Wednesday, October 26, 2016

In-Studio Executive Portraits - Take the Time

Three Final Retouched Portraits

 The point of this short post is, primarily, the value of committing an appropriate amount of time to the process of getting the portraits that will really serve you best. My lovely client, Amanda wanted to come away with three final, different shots to give her some flexibility. Uses might include her online profile (company website, LinkedIn, etc.) and various digital and print documents: proposals, marketing materials, publicity, speaker profiles etc. I had asked her to expect to be at the studio for about an hour and a half, two hours max., with the goal of producing a headshot against an environmental backdrop, another against a more plain backdrop and a torso shot.

Amanda brought a small selection of very appropriate wardrobe options -- professional looking, neutral, solid colours, mid-tones, and perfectly fitted -- as per the wardrobe blurb I share with all portrait clients prior to shooting. In her garment bag she had a solid dark blue dress, a gray skirt suit with some stylish black leather detailing, and a round necked, short sleeved gray dress, all neatly pressed. The few wrinkles that had manged to sneak onto one of the dresses were quickly steamed out.

We started with the environmental head shot which I had worked on ahead of time because it's the most time-consuming to set up and I like to be as close to ready to shoot as possible when a client arrives. As always I was very glad to have different wardrobe options we could work with because the one I initially thought would work in this setting just didn't...the dark dress just looked too heavy below Amanda's fair skin and the light-ish backdrop. 

Dress too dark

I find a V neckline often works very well in headshots and suit jackets provide this. So once Amanda had changed into the suit option, it didn't take long to get a great selection of expressions -- comfortable, confident, happy and approachable -- in spite of the fact that Amanda, not atypically, had apparently not exactly been looking forward to our shoot. (Picture top left)

Next in the schedule was the torso shot for which we had planned to use a plain gray background, but the thing about plain gray backgrounds, or any plain background is that they tend to look not just boring, but they can make the subject look as if they are not in the real world. They're great if you need somewhere to put type, like the title of your book, or if flexibility and consistency between multiple portraits is key, but those were not considerations in this case. 

Frames from the ultimately unsuccessful process of determining the best combination of lighting, and wardrobe to go with a plain gray background

So, as we worked to choose a combination of background tone, subject lighting, and wardrobe that worked well together, ultimately we decided to start again with a different set-up entirely: a couch and an upholstery fabric backdrop which would give Amanda more of a chance to settle into the space and exude her real personality, in a somewhat more real looking place. It added a bit to the duration of the shoot, but it was worth it to have the time to explore what would really work best for this particular individual, and get to the point where she was able to utter the magic words "That's me!" (Picture top middle)

We had just enough time to do one final set-up (to finish at the two hour max. beyond which we could not continue due to her tight schedule) and again, rather than use a plain background I quickly fashioned the upholstery fabric from the couch set-up into a corner (I'd planned ahead of time to possibly do this) and had Amanda lean against it, which was again, totally conducive to the more informal, personality-specific look Amanda wanted and could really roll with comfortably. (Picture top right) 

Did this shoot really need to take two hours? There are times when that kind of time is simply not available. But because we blocked a full two hours, just in case, it gave us both, the photographer and the subject, the room to really work through what was working and what wasn't, which will be different for every client. Had Amanda not been willing or able to commit the time, we may not have achieved what we did. In the end, each of the three final portraits succeeds, and each has a distinct feel to it, so Amanda will be covered regardless of who requests her picture or what requirements come up, at least for a while.

One final note: I have a personal preference for a 5x7 format for portraits (as per the three finals), as opposed to 8x10 which is sort of a shorter and fatter shape. Clients will often stipulate 8x10 (which is a well known standard), maybe because they have previously committed to this format and need new portraits to match. But, generally, I don't love the composition; there's too much space beside the head unless you crop quite tightly, which then removes too much of the shoulders and clothing really limiting the flexibility in terms of using the image in different layouts. I always hope that if clients decide to use their 8x10's on LinkedIn they'll crop them tighter, but they often don't and their heads look small. So to all my clients, if you'd like me to do an additional crop of a portrait file for LI please feel free to ask and I'll throw it in, no charge. 

Looking forward to our next shoot!

1 comment:

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