How to Shoot a Great Corporate Portrait Photo
Even experienced photographers will confess that the corporate portrait can be some of the most deceptively difficult photos to capture. On the surface, they take on the guise of a straightforward headshot.
In most cases, corporate portraits lack the frills of a fine art portrait and feature serious looking subjects under even, traditional lighting.
However, taking a decent photograph of a subject that isn’t used to being in front of the camera requires a combination of technical proficiency and genuine confidence to properly pull off.
Especially when working with a large group of individuals to photograph in a limited amount of time, business-centric photography can be intimidating for those trying it out for the first time. They often lack the casualness of event photography and bring with them a sense of urgency to present a polished, professional final product.
If you find yourself with the opportunity to photograph in a business-centric setting, don’t hesitate. Here are just a few pieces of advice that can quell any fears that you may have concerning unprepared on a corporate portrait shoot.
1. Pick Out A Lens With Low Light Capabilities And A Shallow Depth Of Field
As many photographers of all backgrounds can attest, portraiture naturally lends itself to wide open apertures. Corporate head shots are no exception to this rule – it’s best to keep things minimalistic and do everything in your power to eliminate unnecessary distractions.
More often than not, a prime lens with a midrange focal length (between 50mm and 135mm) is going to yield the best results. The range and versatility provided by a zoom likely won’t be necessary for staged studio shots, so it makes sense to opt for the lightweight durability and sharp focus provided by most prime lenses.
A reliable portrait lens is a staple for any reputable camera manufacturer, meaning that there are plenty of options out there for aspiring portrait photographers regardless of brand loyalties or budgets. A few of our favorites include:
- Nikon 105mm f/2 DC Nikkor – Provides beautiful bokeh, which can be quite beneficial when taking “candid” shots or working with busy backgrounds.
- Canon EF 85mm f/1.2 USM – Capable of going down to f/1.2, providing ultra-shallow depth of field that’s difficult to surpass.
- Pentax SMCP-FA 77mm f/1.8 – This short telephoto lens has received stellar reviews from users and is a bit more affordable than some comparable models
- Sony 85mm f/1.4 Carl Zeiss Planar T* – There’s no getting around the fact that Zeiss is royalty in the photographic world. With brilliant low-light capabilities, this lens does not disappoint.
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2. Don’t Be Afraid To Bring In Some Light
There’s always a chance that you’ll luck out and snag an assignment to work in an office filled with ample window light. Unfortunately, you’re much more likely to find yourself dodging ugly overhead fluorescents.
It goes without saying that you shouldn’t settle on your location’s available light alone. In the field, you should be sure to bring plenty of lighting equipment – that way, you’ll retain full control of your surroundings and avoid falling victim to circumstance.
Some gear you may want to consider adding to your wish list:
- Neewer TT560 Flash Speedlite with Neewer 47″ Octagonal Soft Box – Speedlites are easy to pack and are small enough to hand hold, making them one of the best friends a photographer can have on set. If you have a lighting stand, you can easily attach an octobox to diffuse the bright flash and create a quickly create a larger light source.
- Etekcity 24″ 5-in-1 Multi-disc Photo Reflector – When you’re working with ample light, it makes sense to use what you’ve already got to fill in shadows or dark areas. Reflectors literally bounce light in whatever direction you desire, creating a softer look that beats the sometimes harsh appearance of a strobe light.
- Bowens Gemini 400 117v Kit – For an in-depth photoshoot, having multiple flash heads equipped with modeling lights and a camera sync is the way to go. Though it can take a bit of time to properly set up, once you have everything in place you won’t have to worry about making any sort of major adjustments.
- Fotodiox Pro 18″ Beauty Dish – A beauty dish is an accessory that modifies the light in a way such that the light catches the subjects eyes and creates prominent shadows that sculpt the jaw line. Having one in your arsenal can instantly enhance the looks of any portrait.
3. Get A Boost – Invest In A Ladder
Strange as it may sound, a ladder proves to be a crucial tool for portrait photographers for a number of different reasons. During preparation, it can assist in elevating lights beyond comfortable reach. In a pinch, it can even serve as a makeshift light stand or reflector holder.
However, the greatest thing a ladder can offer is a different vantage point. In group portraiture, one of the most difficult hurdles photographers face is simply getting everyone into the final picture. At ground level, it’s easy to lose faces in the fold and become overwhelmed when positioning individuals.
A ladder allows the photographer a bird’s eye view of the group and creates a point of view that’s much easier to work with. In addition, shooting down on a person tends to create a more flattering final result (as opposed to shooting from a lower vantage point).
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The ladder you choose doesn’t have to be over the top – chances are, a step ladder will provide all the height you need to garner the full potential of your group. Instead, favor portability. Choose something you wouldn’t mind carrying around between sets. Once you’ve tried it out, you won’t ever want to take on group portrait without one in hand.
4. Establish A Relationship With Your Subject
Camera shyness is by no means an uncommon affliction, and your chances are high of running into someone that doesn’t quite know what to do in front of the camera. In fact, most people lack a natural sense of how to what they should do on a photo shoot (unless, of course, they happen to be professional models).
Your best chance of breaking through to a stiff subject is to forge some sort of a relationship. Though your interaction might be fleeting, having a friendly face to chat with is a sure-fire way of breaking tension.
Stay away from asking a subject to hold a pose – oftentimes, this can result in stiff, awkward portraits. Instead, give the people you’re working with something to do. Strike up a conversation and ask icebreaker questions to avoid uncomfortable silence. Try to make whoever you’re photographing smile or laugh.
By following those steps, you can be sure to see a difference in your client’s body language and expression. As an added bonus, being conscientious of your consumer’s feeling and wellbeing is a fast track to getting future work and recommendations.
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5. Think About Your Background
Nothing ruins a portrait faster than a distracting background. Just as it’s important to take note of your subject’s poses and expressions, you should also be aware of the environment that you’re working with.
No two clients are exactly the same. Make sure to have them clearly communicate expectations ahead of time, which includes where exactly the shoot should take place. Some may want to include their office headquarters looming in the distance – others may have a painted logo that they’d like their employees to pose with.
If you can, scout out your surroundings to get an idea of how to go about lighting and set up. In location-specific and “candid” shots, it’s especially important to bring along a proper portrait lens capable of producing rich bokeh. The ability to obstruct disruptive background elements is essential.
If you’re looking for consistency between shots, a neutral backdrop is the way to go. Something along the lines of LimoStudio’s 10×13 ft Muslin Gray Photography Backdrop will work wonders. With minor adjustments to the light, the seamless surface can appear near black or near white. That way, you can create a dynamic headshot that contrasts against a range of hair, skin, and outfits.
- (1) x Gray Color Portrait Muslin Backdrop
- A seamless and weaving surface | Machine washable
- Crimped along the edge to prevent tears | Pre - stitched loop/easy to fold
- Size: 10' x 13' (W x H)
- (5) x Backdrop Holders (Backdrop Helper)
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6. Take Control Of The Situation
Do not make the mistake of relying on a manager or supervisor to take control of your photo shoot. When the camera is in your hand, you’re the boss. Command attention and take charge when faced with large groups. Design an efficient system that allows you to move on to the next employee as quickly as possible without neglecting your duties.
Keep in mind that the subjects you’ll be working with likely lack experience in front of the camera. Chances are, they’ll feel a little lost – this means that any direction or constructive criticism you can provide will greatly benefit the final end product. You know better than your client what makes a fantastic picture. Provide the guidance necessary to make it happen.
The key is to be firm and concise in what you want. Don’t let others talk over you – even though you’ll likely be working with full grown adults when capturing corporate portraits, nervous chattering isn’t an uncommon hurdle for even the most seasoned photographers to overcome.
That being said, avoid being unfriendly. Though you should be clear with directions and advice, do your best to be cheerful. You’re more likely to be hired again in the future when you successfully maintain a good attitude.
7. Tether Your Camera To Your Laptop If Possible
Most high-end DSLRs and mirrorless camera allow for photographers to tether their device directly to a computer or laptop while it’s in use. If you’re looking to up your professionalism, you should do so as well.
No matter how you slice it, shooting tethered simply produces a better end result. Being able to closely examine your photos in the studio within seconds of pressing the shutter may slow you down a tad, but it allows you to correct crucial mistakes much more quickly.
In addition, tethering devices and checking out results on a large screen implies a certain amount of expertise when compared to squinting at results through the camera’s tiny LCD screen. Having images available to easily view also allows for real-time sharing with the client. Asking for feedback from your employer on assignment sends out the message that you’re worth working with.
Finally, tethered shooting makes technological sense. It instantly creates a backup file within the computer, and it saves time in post production. As it turns out, being able to make small adjustments and discover what works as you’re shooting ultimately shaves hours off of the time you’ll have to spend editing in programs like Lightroom and Photoshop!
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8. Keep A Mirror Hanging Around For Last Minute Touch Ups
This last little tidbit may seem a bit silly and vain initially. However, as any great artist can attest, attention to detail is where greatness often lies – even in those details, you won’t necessarily catch in the frame.
Having a mirror around acts as sort of a psychological safety net for both the photographer and the portrait subject. It’s mutually beneficial for both parties that the person in front of the camera looks their best – whoever it is being photographed wants a stellar photo of themselves, while the person behind the scenes wants to ensure that the client is as happy as possible.
As one might suspect, a mirror is an excellent tool for minimizing flyaway hairs and making last minute makeup touch ups. It can also help subjects practice poses ahead of time if they’re feeling a bit uncomfortable in front of the camera’s gaze.
The best part? With these small things adjusted before the shutter snaps, you won’t have to waste time correcting and perfecting in post production. Mirrors come in all shapes and sizes and can fit almost anywhere – there’s absolutely no reason why you shouldn’t slip one in with your personal gear.
Conclusion: Don’t Overthink It
It’s crucial to have the right gear by your side on set. It’s important to have the social skills and charisma to simultaneously lead a project and provide patience and support. But the key to making a great portrait headshot is not getting stuck inside of your own head. There’s a good chance that you’ll be working with individuals who are a bit nervous or uncomfortable. Exhibiting those attributes yourself can be a kiss of death on a freelance photo shoot.
Remember the basics and apply the things that you’ve learned in other studio or portrait sessions to your corporate shots. Check your work periodically and make sure that you’re on the right track. When you overthink the situation, you’re more liable to make mistakes. Just stay calm – with proper preparation and a sense of conviction, the corporate portrait can be made simple.
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Meghan is an artist and writer based out of Boston, MA. With an interest in everything from instant film to experimental videography, her work has been featured internationally in a variety of photographic exhibitions and publications. As a regular contributor, she uses her broad background in fine art and varied professional experiences to inform her articles.
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