|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?|
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!
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!