Recently, I wrapped up a multi-day assignment for Manheim Auto, photographing several locations in the Chicago area as well as Milwaukee. Working with our Art Director, the goal was to illustrate a day in the life on the auction floor as well as the fast-paced action that happens during each sale day. Manheim has locations throughout the North America, Europe, Asia and Australia and is the largest wholesale auto auction in the world. Each location differs from the next and the goal of this shoot was to emphasize their innumerable offerings and personable customer service that is available at each auction.
There is so much going on once on the auction floor, from the drivers making their way into the lanes, auctioneers talking a mile a minute, buyers competing for the best deal, the middle men and women mediating each sale. It’s loud, it’s busy, it’s totally entertaining and the personalities are as big as the sale itself.
Photographing these assignments for Manheim is a contrast to any event I have ever covered and the corporate marketing materials I have worked on but the end game is similar. Capture the overall vibe including the non-stop action and collaboration.
Next round, Houston, Texas. 3 locations in 2 days with 95 degree heat in August. Bring it!
These days, it’s critical to have an awesome portrait that reflects confidence. With social media sites like Twitter and Facebook as well as LinkedIn and company websites, the on-line profile essentially replaces the business card. We have one chance in the online world to make a fantastic, first impression and having a stellar portrait is a great start.
Corporate headshots and environmental portrait photography are commercial assignments I do with regularity so it helps to have a system in place for retouching the portraits as the post-production process can be very subjective.
Typically, if time allows, my subjects have a chance to select their hero headshot immediately after their session and give me a heads-up on any specific retouching they would like me to do and the requests, as you can imagine, are always pretty consistent. Make me younger and thinner. Of course, I’m more than happy to oblige though I do tend to believe that we earn those grey hairs, the few extra pounds and the lines that show that we have been living our lives to the fullest.
When we have multiple portraits to do and are running low on time, I edit the images and upload between 3 to 5 of the best headshots of each person into a web gallery where the client can take their time in making their final selections. Once I receive their picks, it’s showtime and I have a process that is incredibly effective and produces portraits that are engaging, confident and clean.
Take a look at the before and after samples below and move the slider to see the improvements that are made with retouching.
BeforeWhiten Eyes & Remove ShineAfter
BeforeSkin Smoothing & Teeth WhiteningAfter
As seen in the samples above, the changes simply enhance the image as opposed to completely changing it except of course in the last example where the background color was modified to match the subjects’ suit jacket.
The retouching for corporate headshots and environmental portraits that I apply are for the purpose of making each subject look their best so I do stay away from making drastic revisions that we see so much of these days. Simple fixes make us look like our genuine and best selves.
Keep in mind also that although there are plenty of fixes that post-production can provide, there are also a few simple things you can do to look your best for your corporate headshot or environmental portrait as well. This previous post was written with corporate portraits in mind however many of these guidelines apply to environmental portraits as well so check them out.
It’s a rare occasion when I head off to a commercial assignment without several cases of lighting gear and my Assistants in tow. But when Cox Automotive asked me to head out to the Mannheim Auto Auction just south of Chicago to shoot their facilities, they were looking for a more editorial photography feel that comes with available light and I was all in.
Manheim is the highest volume operator of wholesale auto auctions in the world with 130 locations in North America, Europe, Asia, and Australia. Cox Enterprises purchased Mannheim in 1968 and also owns a majority share of Auto Trader which is one of the world’s leading providers of online and print automotive consumer information.
(Click on an image for a larger preview)
The plan was to focus on different areas within the facility that focus on preparing cars that have just been sold in the auction for consumer use. From under the hood inspections to brake repairs and detailing, Cox Auto covers it all.
From a lighting standpoint, I got lucky. The facility was in a huge warehouse with plenty of windows to pull in a good amount of daylight and though the lighting was primarily fluorescents, between the daylight balancing and the white walls, any interference from the typical muddy green cast of the fluorescents was cancelled out.
(Click on an image for a larger preview)
To simulate the look that the creative team was going for in post-production, I applied some desaturation and bumped up the details using a few filters found in the Photoshop plug-in offered by Topaz Labs called Topaz Adjust which is worth checking out. There are so many options from color casts to alternative film processing filters that you could easily spend an excess amount of time playing around with each image.
I’ll be looking forward to the next round with Cox Automotive when I’ll be heading to Indianapolis and Cincinnati to produce more editorial photography with a focus on the Auction floor.
For many of the clients I work with, it may be the first time they have had to do the leg work of finding and hiring a corporate portrait Photographer. Being new to the process, they may not be ready for the multitude of questions I ask that help me understand what the assignment entails and how to exceed the expectations of my clients. Whether the project includes corporate headshots or environmental portraits, there are a few questions I consistently ask and if you’re looking to hire a commercial Photographer, you’ll want to have the answers to these questions ready.
1.) How Will The Photographs Be Used?
There is a huge difference in pricing between using images on a website and in internal communications as opposed to using those same images on a multi-state, billboard advertising campaign. An environmental portrait that is done for a cover story of a magazine is also going to be priced differently than the same portrait photographed to decorate the walls of IKEA. Although it’s the same photograph, the image itself carries different value for different uses.
2.) What Is The Schedule?
It’s critical for the Photographer to know the timeline of each project. This includes when the estimate is needed by, the days that you’re looking to schedule the shoot itself and when the final images are due. This gives us an idea of how much time we have to plan for the shoot, line-up our crew and process the final images so they are in your hands even before the deadline in case any modifications are needed.
3.) Corporate Headshots Or Environmental Portraits?
Of course you can do both options and it’s actually a good idea to do so if the time and budget allows. I have seen clients use the corporate headshots for their company LinkedIn profiles and use the environmental portraits on their websites for variety.
However, if it needs to be only one of the options, you’ll need to know:
How many people will need portraits
The time that you have to accomplish all of this in
How many final images of each person you would like to be retouched
If you are doing corporate headshots, what backdrop color would you like to use
Keep in mind, for this set-up, it’s best to have access to an empty conference room that has plenty of space for the seamless paper and lighting set-up.
If the plan is to go with environmental portraits, will they be done in one location or several locations within the same office
4.) What Look Are You Going For?
In some cases, even with corporate headshots, I have clients who want to go with a very casual feel. So, the subject is still photographed against a backdrop, however the cropping may not be the typical 3/4, there is more room for a greater variety of expressions, the images may be converted to black and white and the subject may be looking off camera. There are so many options so make sure you have in mind the feel that needs to be conveyed and the branding that must be matched.
5.) What Is The Budget Range?
For each proposal that I work on, there are three factors I take into consideration. The complexity of the assignment, the time it will take to complete the job from pre-production through image delivery and finally my clients’ price range.
In many cases, when I ask about this the answer has been that they are in the process of collecting bids which is totally understandable. However, I always try to narrow this down to gain a better understanding of what the client has the budget for and then inform about what is possible within that range. This transparency ensures that the expectations are not only met but exceeded.
Granted, not every Photographer you speak with may go into details such as this to quote a corporate portrait session however the more details and information we have before we even walk in the door, the more value we can provide.
Sounds exciting, right? Working for yourself. Setting your own hours, rates, vacation schedule and of course all of the fantastic assignments that come along as a freelance commercial Photographer. True, it has been an incredible ride and I can’t imagine doing anything other than this. However, as many opportunities as this career brings, it also has it’s share of stressful and unpredictable moments. With so many Photographers trying to make their way into the business, competing for the handful of challenging assignments requires a lot of risk, resourcefulness and of course, there is the rejection.
Over the years, I have put together hundreds of estimates and responded to as many RFP’s that require a dissertation on my skill level, shoe size, favorite color and lists of references that would make the FBI blush. And maybe, if I am in a groove of sheer luck, I land 50% of what I bid on, but in reality, I would bet it’s more like one out of five. The loud, resounding “No” that I hear in the virtual world which typically reads “thanks for your time but we have decided to go in another direction” or even worse, complete silence, can be overwhelming but with time and plenty of chances to practice, all of us freelancers that just keep going have learned to constructively deal with rejection by focusing on a few key ideas.
1. Be Gracious and Accomodating
Nobody likes to be the person who has to come back to us with “thanks, but no thanks.” This certainly can’t be too pleasant of an experience especially when it’s already difficult to choose between a pool of talent that could all most likely exceed expectations. So, be gracious and accommodating. Respond in kindness and always let them know that if they need anything in the future, to keep you in mind. I have had bids rejected only to get a call later that the Photographer they initially hired had dropped out and I was their next choice. A little karmic kindness goes a long way.
2. Don’t Take it Personally
Rejection is probably one of the most common things we have to deal with in the Photography industry but the fact that we have been turned down certainly does not mean that our work is lacking. Probably the easiest way to take it the hardest is when we try to overanalyze. Most of the reasons as to why our proposals are rejected have nothing to do with us and everything to do with what our clients are looking for. It could be a budget issue or maybe the style of another Photographer resonated more with the buyer. It could be any number of reasons as to why we were passed over and typically we never found out exactly why. Just keep in mind, if you’re not being rejected you’re simply not putting yourself out there enough.
3. Cultivate Your Relationships with Clients
Over the past 15 years I have developed a very solid base of repeat clients who make up the majority of my business, close to 70%. They are extremely happy with the images produced and comfortable with the rates I offer and I am certainly not the cheapest commercial Photographer in Chicago. For the new clients, I receive maybe 30-50% of what I bid on and I’m good with that because if I were to be awarded every assignment I ever sent in a proposal for, I’m either too cheap or too charming and most likely it’s not the latter. So, I make sure to maintain long-term relationships with my repeat clients and always over-deliver on each project, keep them in the loop about the recent assignments I have worked on and drop them a note once in awhile just to say hello.
4. Know that Everyone Gets Rejected and Keep Going
Anytime you put yourself and you’re work out there, you’ll be faced with the risk of rejection. I can’t think of one person that I admire who hasn’t been in the same boat. After performing at The Grand Ole Opry, Elvis was told he would be better off going back to his career in Memphis where he was a truck driver. Albert Einstein was expelled from school. Socrates was considered an “immoral corrupter of youth” which brought with it his death sentence. And let’s not forget the first Queen, pre-Beyonce, Oprah Winfrey. Even she got the boot. Unable to keep it together as a news reporter when presenting human interest stories, she was eventually fired.
Take a moment, take many moments if needed, breath, and move on because that rejection just brings us closer to where we need to be.
One of my favorite editorial Photographers, Joe McNally who works with top brands such as Nikon and Epson, shared his insightful and encouraging advice:
“This is a long and winding road, filled with far more valleys than peaks. One of the greatest talents one can have in this business has nothing to do with visual acumen at the lens. It is about the ability to sustain, to weather the storms, to shoot poorly and still survive a job, to fight out of inevitable creative slumps, to live with all manner of risk that lots of folks would find uncomfortable, to make uncertainty your friend, and to thrive despite sudden curves and happenstance. I guess what I’m describing is tenacity. To love doing this so much that you’ll go through 1000 “no’s” just to hear the one ‘yes.’”