the same places every frame I shot creating several unsightly stress wrinkles. This is one reason I do not love crisp shirts especially ones that don't fit very well!

Last set of examples: casual standing. Once again I shot so many bad ones I was tempted to share them all with their nit picky but important flaws. But rather than overwhelm the reader with multiple examples of not-quite-right I narrowed it down to these. One more time...it's about keeping the hands loose, as if they fell into place without a moment's thought.

Left: too formal, the hand on the hip looks unrealistically perfectly placed with fingers all aligned, as if it's hovering instead of really resting on the hip, while the hand on the leg looks pressed too smoothly against the leg and not at all relaxed. Middle: both hands look relaxed...fingers not perfectly lined up, lightly bent, hands relaxed, hand by the leg rotated toward camera very slightly. Right: Hand on leg looks like a tense "starfish" as, to some extent, does the hand on the hip.

I will just mention one more "don't" I didn't even shoot because it is so often a hard no: both hands on hips. There are a number of reasons this pose can look less than awesome: it can look like a fashion model pose (so just not appropriate), it can force too wide a crop, or cause the elbows to be cut off in the crop, it can cause a whole bunch of unsightly stress wrinkles and buckling of fabric, and it can make your body look oddly wide. Best just to avoid!

And that's about it for now. As I mentioned at the top it was not my intention to cover every conceivable workable or unworkable pose. And to repeat myself further, what works or doesn't  won't be the same for everyone anyway, due to people's different body types, wardrobe, personalities, etc. It's not as if you have to remember all this! Your photographer will help you. That's what we're here for! But I thought it may be helpful to provide an overview of some of the more and less successful basic hand positions so you'll feel maybe just a little more comfortable next time you find yourself required to use your hands in a portrait, as you tell your story.

I can't wait to get back to capturing your stories when human contact is allowed again and business resumes!

In the meantime please don't hesitate to get in touch if I can help you prepare for your next shoot or be of assistance in some way.


Friday, September 6, 2019

Author Portrait Photo Shoot with Kelley Armstrong

Kelley Armstrong on the porch of her writing cottage

I am no stranger to photographing successful authors, but it was a particular thrill for me to have the chance to photograph New York Times best selling author Kelley Armstrong for the third time, since by this time I had become completely enthralled by her Rockton thriller series. The other thing that made this my favourite Kelley Armstrong shoot yet was getting to visit her country home where she creates the characters, stories and worlds that populate her varied and, thankfully, growing bibliography.

To my great joy we decided, this time, to go with a much more casual vibe, and capture Kelley in her natural habitat, so to speak. In the past we had gone the more traditional route, working with hair and make-up artists and creating styled in-studio portraits. Funnily enough, it wasn't really until this shoot that I realized Kelley has freckles; we both agreed that we did not want to cover them up, which made the sometimes risky idea of not hiring a make-up artist an easier choice to make.

Initially, in order to save Kelley money (not that she requested this!), I decided to dispense with scouting the location, Kelley's place being at least two hours away from Toronto. However, my experience and instinct kicked in and prevented me from making the mistake of skipping this important step.

Kelley's writing cottage

Although Kelley writes in a few different spots around her home, as soon as I saw her writing cottage I knew we had to shoot there. I shot the test shot above at around 11:00 a.m. and as cute as it looked with the sun beaming down upon its front wall, it was immediately apparent that we would need to schedule shooting there some hours later when the sun would no longer be shining right into her eyes.

So we planned a 12:00-5:00 p.m. time frame, with the exterior of the cottage selected as the final location. As such, even though we did get a nice sunny shoot day, by the time the sun was angled for a nice exposure on Kelley, its angle was slightly less ideal for the actual cottage, and the sky photographed pale and overexposed, requiring the addition of a hint of one of my archived skies during retouching.

Left: as shot - blown out sky, Right: new sky added in

The final version of this shot featuring a slightly stylized look (with the vignette)

Kelley's awesome husband even mowed the lawn before we arrived. I actually wouldn't have minded the longer grass, partly because it may have covered the empty planters. We couldn't find anything to put in them on the shoot day, and I couldn't bear them looking empty, so I ended up scouting around my studio until I found this solution:

Photo of some random, suitably innocuous plants down the street from my studio

Above: empty planters as photographed, Below: planters filled in the final image

Actually we were very lucky to get this sunny day, because as the shoot date was approaching, the weather was bouncing all over the place. Indications were that the weather was going to be awful on the shoot day but nice the day before. As circumstances had dictated no scheduled rain date it was understood that we would just have to deal with whatever weather we got. However, in reality I was not OK with skipping shooting outside. Thanks to Kelley's and my assistant Julia's flexibility we were able to switch the shoot date fairly last minute and shoot a day early. Disaster averted!

The other big bonus regarding scouting ahead of time was that I had the luxury of being able to choose all the locations and pre-visualize set-ups for the three main images we intended to create, rather than having to make these decisions on the day. Scouting also gave me the chance to pre-select Kelley's wardrobe with her, so that the right pieces were cleaned and pressed for rapid deployment in the appropriate scenarios on the day. And final bonus, I had the chance to meet her pets and think about the possibility of including one in a shot, which we did. Great call, since just after our shoot an editor doing a feature on authors and their pets requested a photo. 

Of course we chose the Bengal who was so pretty and regal looking when not climbing up and displacing the screen on the window (which may have happened during the scout). 

We also did a version of this shot without the cat.

While we did a few different ambience shots we also, of course, did the requisite headshot.

Kelley in her home

We had set out with a modest goal of netting three final winning shots, but managed to get six, even excluding the one set-up inside the cottage that Kelley ultimately didn't love:

Not a select. Would have looked better with a fire in the stove.

At the cottage, the first set-up (before the wide shot shown at the top of the post) was actually almost entirely out of the sun on the porch. I shot wide to include some of the cottage face in the background for flexibility. 

This is slightly cropped from the way it was shot. Lost of space around Kelley leaves room for graphics, etc.

I like the shot better cropped tighter. I provided both versions to Kelley.

As we reset to complete the final shot of the day the wind machine (the actual wind) kicked into gear at exactly the right moment, from exactly the right direction, giving a lovely little lift to Kelley's hair, just as it was starting ever so slightly to lose its volume from the heat and humidity of the day. I just had to remove a few slightly crazy stray hairs during retouching so the windblown look didn't go too far.

Thank-you wind!

Final note: If anyone is wondering, yes, we did use some artificial light. I pretty much don't go anywhere without at least a little lighting. :)

I can't wait to do Kelley's next round of portraits, but in the meantime, if you need professional photography or know someone who does please get in touch.

Thanks for reading!


Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Personal Brand Portrait Shoot

This was actually the second portrait we shot.

This is going to be the shortest post ever, but I wanted to share the results of a recent personal brand/business portrait shoot at my studio which went pretty much perfectly.  My client Steve is a senior communications professional who was between positions and needed a fresh portrait for LinkedIn and other personal branding initiatives. 

I probably told him we needed an hour and we probably spent two, because when you are supposed to be looking competent, relaxed and awesome the last thing you want to be is rushed. 

We decided to do two looks in terms of backgrounds. We talked about losing the tie for the second look but decided to keep it because it looked really good.

For the first look the goal was a classic head and shoulders business portrait against my personally designed "Corporate #5" backdrop. This is the one Steve used for LinkedIn.

Classic head and shoulders business portrait on my Corporate #5 backdrop.

Here's a picky detail thing that's an example of why people count on me:

Left: Steve's tousled hair. Right: Steve's more nicely tousled hair.

Basically, Steve's hair has a naturally tousled look. I decided I didn't like the way it had landed in the headshot as well as I did when we shot the second look, so during retouching I replaced the part I didn't like with the part I did like.

For the second shot (see pic at the top of the post) I wanted to make it a little more artful and give him more room to play with in case he decided to use it as a banner on his website or anywhere else that may require more horizontal space. The backdrop was a canvas one of mine that I recently repainted. It can look very different depending on the amount of light on it and the amount of focus or blur.

One of my hand-painted canvas backdrops.

As Steve is a versatile guy with a lot of experience in more and less conservatively corporate roles, and broad interests, including sports, we decided to do one more super casual shot to round out the set of images. 

Steve looked his most relaxed in a simple white T-shirt.

Bottom line: I took his picture, he posted it and he landed his next senior position! It may sound as if I'm saying that my picture got him the job. I cannot say that unequivocally. :)

If you need a refresh, please get in touch.


Monday, March 18, 2019

200 Headshots!

We photographed over 200 people in two days.

A recent corporate "photo day" shoot  was organized by an executive who loved what we did for her at her previous company and wanted to make professional portraits available to staff at her new firm. The company's internal communications system accommodated space for each user to include a profile photo, but many staff had not uploaded one because they didn't feel they had one that was good enough or business appropriate. Furthermore, a number of the company's executives' portraits were out of date or non-existent. So the plan was made to do a two day photo blitz during which we would provide four minute mini-sessions to the general staff and half hour sessions to the executives.

I have to mention a caveat...I would not suggest that four minutes is an ideal amount of time in which do create a perfect portrait. But these quick mini-sessions are the only practical way to deal with large numbers of portraits, and they will still, ninety-nine times out of a hundred, produce pictures that far exceed the quality of a selfie or a snapshot, while making for a more professional, consistent look across company directories or websites. Photo days are also an increasingly popular way of expressing employee appreciation.

Prior to the shoot dates I visited the client's offices for a location scout, to ensure they selected the best shoot space possible. Pretty much regardless of budget I opt to do a pre-shoot scout when planning to shoot on location, because it's my job to know what kind of space will work best, and it won't serve anyone for us to find out on the day that the proposed/reserved space is going to compromise our set-up. In this case we had the use of two huge rooms, so we planned to set up the make-up artist and ID cards in one room while we set up the actual shoot in the next room. I strongly advise a closed set, ie. keeping people other than the subject, my assistant and myself out of the actual shoot space because so many people are uncomfortable already...the last thing they need is a colleague watching or distracting them.

The photo shoot 'reception' desk where subjects picked up their name cards

The client had all subjects sign up for specific time slots, and instructed them to arrive ten minutes early for make-up touch-ups. They also printed out name cards which each subject presented to us upon arrival in our 'studio' so we could enter their name into the computer ensuring each portrait file was correctly labeled. As expected some people switched times with others for various reasons so this way we didn't have to rely on just the time sheet for ID's or spelling.

Standing portrait set. We were lucky enough to have two huge rooms, and had more space than we needed. 

One thing we do to facilitate fast headshot sessions is forgo a seated pose and opt for standing, with where to stand marked very clearly. It's amazing how confusing a photo set can be to subjects who are not used to being in front of the camera and may be anxious about getting their pictures taken. So we employ the most basic indicator possible...a picture of a pair of feet stuck to the floor. 

We use are a large, sturdy tripod that extends high enough that I can set the camera to look down on even the tallest subjects (for a more flattering angle), and a small step ladder, so I can see through the camera viewfinder! The tripod allows me to keep the camera in position so I can shoot faster and more consistently without having to waste time picking it up and reorienting every time I step away from it. This way I can step up to the subject to fix hair, assist in positioning, etc. quickly, and as often as necessary. One of the reasons we get the testimonials we do is my hands on all-in attitude, as I am back and forth from the camera to the subject regularly. No "stand there, smile, click, done!" on my shoots.

My assistant checking focus and expression as we shoot

Regardless of how long or short the sessions are, or what the budget is, one of the ways we mitigate the amount of retouching required and ensure our headshots turn out as well as possible is that we always bring a basic kit: powder, combs, hairspray, blotting tissues, toothpicks, chapstick, and eyeglass wipes. This time around, to make the experience a bit more special for the subjects, the client also brought in their own in-house make-up artists which they were in a unique position to be able to do.

Client's cosmetician at work

During any shoot on location when we are doing portraits that might need to be replicated in the future we photograph the set and make diagrams. We did have to replicate this set-up at a later date back at the clients' offices, and then again back at the studio, so it was helpful to have the info to ensure the new portraits matched the previous ones.

Measuring the set so we can reproduce it consistently in the future

After the shoot we delivered retouched selects for the executives. In most cases they chose theirs at the time of their sessions when we could assist them in making their decisions, and make sure before they left that we had one they loved. For everyone else, I delivered a set of low res "as-is" files to the organizer to distribute to the staff. Anyone who wanted retouching, a high res file, or prints was invited to reach out to my studio directly and order what they wanted individually. A few did, but for most the small files were fine as they were for posting in small format online.

Here's some feedback we heard/received after the shoot:

Your professionalism, efficient responsiveness and incredible personality made the headshot day such a hit. Know that I am one of your biggest fans...

I also heard some incredibly positive feedback from a senior...leader who was so impressed with your work that she used the word ‘fabulous’ (this is a feat!) Congrats! 

Just to add to this – I was the one who took that ‘fabulous’ feedback, and she said that apart from the beautiful pictures you took, it was really the ‘experience’ that stood out. She said you made her feel so comfortable, welcome, and at ease. That is going above and beyond!

Thank you for another wonderful photo shoot.

Thanks for reading! If you'd like us to make you look good please get in touch.