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The Art of the Business Headshot

By Anthony Thurston on July 14th 2013

This is a Guest Post by Leo Edwards. You can find out more about Leo and his work by checking out his website:

A successful company may be the sum of its employees, their work and its products, but the human face of a company will often be represented by a small number of people: the CEO, the members of the board, and the officers who make the key decisions. Shareholders, clients and partners may love a company’s brand — but they still want to know who lies behind the strategy and who is setting the direction. They want to know whom they’re doing business with.

[Rewind: Check out the Art of the Headshot by Peter Hurley for More Headshot Education]



At a time when so much business is conducted at great distances, when it’s possible to enter into agreements with people on the other side of the globe whom you’ve never met and may never meet, the importance of a portrait that portrays exactly who runs your company—and shows that they’re professional, dedicated and trustworthy—has never been greater.

Executive portraiture turns a corporation into an individual, and it makes personal a relationship built primarily on the exchange of products and services. This is not something that can be obtained through a stock library or through any method other than the hiring of a professional photographer.



Although every professional should be capable of creating a picture that reflects the subject’s appearance, an assignment photographer with experience shooting corporate leaders goes further. That photographer knows how to capture the executive’s personality, connect their look and image with the company they represent, and make sure the final images are capable of being used in all the different ways the company’s communications department might need.

It is important to know what types of uses are planned for the executives’ portraits — so that the lighting and poses can be tailored to fit. If there is a designer or art director working on the project, there is often a style or technique that they are looking for.



Part of helping to ensure that the image reflects that style comes by choosing the right location for the shoot. A portrait behind a desk can say a lot about the executive, but not necessarily about the company. An executive shot on the factory floor or surrounded by visuals that reflect the work of the corporation looks like an executive who is an integral part of his industry and of his company.

Choosing the best location is not always easy—or even possible. Often a company will simply bring the photographer into the executive’s office or the board­ room and expect them to produce — within just a few minutes — a portrait of their CEO.

It can be done, and I do it more often than I’d like, making the most of the location and using different angles and lighting techniques to create photographs that produce a range of effects. Usually, though, it’s far better to select locations that add meaning and impact to the shoot.


The result of good business headshots is that they should reflect the personality of the executive — but which also tell a story about the company and the executive’s role within it.

I continue to approach my work in the corporate world as I do with my personal photographic projects. A little research on the person and the business and environment, and a little planning always help the shoot go smoother.

If I need to get it done well but quick, I have to have my gear ready and am analytical and decisive while picking the best options from the location. If I have someone willing to try something artistic and innovative, I certainly take advantage and let my creative side take over.



Of course, shooting situations are rarely perfect. It’s rare for a top executive to be able to block out a large chunk of time from an overfilled schedule to stand in front of a lens. In most cases, although shoots might last between 30 minutes and an hour, the executive will be keen to move on to the next meeting or in a hurry to get back to their desk.

While this is understandable, a look of impatience rarely makes for a good portrait. That’s why a good executive photographer also needs to know how to shoot quickly and how to put the subject at ease so that they’re not looking at their watch or wondering how much longer the shoot will last.

It’s a problem that I try to solve by involving the executive in the shoot. I explain right at the beginning how much time they will need for the set­up, how long the shoot will last and how many images we are likely to create—as well as what effect I’m looking for from the different lighting and angles.


These are smart people and pretty much everyone is interested in photography. If they understand what I’m doing and how long it will likely take, they are more comfortable throughout.

Achieving that level of comfort is always key to a successful portrait shoot, but when executives are the subjects, it can also present a unique challenge – one that requires skills that go beyond technical knowledge of the camera and even experience at creating portraits.

Executives are used to making decisions and taking the lead. They usually set the terms, and they expect others to follow. Being in charge is their role in the company — and it will often form part of the impression the photographer wants to create in the image.

When sitting for a portrait, however, the executive is not in control. He has to follow the photographer’s instructions. The photographer has to feel free to make the decisions that will lead to the best image—and the executive has to be trusting and patient enough to allow the photographer to complete the work. This takes skill, and a great deal of diplomacy, to pull off:  Most high-level executives are too busy and stressed out to be ideal portrait subjects.



Part of the solution is good preparation—not just by the photographer but also by the company. When the company’s communications department has properly briefed the executive on what will happen, and has set aside a suitable amount of time in his or her schedule, subjects tend to be more relaxed and the shoots tend to go more smoothly.

Good preparation can also help with locations, especially if the photographer is allowed on site before the shoot begins so that he can look for the best angles and begin setting up even before the executive arrives.

Ultimately, though, the client’s preparation should start with hiring a top-level professional photographer—someone confident enough in his or her own skills to take charge of the shoot. It takes someone who is not afraid to give instructions—even to a subject more used to giving guidance than receiving it—and someone who has the experience to deliver those directions in a way that creates results.



In today’s information age everyone needs a good headshot, if you are in business that means YOU irrespective of the industry you are in. In the vibrant business hub of Dubai, headshots come in all shapes, sizes and industries.



This site contains affiliate links to products. We may receive a commission for purchases made through these links, however, this does not impact accuracy or integrity of our content.

Anthony Thurston is a photographer based in the Salem, Oregon area specializing in Boudoir. He recently started a new project, Fiercely Boudoir to help support the growing boudoir community. Find him over on Instagram. You may also connect with him via Email.

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Steve

    Good article, even better photos. How were the second and third images shot? Love the light and color.

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    • Leo Edwards

      Hi Steve

      Thanks for the input. The second and third images were shot with a Canon 1DS MK3
      and a 135mm F2 / lit with a Profoto Acute B2 and a 3ft Octa – the coloration comes from the heavily tinted green hued glass that had bright Dubai sun diffused through it.
      YOu can download the Corporate Guide To Business Headshots for free here



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  2. cloisonne blog

    Merely a smiling visitant here to share the love (:, btw outstanding design and style. “Reading well is one of the great pleasures that solitude can afford you.” by Harold Bloom.

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  3. Dirk Beichert

    Very well written, exactly to the point! Thanks

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  4. Randy

    I love shooting these types of portraits. Really nice to showcase the storytelling aspect of a business portrait. I must admit, I don’t understand the last paragraph about Dubai, but perhaps that’s a running inside joke? Also, the ProPhoto gear is shown, but not referenced in the article. No mention of the photographers kit for creating these portraits on location. Finally, what is the current label for these types of portraits? Corporate portraits? Business headshots? So confusing when trying to market this type of portrait to business.

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    • Leo Edwards

      Hey Randy

      Thanks for the input. I tried to make the article more about the process than the kit.
      Our studio use Profoto Acute B2’s with the new cable splitter allowing for dual head connection. Usually with a Profoto beauty dish and a Profoto 3ft Octa.
      I referred to “all shapes and sizes” because Dubai is such a diverse business hub with all kinds of businesses in such a small footprint – the work here tends to be not all formal suits and ties :-)



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