Business portraits and professional head-shots can be a tricky one to get right. You
need to take something appropriate for the company’s image, as well as make all
the right technical decisions that will impact your outcome. Here we’ll give
you our top tips to successful business portraits and show you some inspiring
shots to get your creativity flowing.
What You Need
A Fast, Sharp Lens
I’ve said it before, but l really favour prime lenses for any kind of
portrait work. They’re usually fast, sharp and best of all, generally cheaper
than a zoom.
The focal length is something to watch. Depending on the space you’re
in, you might be limited with the distance you can be away from your subject.
You don’t want to be right in their face but nor do you want to be the sort of
distance where you’ll need a megaphone or walkie-talkies in order to give
Focal length is also important as to how your subject is represented. Avoid
wide angle lenses for head-shots, as they can be less than flattering. The
barrelling on a wide angle lens used for close portraits can cause features to appear larger or spread
and stretched unusually. Not the look you want for your client! If you’re
attempting an environmental portrait, however, wide-angle lenses are useful for including
surroundings, creating a more dramatic look and of course, for group shots.
Keep subjects away from the edges of the frame though.
A 35mm through to 105mm are just fine for taking head-shots, although
watch the barrelling on the 35mm, it’s still a tad on the wide side. Any longer
than 105mm and you’re really starting to get into telephoto lens territory and
it’s unlikely you’ll have the space in an office environment or studio to use
that length of lens effectively. An 85mm is in the sweet spot for headshots.
Lens SelectionHere Is What to Look For When You Buy Photography Lenses
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If you’re shooting in your studio then happy days, you’ll have
your lighting rig all set up and ready to go. If you’re shooting in the office
or out of doors though, then you’ll have to prepare.
A portable kit will usually work fine; consisting of a couple of
softbox or umbrella lights with stands, and a reflector. Avoid using a flash if
you can, it’s not only poor lighting for portraits but it can be very
intimidating and uncomfortable for your client. I’ll go into lighting technique
a little later.
LightingVideo Lights For All: How to Build a Complete 3 Head Kit on a $100 Budget
Light MeterHow to Use Your Smartphone as a Light Meter
A Clean Background
Even if you’re shooting
environmentally, it should look slick. An office should be cleared of clutter. Think of it almost like product
photography and dress the set.
If you’re using a studio background
then make sure to have more than one colour with you, in case it’s similar to
what your subject is wearing. Ideally, during your planning meetings you’ll
chat with the client about what they might want to wear for the shoot,
suggesting appropriate colours, styles and hopefully, a lack of patterns.
If you’re shooting against a wall to
make use of a colour or texture, then avoid distractions such as sockets,
picture frames, and rogue wires and so on. The cleaner you can make it during
the shoot, the less work you’ll have to do in post when tidying up.
Get to Know Your Client
Every business is
different, as is every person within that business. Don’t make assumptions, do
your research and have as many meetings as it takes for you to get a good
understanding of your client.
relationship. Taking a picture of someone can be a really personal and daunting
thing for them, it takes trust. Build that trust and aim to make your client
feel as comfortable and relaxed as possible
Do your research
before a meeting but don’t be afraid to ask questions. Make sure you’re on the
same page and nail down a brief and objectives before you set a shoot date.
Managing expectations starts with this part of the process and means everyone
is on the same page.
Find out what the
portraits are for—are they going on a website, will they be used in marketing
materials? The answer might shape the course you take with the shoot.
PhotographyPhotography Business to Business: The Outsourcer
BusinessPhotography Business to Business: The Doer
Decide on the Type of Shot
Will you take your photographs in a studio, out of doors, in the work environment,
group shots? You should work this out in your planning meetings, but you may
want to mix it up and do a little of everything—it really depends on the business.
Some businesses will speak for themselves. It would seem odd to take a
picture of a landscaper in a suit and tie in an office environment.
If you’re shooting out of doors, scope out the location before the
actual shoot, and make backup plans in case the weather is bad – even if that
plan is to reschedule the shoot.
Get the Light Right
Lighting is always a fundamental part of getting a photograph right.
There’s really no substitute for ambient light, so if you can use it, then do.
It’s not always possible though. Once, we had to shoot a video for a client in
what was a cluttered board room with the shutters down over the windows. We set
up two portable lights as well as using the room’s overhead lights, and that
did the job, but it was far from ideal.
If you’re using portable lights for head-shots, try to balance the light with
ambient light from windows so as not to create harsh shadows or to leave half
the face in shadow. It’s also recommended that you diffuse the light to soften
Seeing the place you’ll be shooting before the day, is useful. It means
you can make plans and think properly about how you’ll set up, rather than
getting to the day itself and being forced to firefight.
ExposureHow to Use a Hand-Held Light Meter to Make Perfectly Exposed Photographs
PortraitThe Ideal Studio Lighting Setup for Headshot Photography
Those Pesky Arms
People don’t know what to do with their arms when they’re having their
picture taken, and if you don’t direct them, you could end up with some strange
slack shouldered or tensed bodies.
Crossing arms might feel comfortable but body language experts are
forever hammering home that this is a negative and defensive gesture. Having
said that, it’s a really, really popular pose for business portraits and
honestly, I’m not sure why other than maybe they didn’t know what to do with
You could avoid arms altogether which is fine for a simple head shot. If
you’re including from the waist up however, you’re going to have to give them
You could try ‘action’ arms, where the person is actively doing or
holding something. They could be typing, or holding a file, for example. Be
wary of using anything that may date quickly though, like a mobile phone.
Arms at ease behind a person’s back tends to work quite well if you’d
rather nothing else was in the photo.
Smile for the Camera
Serious business face, big grin or tight lipped smile? Unnatural smiling
is a difficult one and can really change the feel of a portrait.
Putting the person at ease will help and if you’re unsure, then have
them do a variety of expressions for the photograph—snap while you’re
chatting to them and make the occasional jokey comment to get them to smile
Be Creative… When Appropriate
This all comes under getting to know your client. If they have a
business that’s a bit different then it makes sense to do portraits that are
Always do what is right for the business, what you’ve discussed and
agreed during your meetings and when agreeing the brief. If an accountancy firm
wants some standard corporate head-shots of their staff for their website, then
it’s not the time to show what you can do by producing something wacky.
I’ve not met a person yet who enjoys seeing pictures of themselves. We
tend to gravitate to our faults and see ourselves negatively.
When you’re editing, it’s wise not to go overboard. Taking out every
under-eye wrinkle and laugh line will look obvious and can even cause a
plastic, doll-like look to the image. Nobody thanks you for highlighting their
flaws and that can happen by the obvious lack of them.
With a portrait edit I tend to create a duplicate layer, clone out the
flaws completely and then gradually bring the opacity of the layer down until
they’re improved but still natural looking.
Whitening eyes and teeth should be done sparingly too. Only ever lighten
in a way that looks natural – nobody wants to be Ross from Friends in that episode.
I once had a professional portrait taken in a previous job and when I
got the images back, I knew I looked better but I wasn’t quite sure why or how
and I think that’s the happy medium to aim for. They’re happy with the images,
but can’t quite put their finger on what you’ve changed about them.
How to Handle Potential Problems
These can be tricky. Like a wedding, there can be a lot of people to
direct. An assistant can really help but if you don’t have one, rope in the
boss or most senior person—they’re the most likely person to get everyone listening and
doing what you want.
The whole group needs to look good, so check your image back after each
shot and make sure nobody has their eyes closed or a halfway smile on their
To get natural smiles, use some light banter. If you go for the ‘1… 2…
3… cheese’ moment, you’ll get some very stilted and uncomfortable looking
Reflections in glasses are a pain. Try and face your subject’s head away
from the light so that you don’t get little white spots in the glasses. It is
sometimes possible to get rid of these in post-production, but honestly, why
give yourself the headache? I usually just ask whether they’re okay without
their glasses, I’ve not had anyone refuse to take them off or look
uncomfortable about doing so.
Happy Businessman in the Workplace
This goes against what I mentioned about folding arms but they’re not
crossed tightly against his body and he’s wearing a broad smile so it kinda
works. Having others pose in the background and taking them out of focus adds
interest to a potentially boring shot, but I do find the mustard jacket
distracting so watch out for colours popping where they shouldn’t.
Florist in Front of Her Shop
Someone who has a very visual profession, like this florist, should have
ample opportunity for you to add interest to an image. Not only is this quite
nice visually but it’s also immediately apparent as to what she does, which
might be quite handy on marketing tools like business cards.
A Professional Team
When photographing a team, it’s sensible to have them wearing similar
tones or colours. The various shades of navy and black work well here, although
I feel the stripes don’t work, my eye is drawn to them. In situations like this, it’s useful
to have people bring along more than one outfit.
Stressed Out Businessman
Not your traditional headshot! This would be for a business with a
slightly zanier outlook. He’s still dressed smartly, so maybe this is a
marketing company who are professional but want to demonstrate their
creativity. It would also be clever marketing for a personal or virtual
assistant—taking the stress out of your business, and so on.
A Traditional Corporate Portrait
Standing against a window can work really well if the sun isn’t directly
shining in. Use a narrow aperture to throw out the background, watch your
exposure and be aware of any reflections (like yourself) appearing in the
How to Take Your Business Portraits Further
As well as helping you edit portraits, actions or pre-sets can be a fast
and useful way of giving your client a little extra something. If, for example,
you know they’re going to use their images as part of the corporate branding— website and social media, etc—then you could put your images into a bespoke
Facebook or Twitter header.
This is a Facebook header made with Sevenstyle’s Facebook and Twitter Timeline
Cover Montage Action. I’ve demonstrated with landscapes as it requires 20 images to run.
Read the instructions first as there’s a little preparation needed, but
once you’ve done that it’s as easy as a click to get Facebook and Twitter
headers that then come with further options such as varying perspectives and textures.
Here’s a little video of the action in, um, action:
It takes a little while to run, but once it has, you have the option to change the layout and perspective as you like. This also has the benefit that you can create these for more than one client and have them look different.
Tips to Getting Business Portraits
- Get to know the client and
- Keep backgrounds looking clutter free and slick
- Get the lighting
right—avoid harsh shadows (unless you’re going for drama!)
- Keep everything
relaxed and friendly
- Use your post
production skills subtly
A Few Further Resources
How to Build a $1000 Portrait
Photography Lighting Kit on a $100 Budget: You
don’t need a lot of fancy stuff to make great photos. In this tutorial,
you’ll learn how to build a portrait lighting kit—for less.
How to Relight Portraits in Post
With These 6 Dramatic Photoshop Actions: We look
at six Photoshop actions that add a more dramatic lighting look to your
Essential Makeup Tips for Every
Portrait Photographer: This tutorial suggests what you might want to include
in a makeup kit, introduces the basics of makeup application, and covers
the important considerations of hygiene.
Business portraits and corporate shots are a nice
way of introducing yourself and your services to the business community. Do a
great job and there’s the potential of further work from the company when they
want their pictures refreshing.
Getting to know the company is key because that’s
what you’ll base your shooting decisions on. When you have your initial
meeting, it’s a good time to ask questions, get a feel for the atmosphere and
working style, and nail your brief.
Try to keep everyone relaxed and make it as
efficient and fun as you can. Some chit-chat and banter can help people relax
and loosen up, which will make your job so much easier.
Take plenty of shots so that you have lots of
choice, and remember when it comes to group shots, everyone needs to look good,
so don’t leave until you’re satisfied that you have shots where nobody has
their eyes closed or is pulling a strange face!
Less is more when it comes to post-production.
You’re aiming for ‘wow I look good’ without them knowing quite why they look
good. Leave in some lines, shadows and wrinkles to avoid a ‘doll-like’ look.
Finally, think about upping your offering by
throwing in a quick freebie such as a bespoke media package using the new
photographs. An action or pre-set can make this as easy as a simple click and
your clients will appreciate the gesture.