The Ultimate Guide to Corporate Photography
…or how professionals shoot professionals
For freelance photographers, corporate photography can be an important source of revenue and an excellent way to build your portfolio. It may not sound all that glamorous, but if you can work your way up to larger corporate clients with bigger budgets, you might be surprised at some of the opportunities that come your way. Furthermore, it’s a reliable source of work and there are few photographers, especially in the early days of their career, who can afford to ignore it.
With this in mind, here are a range of tips and ideas to put you on the fast track to success when it comes to delivering what your business clients really want across a range of corporate work—from portraits and headshots to event coverage.
The corporate remit
Corporate photography is not about creating something arty or avant garde—at least not for most of the corporate clients for whom you’ll work. Your business customers will be looking for high quality professional photography that reflects their corporate or brand values and shows them in a good light. You might be asked to undertake staff headshots in the studio or portraits within the working environment, or you could be called upon to cover an event which could include a number of formal group shots and more casual reportage.
For every corporate job:
- Make sure you understand exactly what the brief expects of you—the more detail you can wring out of your client, the better. You need the time and the location, and a list of the shots they need from you, especially things such as presentations at events that can’t afford to be missed. If necessary, make arrangements to scout the location in advance so you can assess what sort of equipment you’ll need to bring.
- Arrive on time, if not before. If you’ve kept your client waiting, you won’t achieve the sort of rapport you need for a great portrait.
- Dress appropriately, and behave likewise. If you arrive in scruffy jeans and trainers, it won’t inspire confidence in the business world. Try to blend in with an air of quiet professionalism.
Shooting corporate events
Conferences, fundraising events, corporate dinners and client parties all need to be recorded for posterity, often with a mixture of formal and less formal shots. Event shooting requires stamina and concentration—you can’t afford to miss the key moments for a cigarette break, and everyone will expect to see a flattering image of themselves looking their best.
- Ask for a running order of the event you’re covering, and a list of essential shots and people.
- Liaise with the organiser so you can anticipate the location of the shoot, what equipment you’ll need and how long the event will last.
- Make sure you’ve eaten beforehand, as you may be working through lunch or dinner.
- Don’t try to join in the conversations of the people you are photographing, and don’t accept offers of alcoholic drinks while you’re working.
- Most of your shots will be of people, but remember to take some shots of the location, the table settings, trophies or celebratory cake.
- Don’t take pictures of people while they’re eating.
- Try to be as unobtrusive as possible—you’re not here as a guest and this is not the time to socialise.
Advice for taking better corporate portraits
Everyone needs a headshot—for the corporate website, for LinkedIn, for passes and badges and other forms of ID—or a portrait to accompany a profile or magazine article. Most people are busy and don’t have much time to spare. They tend not to enjoy the process of being photographed, but they want the result to show them looking their absolute best. They want to look clever and professional, trustworthy, different from all the rest… And you’ve got ten minutes to achieve it!
If you can develop both the people skills and the photography techniques to achieve great results fast, corporate portraiture can become a very lucrative and steady income generator. Here are some tips to remember.
- As with all commercial photography, make a point of finding out what your client wants and expects. Is there a certain corporate style that you’ll need to adhere to? Do they want a studio shot or a location shot? A half body portrait or just head and shoulders? It’s essential that you fulfil their brief, so make sure you know what it is.
- Do your homework before the shoot—you should have at least some idea of what the company does, what your subject does, how the company interprets its brand and their favoured visual style. It will be important for your client to put across a consistent corporate image, so it’s critical for you to understand what that is.
- Some people you shoot will never have been professionally photographed before. Provide a set of guidelines for them in advance, with tips on things like how to dress, how to pose and any other information that might demystify the process for them. The more relaxed your client, the better the results are likely to be.
- A plain background will be less distracting from your subject, but for an editorial portrait, taking a photo in a factory or other worksite can add drama. It all depends what the picture will be used for—but from your point of view, it’s important to know this in advance so you can be sure to have the right equipment for the job.
- Try to schedule your photo shoot as early in the day as possible—your target is more likely to be looking their best, and less likely to be tired and grumpy. But allow time before your first subject to set up your equipment and test light levels.
If you want to be treated like a professional and paid professional rates, you need to act like one. You need to know what you’re doing, arrive with all the right equipment and work calmly and efficiently throughout. If you’re taking pictures in your client’s place of business rather than in your studio, being prepared is critical.
- Many offices have white walls or reflective glass panels that can affect how you’ll need to set up your lighting. Likewise, external windows might give you the choice of shooting with ambient light. What’s important for the client is that you can make and implement lighting decisions quickly and effectively.
- If you’re shooting your subject against the backdrop of a window, you’ll need to use flash to prevent the background being overexposed. When deciding on your lighting equipment, bear in mind that you might need to move it several times during the session to shoot different people in different locations.
- If you want to use equipment that will need power sources, check the availability of these with your client beforehand—or take equipment that you can run off batteries.
- Minimise the number of flashes you use if you’re shooting in an environment where there are reflective surfaces.
- Choose the position of your subject and instruct them to achieve a natural looking pose—putting their body at an angle to the camera and then asking them to look straight at you is often the most successful.
- Remember that softer lighting is more flattering and less ageing—a consideration most subjects would thank you for. If you can shoot using natural light, this is usually preferable.
- A long lens with a narrow field of vision can cut out unwanted light sources. This may be useful in a large office or workplace environment.
- Using a portable studio can provide a good solution if you’re shooting a series of headshots on your client’s premises but, as always, thoroughly familiarise yourself with it first so you know how to get the best results.
- Occasionally you might be asked to take a corporate portrait outside. This will bring a whole different series of lighting issues into play, so be sure to position your client carefully. A single light should work in the shade but be careful about shooting in full sunshine—the results can be harsh. Remember, there are no power sockets out in the open.
- If you need to take a group shot, you’ll probably require stronger lighting, particularly for larger groups. If you’re indoors, you might be able to bounce a flash off a white ceiling. The key to a successful group shot is to make sure everyone is relaxed and not to make them wait too long before taking the shot. Position your subjects as closely together as possible and take as many pictures as you can in a burst.
- Use your post production skills to soften wrinkles, remove blemishes, add or tone down brightness and adjust colours.
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