business portrait photography tips

Business portrait photography — often referred to as corporate photography — is certainly a beast in its own right. It is vastly different than other types of photography in many ways, but most notably, the clientele and their requirements for you as the photographer.

For freelancer photographers, corporate photography can be extremely lucrative, surpassing the income potential from shooting weddings (but without the stress). With an ever-increasingly low barrier of entry, your portfolio must be nothing less than exceptional to gain access to the clients with the biggest budgets.

In this article, we’ll help your business portrait photography get to where the money is. Let’s discuss some common settings that you’ll be shooting your corporate photos in.

Studio Environment

When people are asking for headshots for their LinkedIn, company website, badges, or something to use for their article, they are most likely looking for a studio-type portrait. These types of portraits can come in several shapes and forms: light vs. dark background, edgy vs. clean, head and shoulder vs. half body, smiley or brooding.

To find out what they are looking for, you must do your homework beforehand. Their company website can tell you a lot about the type of shot they might want. Does the site look kind of old-school or is it more modern and up to date? Do the employees seem professional or are they more on the casual side? What industry is their business in?

business portrait photography tips

Here are some tips to keep in mind:

1. Consistent Images: For studio type portraits, consistency is absolutely critical. Make sure that you use the exact same background and lighting setup for all staff members. It is a good idea to set your white balance manually. Either use a gray card or adjust the kelvin settings if your DSLR allows. Do not use auto white balance as differences in skin tones can easily throw your camera off.

2. Use Plain Backgrounds: After seeing your nephew’s senior photos, you may be tempted to use a fancy patterned background. This is generally a no-no in business settings. I’ve seen some newer tech companies use black backgrounds and think it looks pretty cool. Most of the time, however, an all-white or a lighter gray backdrop will yield the best results.

Note: White backgrounds may require additional light sources or it can end up looking a little gray.

3. Background Music: Many people (especially office workers) have never been photographed professionally before, and they’re only doing it because they have to. To make your client happy, you still need to make sure that these people’s pictures come out nice. I’ve found that turning on some background music can really help ease the nerves. Try it sometime.

4. Lighting: You can make this as simple or complicated as you want. At the very least, however, you need one large diffused light source (unless you chose a white background, in which case you need more). Here are some ideas:

  • One Light: Place your key light (softbox/beauty dish/umbrella) at 45 degrees camera right and feather it a little to the left. You can also add a silver reflector on the opposite side to soften the shadows a bit, if you so choose.
  • Two Lights: Same as the one-light setup, but complemented with a second (fill) light source at lower power in place of the reflector.
  • Three Lights: Same as the two-light setup, but add a bare flash out of the frame behind the subject. This is called the rim light, which is used to separate the subject from the background. 

Office Environment

Indoor business portraits have the potential to be challenging for a couple of reasons. Many times, these photos can be similar to environmental portraits, so you will have to be extra mindful of the surroundings as well as the ambient lighting. You likely cannot use the “set it and forget it” method because every room will have different structures and lighting conditions. For example, mixing your flash with ambient tungsten lighting can result in a weird color temperature mismatch.

Since you will be photographing employees at their desk, you will most likely have a small window of time to nail each shot, as to not disrupt company operations.

I personally love office photoshoots, so here are some of my suggestions:

1. Lighting: Just like in event photography, I keep my lighting gear as compact as I possibly can. From my experience, the majority of office spaces have white ceilings that are not too tall. The best tool for this job would have to be an on-camera ETTL flash (I like the Canon Speedlite 430EX III-RT). Lighting from a bounced flash is very soft yet directional, giving your photos a clean crisp look while allowing you to move swiftly.

2. Lens Choice: In smaller offices (or small sections of larger offices), you will not have much space to move around. It is recommended that you use a versatile all-purpose zoom lens for this type of gig. If you’re shooting canon, I can vouch for the Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM.

Even though you don’t have the 24-70mm’s f/2.8 aperture, the extra range more than makes up for it. In addition, the IS also allows you to shoot handheld at shutter speeds as low as 1/8. Besides, I would not be able to take a headshot at 70mm without it looking weird.

business portrait photography tips

Photo taken with the Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USM

Outdoor Environment

As you can probably guess, this is my favorite topic to discuss. Photographing in exterior spaces gives you the highest degree of flexibility. With unlimited amounts of background to choose from, depending on the location, you will most likely not be bothering anyone during your session.

From all my years of experience, I will admit that outdoor portraits can be extremely challenging for many photographers as well as their subjects. Many people are shy when it comes to posing in public and prefer to be photographed in the comfort of the studio or their homes. Lighting conditions are no longer consistent and can change from one minute to another (If you’re from Florida, you know what I’m talking about).

Follow these lighting and composition tips to get the most out of your sessions:

1. Composition: For corporate portraits, the key focus is on the person and nothing else. The background that you select should not be distracting; it should be complementary to the subject in color and texture. The best way to deemphasize a background is to throw it out of focus using either a wide aperture or a long telephoto lens (or both). By doing so, the busiest backgrounds will turn into glittery specks of light that greatly add to your photo.

2. Lighting: The ideal times to shoot are during what’s called the Golden Hour — the period right after the sun rises or right before the sun sets. During this time, the lighting is soft due to the sun’s low position in the sky, allowing you to shoot from nearly any direction that you’d like. Conversely, you should avoid shooting anytime close to mid-day. The light is extremely harsh and originates from directly above, causing your subject to squint.

  • Open Shade: To find soft light, place your subject inside an open shade, facing outwards. In this scenario, the overhang/tree/building/bridge will block the overhead light, and your subject will be lit by the either the open sky, or whatever bright or reflective area they are facing. This light will be soft yet directional, which is ideal for portraits.
  • Off-Camera Flash: Artificial lighting, when used outdoors, has the power to enhance your photos in a way that will truly impress your clients. What you want to do is have your subject stand facing away from the sun. At this point, their face should be completely dark, with no direct sunlight hitting it. Set your camera to expose for the background. Now, place your strobe/flash (preferably diffused in some way) in front of the subject and increase the power to the point where their face is properly lit. By utilizing the sun as rim-light, you’re now essentially using a two-light setup.

business portrait photography tips

Conclusion

So, how do you feel about business portrait photography after reading all that? I hope that you picked up a few useful tips that you can use on your next shoot. To recap, three environments that you will encounter are studio, office, and outdoors. When shooting in a studio setting, make sure to use manual white balance as well as plain and consistent backgrounds.

In an office environment, you should keep your lighting setup as small and simple as possible. Bounced flash and high-quality general zoom lenses are time- and live-savers when you need to move fast. For outdoor shoots, use wide aperture or a telephoto lens to separate the subject from the background. Last but not least, using soft light when possible will keep the clients happy and the money rolling in.

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