It has been way too long since I’ve had a chance to swing by the blog to do some updates. Lucky me, I was asked by a client to do some traveling to various cities south and east of Chicago to shoot corporate lifestyle in the last months of 2016 so that kept me super busy though December (fill you in on those travels on a blurb to come). By the time I came up for a little air, I needed some time to binge on Netflix and check off some novels on my Good Reads list. But now it’s time to get to it.
The last thing I shot prior to this travel assignment was for the College of DuPage, which is the largest community college in the state. I’ve been working regularly with their marketing and communications team for the last 2 years or so and am always happy to get their call. The assignments normally revolve around a series of environmental portraits of students who have made the most of their time at COD and then we catch them doing what they do. We’ve worked in the computer labs, architecture classrooms, welding facilities, professional kitchens, hospitals and local fire departments. Incorporating the students’ work space into the shots helps to tell their success stories more than a standard headshot and a few lines of text.
It’s always a pleasure to meet with the students and talk to them about their plans, especially those who are returning to school in hopes of making a career change as I can relate. After years of working at a staffing agency, I decided it was time to try to do my own thing and I thought photography would be a challenge and continually keep my interest. I was enrolled at Columbia College in Chicago for a few studio lighting classes, learned as much as I could and started assisting around town. Getting myself back into school was the first step in making the big change and kudos to anyone who takes those same chances.
Here we are working in the nursing lab at Elmhurst Memorial Hospital. Every day, every location, every subject looks a little different than the one that came before it which definitely keeps us on our toes. This project took us from the COD campus in Glen Ellyn to Elmhurst Hospital, over to Old Orchard Mall where we were treated to a fantastic lunch at Roka Akor and back to the campus library. Looking forward to more of these kind of assignments in 2017 for sure.
We had several shoots over the past week and my favorite was a corporate lifestyle assignment for SSI Magazine featuring Convergint Technologies, a Chicago-based security firm that designs, installs and services life safety systems for commercial properties. The plan was to do a cover photo for the magazines’ upcoming issue of the three top executives as well as several interior shots that featured day-in-the life portraits and lifestyle images featuring the employees doing what they do best.
I love assignments like this because every scenario is very different, our timeline for this assignment required us to move quickly and every scenario we were working in, from the outdoor shot to the warehouse, required us to play around with the lighting quite a bit which for me with the time constraint is a fun challenge.
There was an opportunity to use just about every light in our arsenal along with each modifier and a variety of lenses, including the 70-200mm which I love for the compression effect and the 85mm prime which when shooting wide open produces a beautifully soft background.
Even better, the executives and staff at Convergint were a pleasure to work with. Gotta love people with a great sense of humor who decorate their office with silkscreens of the characters from Caddy Shack and whose corporate mascot is Bill Murrays’ nemesis in the movie. As an added bonus maybe as much for me as for them, they asked us to incorporate their life-size stuffed gopher in the shots which we did happily.
It’s a beautiful thing when everything goes smoothly and we have the chance to work with incredibly fun people who are also fantastic collaborators. A big shout out to Marie and Tony who wrangled staff members, brought us lunch even though we were prepared to work right through and kept us smiling with plenty of humor and a few quotable moments.
And of course, hats off to this guy whose homework assignment is to watch Caddy Shack as he’s never seen it before. Something is missing from life when you haven’t had the chance to appreciate Rodney Dangerfield and Bill Murray in the same sitting.
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.’”
Corporate Portraits. Social Media Pics. Avatars. Wherever you might plan to use your business headshot, the thing to remember is that you never have a second chance to make a first impression. But there is no need to stress because with a little preparation, you can easily optimize your photo session and produce stellar results with these simple tips.
Selecting what to wear is easily the biggest challenge when prepping for your portrait. The most important thing to remember is that you need to feel comfortable and most like yourself.
Go with the classic look. Something timeless. Think navy blue, gray or black and with pops of color in the tie and button down shirt underneath. Be sure to choose clothing, especially when wearing a suit, that fits well and does not bunch up when you sit down or button it.
For ties, these work well when their tone falls somewhere between the color of the suit jacket and your shirt. For example, light shirt, dark suit and a tie that’s a shade right in between and don’t forget that pop of color.
If going more casual, the layered look works very well especially when wearing a polo button down as they tend to wrinkle easily. But if you want to stick with the polo solo, go with a darker color as it adds to the contrast and depth of the photo.
Think simple and avoid heavy patterns, bold stripes, plaids, checks, or distracting colors as they do not photograph well digitally and take attention away from you.
The same classic clothing choice applies as your final portraits should be timeless. Again, mid and deeper tones such as blue, green, purple and chocolate tend to work best and are very slimming. Also, if you are light skinned, avoid colors that approximate flesh tones such as beige, tan, peach, pink, white, and yellow. One fail safe tip is to pick a top that accentuates your eyes.
Watch the neckline. V-necks are great and accentuate features however don’t go too low. It’s also best to avoid short sleeves and sleeveless tops as bare arms in a corporate portrait can be distracting, taking away attention from your face. Also, whatever is closest to the camera is accentuated, so if wearing a sleeveless top, the arms tend to look bigger than they actually are.
As for jewelry, again, think small, think classic. Nothing too decorative as we want to notice you, not your bling.
Examples of patterns and color combinations to avoid.
Examples of patterns and color combinations that work.
If you wear your glasses on a daily basis, wear them for your portrait. Don’t worry about whether or not they are reflective, there are plenty of tricks we Photographers use to make sure that’s not an issue.
I always bring a make-up kit with me to apply a bit of powder to my portrait subjects, men included, as we all tend to glow a bit under the lights. This helps to smooth the skin tones and minimize excessive highlights created by the oils in our skin.
Also, I work with several experienced hair and make-up artists who specialize in corporate headshot sessions. Having been trained in print photography, they can work with you to polish your look for your portrait, if the budget allows.
However, if you plan on going it alone, wear what you would normally wear without going to heavy. Take it easy in applying mascara, lipstick and foundation as a close headshot will capture any mistakes you may have made. The key is to highlight your features subtly.
Worried about a little blemish? Fret not, we have the magic of Photoshop and you can check out a few retouching examples by clicking here.
If you are planning to get a trim, do so a week or so before the shoot. A color? At least two weeks before your portrait session as newly colored hair tends to look a little overly vibrant so with a couple of weeks of shampooing, the look will be more natural.
Gentlemen, beards should be well groomed and if you’re going clean-shaven, make sure you had a decent shave that morning of your session.
JUST A FEW MORE THINGS
When shooting against a backdrop, you’ll want to get a heads-up on what color it is. The current trend is shooting against white or shades of grey. So, when putting your look together, go for the outfit that creates the greatest contrast with that backdrop and accentuates your best features. For example, if your portrait Photographer will be using a dark grey backdrop, you may want to go with a blue, chocolate or black suit as opposed to grey so that you stand out from the background.
And the last thought…..I admit, I am not a fan of having my photo taken so I totally empathize if you too, are not a fan. But there really is no need to worry as it does not need to be a painful experience. In fact, the key is to make it fun and how we approach this together is probably the most important factor in making a professional, approachable, authoritative and authentic portrait. So, just run with the tips provided and then you can relax and let us work our magic!