Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Portraits Created for Longevity

Temperance Marketing Partners (screen grab from their website)

Recently I had an opportunity to photograph the three core partners of Toronto's Temperance Marketing for their new website. Originally they considered having Megean, the agency's Manager of Digital Marketing, shoot them, since part of her job is photography. But they understood that there is a difference between the often somewhat temporary nature of social marketing photos and the longevity required of 'foundational' photos that will reside on the company's website, and possibly appear in print, for some time to come. These images need to be of high quality, clearly convey the company's brand, and of course, look really good, even when viewed repeatedly.

When they sent me a mock up of the site by their designer Jennifer Weaymouth of Weaymouth Creative, to show me the kinds of portraits they wanted, the first thing I noted was the style; they were bright, fresh, environmental portraits, ie. shots that had been taken (or looked as if they'd been taken) in an office, or outdoors, or in some other appropriate place, that drops beautifully out of focus behind the subjects. This is a trend in corporate portraiture that I really like. 

Unfortunately not everyone has access to a suitable office or corporate-appropriate environment. Yes, you can rent spaces by the hour for photo shoots in Toronto, but doing so can be cost-prohibitive, and there are the logistical considerations -- sourcing, scouting, coordinating availability of the space with clients' schedules, etc. It has also been possible for a long time to digitally cut out a subject and place them in some alternative background, but to do this really well (ie. well enough for high resolution reproduction) took more time and care than would typically fall within the budget for many corporate portraits.

However, I really wanted to be able to offer all my clients the option of an environmental (looking) portrait. So, after much testing, and starting a background archive, we now have an efficient and economical solution, allowing us to shoot in studio and composite in an environmental background.

The background in this shot was never intended to be in the final image - it just provided the colour and tone to facilitate replacement with the selected environmental background

When I visualized the background I thought would work for these images I actually thought I'd need to shoot new images, so I reached out to one of my clients about taking some pictures out of their office windows. They were happy to accommodate,  but I needed a sunny day, and as luck would have it we had just started into a two week run of cloud. (When did Toronto's winter weather start behaving like Vancouver's?!) The opportunity to shoot there clearly wasn't going to happen in a timely manner, so I revisited my archives and after some experimentation discovered that I actually had what I needed. I just needed to do some creative skewing, cropping, resizing, colouring, exposure adjusting and blurring. 

An outtake from another client's location shoot 
(used with permission -- thanks Cornerstone Physiotherapy!)

A tiny portion of the previous picture, adjusted to work as a portrait background

The final touch as far as the background compositing went was to make sure I used a slightly different part of the background image for each portrait, so it wasn't obvious that the background was added in. (If we'd really been shooting on location the view would change slightly depending on the subject's position.) In fact, I went the extra step of subtly changing small elements within the background for each portrait, for aesthetic reasons, specific to each portrait.  

Beyond the style of background there were other details about the designer's sample photos that were important to note, as I knew these particular samples were chosen for good reason: the lighting was very open and flattering, the angle of the camera was straight on (not looking down), making the women look strong and confident, and the look was somewhat casual but clearly business oriented. These are the kinds of details that it's our job as professional portrait photographers to care about. And they're the kinds of details that can make a huge difference to the overall impact and success of a portrait.    

This attention to detail continues into post-production (the processing/optimizing/retouching after the shoot). Here's a tiny picky detail my clients probably didn't even notice, but that I felt compelled to fix:

An example of a picky detail that I don't like to leave uncorrected

Ultimately the feedback from Anita, Megean and Shazya was that it was "so much less painful" than they thought it would be. I never get tired of hearing this. 

And the final bonus: The younger partners did not have a lot of experience with full fledged photo shoots, thus had not been sure exactly what a "real photographer" did. This isn't uncommon these days, as the barriers to entry into this industry (professional photography) are increasingly low, much can be done with little equipment, budgets are tight, and it can be challenging to communicate the value of hiring a pro. And, realistically, in the case of social marketing posts which have to be executed quickly, economically, repeatedly and ongoingly, it would be logistically and economically impossible to have a pro quote and produce a shoot every time a client had to post a pic. Now, however, these marketing specialists 'get it'. And this will serve them and their clients well going forward.

If you need a pro to bring skill and experience to your next portrait shoot, give me a call. Thanks for reading!

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