Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Executive Portrait Day

Two of the day's environmental head and shoulders portraits

There are many ways to approach corporate portraiture. Here's one way -- this post recounts a recent one day shoot downtown with nine executives.

In this case our client/organizer was able to facilitate scheduling a number of individual executives from different business groups within the organization. A lot of work for her as these are busy people, and available boardrooms can be hard to come by, but it's much more economical to book multiple portraits within a day, and much easier to book one room for one day.

In this case we were also offering executives the choice, ahead of time, between a standard head and shoulders portrait on a gray fabric background (which we bring), or an environmental portrait which shows as little as just head and shoulders to full torso (or full body if so desired) against the backdrop of the boardroom environment. It helps a lot if the boardroom (or other location) is visually interesting and attractive and has some texture and colour, as opposed to four white walls, although I do bring a background banner stand designed specifically to either break up blank, boring walls, or cover distracting elements such as black columns between bright windows. 

More casual environmental portrait - torso

We always recommend doing portraits as early in the day as possible because people tend to look their freshest nearer the beginning of the day than the end. What we don't care about is the time of day, at least in terms of the issue of daylight, because we bring lights, so we're fully prepared to shoot regardless of what is going on outside, and whether there are windows or not. That's not to say we don't love a splash of sunlight on occasion to add some extra light and life to an indoor portrait. We just don't rely on it.

On this day, pretty much as always, we didn't know ahead of time exactly what each executive would look like (even if we looked them up online) or what they'd be wearing (although we provide guidelines) or exactly what kind of pose would suit them best, so we set up what we thought might work and hoped. When each person arrived we showed them a test shot (of my assistant) to see if they liked it, and if so, shot a test of him/her roughly in place and checked it with them.  If they or we didn't love it we either made a quick decision and adjusted the set, or showed them examples of previous portraits shot for other executives at their organization to determine what alternative they might prefer, and quickly adjusted the set.

As we were doing both headshots on a backdrop and environmental portraits we had hoped not to have to switch back and forth between sets as, for this job, we had only one set of gear, meaning we couldn't leave one complete set-up standing while moving to another. However, as it happened, it wasn't possible to book the executives in the order that would have facilitated that. So we just had to move fast. Between the head and shoulders on gray, and the environmentals, we ended up using five distinct set-ups, some of which we reused with minor variations.

Formal head and shoulders on fabric backdrop

Once we agreed on the set-up we got down to personal details. Importantly,  particularly on occasions during which we do not have a make-up artist, we carry a small kit with touch-up essentials such as a mirror, powder, chapstick and Q-tips, toothpicks, hairspray, combs, eyeglass wipes and lint roller so we can make sure the skin is shine-free, lips are freshly lipsticked or moistened, hair is styled, suit is lint free, glasses are clean, and wrinkles are smoothed out as much as possible, which we achieve in part by adjusting the pose (particularly in the case of the headshots). Again, more so with the formal headshots, we carefully pose each person to emphasize their positive attributes, and de-emphasize any less optimal attributes, so their jawlines are defined and they appear confident and engaged. Then we work with them to elicit their ideal expression and essence. As unnatural as sitting on our posing stool (which we bring for the headshots) can seem, subjects ultimately always agree that the end result justifies the means. The benefits of this attention to detail are why we generally opt for a quality over quantity model.

On this day we worked in 45 minute blocks: half an hour to shoot and review, and then fifteen minutes in between to backup the files and set-up the next shot. On this particular shoot each session had to include time to sit down with the executive to review the images, make sure there was one killer shot that they loved and confirm the select to be retouched. My assistant and I bring our experience to bear and actively advise the executives on which portraits we feel are the most successful while making sure to be sensitive to their personal opinions, as they are the ones who have to love their pictures in the end. The most fun moment of the whole shoot is often right at the end when the subject, my assistant and I reveal our favourite frame at once, the most gratifying outcome being a three-way agreement.

Another casual environmental portrait

At the time of selection we also offered each executive the option of basic retouching or a full hour retouch. If a portrait is destined exclusively for a small window online in a personal profile, little or no retouching may be appropriate. But for ultimate flexibility including print and presentation purposes, it's safer to choose the more comprehensive retouching option, since at high resolution everything down to individual pores can be clearly visible and distracting details beyond under eye areas, discoloured teeth and blemishes (covered in a basic retouch) can really detract from a portrait's success.

We had included in our quote one final retouched file for each executive, but clients always have the option of choosing additional frames, at the time, or in the future (as we archive all the shots). We don't charge any extra for e-mail delivery of unretouched low res files. Our goal this day, though, was to achieve one truly excellent 'signature' shot per person and in that vein, as planned, that's what we delivered.

A brief final note: As I'll mention in an upcoming post, I generally refrain from posting images (at least large size images) of business portrait subjects, as a courtesy, unless I have their express permission. I would like to thank the lovely clients pictured here and on my website for allowing me to share their portraits.

If you or your organization would like to take your profile pics to the next level,  please give me a call, or e-mail me.  I look forward to discussing your particular needs. 

E-mail Kathryn

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