Tips and Tricks To Get Through A Day of Corporate Portraits
So you have a day of corporate headshots booked for a new client. What can you expect? I took a bit of a dive into a few things that I think are often overlooked. I am not addressing what lens is best, how to light the portraits, or the politics of how much time to give each subject as those things will all vary on a case by case basis. Instead I am going to mention the fun stuff; having proper liability insurance, pre production, dressing appropriately, budgeting time, and consistency.
We do thousands of corporate headshots in NYC every year, they range from low budget shoots getting a whole 100 person team photographed in one day to working with C-Suite executives where we might budget an hour or two per person, and bring a 4 person crew to keep things moving as efficiently as possible. So speaking of efficiency, lets jump right in.
[Related Reading: Why Headshots Are So Expensive]
Have Your Paperwork In Order
Here is a real story that happened to me recently. At 2pm on a Tuesday I received a frantic call from the friend of one of my long time clients. They had a full day of portraits booked for their team, but they just found out that their building would require a Certificate of Insurance from the photographer. The person they hired was a freelancer, a friend of a friend, a good photographer but they did not have the liability insurance needed to enter the building as an outside contractor. (Most buildings in NYC require about $5M of liability insurance.) Fortunately in this case we were able to save the day.
We have staff photographers and a few freelance assistants on call, so we shuffled a few things around and arrived at 8am the next morning ready to go. Having proper insurance goes a long way, every building and client will have different requirements, but if you have a solid policy you will not have an issue getting the proper documents sorted out so that you can get to your clients office and get them what they need.
[Related Reading: Photographer Insurance Guide | Companies and Options]
Get A Clear Idea of What Your Client is Looking For
When heading into a clients office for a day of corporate portraits it’s a good idea to know exactly what the photography is supposed to look like. A day of photographing 100 portraits of first year associates on a white background is a much different beast than a day photographing 5 or 10 senior level executives environmentally in multiple locations. For a day of quick headshots it should be as simple as setting up a white background with a light on the background, a light on the subject and a fill card. Shooting environmentally with more senior level people will be much more involved with an assistant or two, a makeup artist and someone from the firm’s brand director overseeing the shoot and reviewing images as you go.
It is not unusual to have a couple of sets ready to go at all times. We often do higher level shoots with two photographers on hand, one shooting and the other acting as a first assistant – this way we can get multiple shots ready to go at the same time and have an extra set of eyes looking for other angles, backgrounds or scenarios to use the executives time most effectively.
The Way You Dress Matters!
Yes I realize we are photographers, we’re supposed to be artsy or edgy or cool or whatever the stereotype is – but the reality of the situation is that you should dress as if you belong into the environment you will be working in. If you are walking into a large bank, law firm or fortune 500, you should look like anyone else there, that doesn’t mean you need a suit and tie, but a nice pair of chinos, a button down shirt and clean simple shoes will go a long way as people will feel like you’re one of them when they first walk into the room. That said, the rules change based on the client, but even still I tend to lean on the business casual side of things because I would rather look like a professional than some guy off the street.
Know What Your Day Will Look Like Before You Get There
Try to get an exact idea of the schedule of the day beforehand, this seems like a given, but some clients are less organized than others and plan to just let people stop in whenever works best for them throughout the day – this scenario is destined to be stressful. A true story that happened to us recently was that one of our clients requested we have two photographers with two mini studios set up as they wanted to get around 100 people photographed in the day. 50 per photographer for the day is on the border of what we would consider the top line…. It was only when we got into the day that we found out that they had meant 100 people per photographer, and actually had 2 people arriving every 5 minutes for their photos. This is when you have to kick into overdrive and let your expertise do the work for you. Confidence in your lighting setup, knowing what to adjust on people, managing to get them comfortable as soon as they are on set will keep the flow of things moving along, and help keep all of the people being photographed happy and your client elated that you managed to make their day pain free.
That said, just because you can handle a huge volume of people doesn’t mean that you always should. As a banker or lawyer moves up the food chain, looking good in their portrait matters more and more. Often their corporate bio or LinkedIn page will be the first impression that someone has on them, it is not uncommon to budget out 20-30 minutes per person when the people you are working with have more senior roles.
[Related Reading: How to Light Headshots with One Light – Slice Of Pye Ep. 6]
Don’t Forget to Budget In The Cost of Post Production
Post production and the digital age are a blessing and a curse as a professional photographer. In the film days we would simply send out a contact sheet of each person and they would let us know what prints were needed whereas now we review everything immediately on site. As a studio we began to make the change in the late 1990’s when the first professional cameras were being introduced ($20,000 for a 4mp body…) When we moved to digital we kept things structured the same way for a while, we would print contact sheets of 20 images for each person to select the final from. We have evolved our workflow continuously over the past 20 years and clients increasingly want more value for every dollar they spend, and on the flip side, we can do much more work with much less staff.
Efficiency is increasingly important, and dialing in your post production and billing accordingly for it(usually on the front end) is still important. This will vary by the shoot, by the client and by the budget. We like to build in a half day of post production into the price of any full day shoot. This generally includes renumbering everything to our naming structure, processing out the raw files to JPGs and uploading all of the files to our PhotoShelter database for the client to access and either review the images to make selections for retouching or simply download the files for use on their company database, LinkedIn, etc.
Beyond the basic processing that we build into our pricing, we charge per image for formal retouching and we do all of the work in house at out NYC studio. This allows us to directly address any concerns someone might have as well as make alterations that might be requested after seeing the final image.
Consistency Makes Life Easy
Not only will being consistent keep your clients happy and returning to you, it also makes post production much easier. If I am shooting a day of headshot where 50 people might step in front of the camera, it is very rare that I will move my lighting aside from adjusting for slight differences in height. This is the kind of shoot where you want to be able to do as much editing in bulk as possible. If you have to spend an extra 5 minutes on post production for each person you’ve just spent the full half day that you had budgeted on doing something that could have been done in an hour.
For shoots with a bit more production value, a different type of consistency is needed – for environmental photos for example, the background will be changing and you will be moving your lights pretty often. In those scenarios the goal is to keep the overall look of the shoot consistent. You don’t want one person to have a light and airy look and the next dark and moody. When you look at each individual together in a gallery it needs to make sense and they need to look like they belong together.
At The End Of The Day…
Corporate photography might not be the most interesting type of photography, but it’s nice to be able to pay your bills and afford a decent living. Doing corporate work means that you will have most of your evenings and weekends free, a pretty reliable and flexible work schedule that will allow you time to do your own thing at your leisure. There will definitely be times when you are busy every day for weeks on end, but you learn pretty quickly which weeks in the year are traditionally slow and can plan trips and excursions without the fear of losing a client. If you have any questions please feel free to reach out to me or leave them in the comments below.
Post & Images shared with permission from Patrick Nugent of NYC Photo