Corporate head shots come up time and again in my business and are not as straight forward as you might imagine. At its most basic a head shot can of course resemble a passport picture against a neutral/dark/light background. Even at this level though, there is generally more going on than meets the eye. Subtle changes to the lights, background, body/head position can create a completely different look and feel, not to mention the settings within the camera or the chance to build rapport and help the person relax. Half an inch one way or the other in the head position can convey the difference between confidence and arrogance. Altering the position/proximity of the lights can add/subtract apparent pounds to the face. Not something to be taken lightly then.
All this was in my mind when I was talking to the marketing team at the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce about taking photos for their new website. In our discussion we also looked at the possibility of making use of their new, bright, open plan work space of their Deansgate offices as the backdrop. This added another layer of complexity, as with any office there are lots of distracting elements to clutter up backgrounds. The key to this was getting the balance right, a certain amount of background was to be expected but not so much that it distracts too much from the subject. I had to be mindful of plants, people, pictures, photocopiers, bins etc. Since I had about 10-15 minutes with each person at their desk I decided to set up two angles for each one. This gave me the opportunity to alter the lighting as well as the backgrounds and in some cases this produced a very different look and feel as you can see in the images above.
Introducing the office environment in this way shifts the head shot into more of a portrait. This method is quite desirable and brings an element of honesty and reality giving a small insight into the working environment of the person on the end of the phone. In practice it takes a little longer than with a studio as lights have to be moved, backgrounds considered, clutter cleared etc, but generally the extra work involved helps to create a more interesting body of images.
Ten minutes isn’t a lot of time when you have an uncomfortable sitter although I know it can feel like a lifetime for them. I find in these situations that clear instruction with a little gentle encouragement goes a long way. Not many people truly like having their picture taken (especially in front of their colleagues) and so a big part of taking portraits of any kind is to get the person to relax. There are all sorts of methods photographers can use at this time. Personally I like to ask people to talk about something that interests them or to think about a place or person or thing that they like. Asking a person to simply 'smile' can result in a disconnect between the mouth and the eyes. In the above cases I asked neighbouring colleagues to chat to my subject. They weren't particularly uncomfortable but had an easy rapport with their neighbours which I wanted to exploit. Following on from the job and subsequent shoots of new starters it was great to receive this feedback from head of marketing:
“With the launch of our new website right around the corner, we needed some modern and sharp photographs of the staff for the ‘Meet the Team’ section. Chris was friendly, efficient and gave plenty of direction which really put the staff at ease. We were really impressed by the fast turnaround time and the post-production editing meant that the photographs were of the highest quality. We’ve received plenty of positive feedback from both staff and external contacts – so we wouldn’t hesitate to recommend Chris Foster to anybody looking for a professional photographer.” - Chris Fletcher, Marketing & Policy Director – Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce