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Professional Headshots: The Freedoms of Using a Studio

Creating professional headshots and portraits can be challenging in a real-world environment. I find working in a studio gives me more freedom and flexibility. It is easier to focus on the person, whereas an office space can be limiting, and subject to interruptions. Shooting in-studio is the perfect option for professionals who want to truly capture their personality. In this session, I worked with actor and physical trainer Leon de Ikal to create a diverse range of photographs for marketing purposes, business portraits, and his acting profile.

PDA_headshots_LDI_business casual

The purpose of this shoot was to give Leon a good variety of looks. As he is both an actor and a trainer, I wanted to provide him with every kind of shot he would need. We also did some fun, creative pictures, as we have worked together often before and were interested in seeing what we could artistically express.

In my studio, I control everything. When I photograph clients in the real world, I play more by ear and carry little equipment with me. I have to fill in blanks when the surroundings don’t give me the space or lighting I need. A photography studio is a clean canvas where many tools are at my disposal—I have all sorts of light modifiers and backdrops, and I don’t have to worry about sunlight coming in from a window.


The privacy of a studio is a big plus too. Whenever I take professional pictures in an office, there are always people walking past or into the room where I’m working. It is also difficult to take headshots and portraits in a public setting. Most people are not natural actors, and have trouble relaxing and being themselves when onlookers are nearby. People are already self-conscious in front of the camera; an audience adds another stressor. In a studio, I can more easily get people to relax and be natural.


Expressing personality, ideas and feelings in a picture can be achieved largely through lighting. Standard lighting works well for business portraits; dramatic lighting combined with good poses and facial expressions works well for thematic portraits. The deeper the contrast in lighting, the more dramatic the look.

Leon is great at bringing a real presence to his portraits. He has his own creative process for approaching concept photoshoots like ours, which he shared with me:

“My process in getting ready for the shoot is to take my perception out of the equation and become an avatar of sorts. The goal for me is to convey the perspectives of others, especially for concept shoots. I act as a reflection of others’ ideas, rather than using my own perspective of someone else’s concept. Out of all the photographers I have worked with, Paul is the best in his use of light, depth and angles. He knows when he has the photo he is looking for. There have been numerous times when he simply looked up from the lens and said ‘that is the one. Let’s go home.’ I have yet to disagree.”


I enjoyed this portrait session working with Leon, and love the variety of shots we got out of it. If you are looking for marketing images, professional portraits or headshots that stand out and express you, your brand or business, you can talk to me here.

Portrait and Headshot Photography: Five Years On

Five years ago today I submitted my resignation at my day job to do freelance portrait and headshot photography full time. It was a big move, but one my family and I had prepared for. Over the years we’ve had our ups and downs in the business. I often think owning a business feels like sailing on the ocean: it’s a fun adventure but you never know what lies beyond the horizon. At first this uncertainty was a source of stress, but I’ve learned to embrace it. While I do have some slow spots, the business is working, and I am happy I made this career move.

Here are a few things I’ve learned since going out on my own:

– Consider what you really need to be happy and shape your life around it. In both business and hobbies, it really helps to narrow your focus.

– Pay off your debt! You’ve got enough to worry about without compounding it with interest.

– Get help! Naomi (my wife) does most of my bookkeeping, but we leave tax prep to the pros. There are quite a few considerations that we absolutely would have missed without our tax man. We also get marketing help from the amazing people at Fresh Figs Marketing. They’ve been a great client of mine for years and now help me keep the business rolling in.

– Business can be surprisingly variable. There have been a good few months where I thought I’d made it, I couldn’t have been busier, but those months were sometimes followed by dead ones. Make sure you plan for those ebbs and flows.

– Learn from mistakes. This is a tough one. One of the drawbacks of being a freelancer is that you’re easy to fire. Not that I’ve had many blunders, but there have been (unfortunate) times when clients were not entirely satisfied with the images we’ve made. Unless he or she is a dedicated client it is unlikely you will be called again. I make every effort to shape my work process around ensuring my clients are happy with the photography we produce.

– Don’t forget the real world connections! As an introvert it’s easy for me to just stay at home doing my thing, but real-world networking works. I attend meetings at a great BNI chapter and try to get out to a few social media gatherings a month.

I really do love my life now; the 9-5 world was just not for me. The mix of new and repeat jobs provide a bit of stability and variety in my day-to-day life. Not everything is the same, not everything is different.

Looking back it is abundantly clear that I could not have made it these five years without the incredible support of family, friends, clients, and business partners. Thanks everyone!

No Weird Smiles: The Value of Editing in Professional Headshots

Shoots for professional headshots can run very smoothly, but the resulting photographs may still need some tweaking; facial expressions might be off in a group photo, or an outfit that looked great in person looks less appealing within a picture. Thankfully, it is never too late to edit. In a portrait and group photo session with a local United Real Estate office in Broad Ripple, I used my Photoshop skills to address some issues to make these nice shots look even better.

The photos were intended for banners and headshots on their website, helping to create a personable face for the office as well as set their tone; a friendly, confident bunch of real estate agents in a suburban setting. We took the photographs at one of their homes rather than the office—the big, open back yard was perfect for capturing a relaxed feel, and we could easily switch the background from the back of their house to a nice wooded area.

Kathy Jordan, one of the agents I worked with closely, describes what they wanted from their photos:

“Our clients range from investors to first-time home buyers to million-dollar buyers and sellers, plus everything in between, and while we’re ‘all business’ on their behalf, we have more of a collective ‘casual’ personality which we wanted to portray in our photos. Paul made us all comfortable, took time for individual shots as well as group photos and had great ideas for backgrounds. Once we made our selections he used his mad Photoshop skills to make us look perfect.”

Much of the photo editing I do is to clean up the background and foreground in order to remove distractions, leaving the people as the only subject of interest in the shot. In these photos, I removed distractions like scuff marks on the table, stains, and stray leaves. This kind of editing is important in professional headshots, when just the person is the focus. However, editorial-style photographs are meant to tell the story of not just the person but what the person does, so background details are desired.

Major changes can occur when a client sees the final photo spread and likes certain elements, but not others. Kathy changed her jacket between backgrounds. She liked her outfit better in one shot, but did not like the background as much. However, she loved the background in a different shot, but did not like the outfit she wore in it. Rather than reshooting, I cut her out of one picture in Photoshop and put her on the backdrop of the background she liked better.

Professional Headshots | The importance of Editing

This picture has the detail of a little white picket fence. However, it is so minimal that it does not distract, and in fact subtly lends itself to the suburban theme. That’s a little game that I play: how much do I put in the background to tell a story without being distracting? My philosophy is that all pictures should be pleasing and balanced, but also should convey ideas about the people in the photograph while still keeping the focus on them.

Another issue is posture. Sometimes we don’t stand as straight as we think we do. Part of the office is a family—Ginger and Tom, with their son Taylor. I took a nice shot of Tom and Ginger together, but she did not like how she looked hunched over. Again instead of reshooting, I was able to tweak her posture so that she stood straighter in the picture.

Professional Headshots | The importance of Editing

Expressions are also tricky. In this group photo, it looks like I was just a little ahead of snapping the picture before Tom got his big smile up. He had a great smile in another shot, so I switched the expressions to make the picture perfect without having to redo it.

Professional Headshots | The importance of Editing


Professional Headshots | The importance of Editing


Many professional photographers have some degree of Photoshop skills, and this flexibility it is certainly a plus when all you need to change in a photo is an expression or a background. Representing this group of fun real estate agents took balanced backgrounds and good editing skills. If you are looking for business portraits, or unique brand photography, you can contact me here.

Happy Holidays!

Taking on the Updated Business Group Photo Challenge

Businesses have different needs when it comes to professional photos. One of my clients, a local State Farm Insurance agency, wanted photographs for their marketing, website, business cards and email communication. It was important to them that they get a group shot to tell the story of their team. However, like most organizations, their employee base changes over time. They were looking for a way to keep an updated business group photo without taking a new shot every time the team transitioned.

Our photoshoot site was at their office in Broad Ripple. There is a lot of energy in their space; the employees are fun and we had a good time during the shoot. To reflect their personality, and to represent their business in that light, I chose white, bright backdrops. The tone is not necessarily happy, but there is an open, inviting sense of energy in a white backdrop. Darker backdrops look more serious and dramatic. Both their group business portraits and headshots were on bright white backgrounds.

For outfits, they had both their business clothes for headshots and their red t-shirts for group photos. I always advise my clients to bring their favorite outfits, or as many outfits as they’d like to try. It’s better to have variety than to be short on options.

I hear the same concerns about group photos from many businesses—how do you avoid having to get together again and again to keep the image updated? I find photo editing to be the easiest solution. It takes a bit of skill to cut people out and make them look right and real together. I have nearly nine years of experience using Adobe Photoshop, and that knowledge becomes very useful in these situations—it is much easier to photograph one person when needed rather than getting everyone together for a group photo. I shot their first group photo against a white backdrop using over-under lighting. The same backdrop and the same lighting will be used for new member shots so I can add them seamlessly into the original group. I always go back and check the original picture, look at my settings and use the same aperture so I can repeat the scene exactly. The result is a photo that looks real and natural.

updated business group photo

Elizabeth Marshall, State Farm agent, worked with me closely in getting professional business portraits at their office. “Paul came to the office with all of the equipment to take professional headshots; he was efficient yet personable and the end product was exactly what I wanted. I especially loved the assembled team photo so we don’t have to take a new group shot every time we add staff.”

Business photography requires capturing two aspects of an organization—the professional side and the personal side. One reflects the competency and trustworthiness of the team, the other the personality of each member. The goal is to get across to the audience the experience they will have when working with the business. In the case of State Farm Broad Ripple office, their clients get fun and energy!

If you need anything from simple business portraits to unique brand photography, I am comfortable taking portraits in the field or the studio. You can contact me here.

Client Sessions: Business Portraits and Professional Headshots

I have enjoyed working with multiple individuals through my partnership with Creative Quarterback, a marketing company that serves entrepreneurs and small businesses. They brought me in to take professional headshots, website stock-style photos and work environment business portraits for Katie Smith. She is a career development coach and head of her own company Careerable.

We held two photoshoot sessions with Katie, one indoors to capture the office-business feel for her website, and the second outdoors for her sunny professional headshots.

Our indoors location was Trendy Minds’ office in Downtown Indianapolis. Katie works largely with younger professionals, those looking to rebuild and focus their career, so she wanted a hip, cool vibe for her website photos. Trendy Minds was the perfect fit with its updated, modern-tech spaces. Our goals were to create shots that could be used as background images for her website, as well as professional portraits to capture the face of her company.

Business portraits and professional headshots | Katie w client

Standard headshot photos, where the subject stands straight-on in front of the camera looking into the shot, with a plain, one-toned backdrop behind them, was not the look we were going for here. We wanted a natural, candid set of portraits that had the sense of capturing her life on the job, as if we had just met her at the office in the middle of a work day.

Business portraits and professional headshots | Katie at computer Business portraits and professional headshots | Katie with Client

The outside portraits presented a challenge as the sun was up and shining brightly. I found a great location around Fountain Square in Downtown Indianapolis, and though sunlight provides a good base, I brought my own gear to create optimum lighting. Full sunlight creates harsh shadows on subjects, a challenge I am familiar with. I knew I had to either find shade to work with or create some of my own; fortunately the restaurant we met at had a patio umbrella that worked perfectly.

professional headshots and business photography | katie outside

All Katie’s professional business photos, both inside and out, look bright and clean, a result of carefully choosing locations for the best backdrops, helping the subjects become comfortable around the camera, and using both natural and artificial light to its fullest potential.

Business portraits and professional headshots | Katie in Office

Working with Katie was fun. She has a great smile and is very natural in front of the camera, which makes for excellent posed pictures. Katie had some nice things to say about our photoshoot. “Paul never makes one feel awkward in front of the camera. He works with his subjects so that they’re comfortable, and asks for feedback along the way to make sure he’s getting the types of shots they want. His turnaround with the photos is always quick as well.” Thanks Katie.

It can be easy to focus on the backdrop or the effects, but the true stars I want to put front and center in business photography are the people behind the company. If you need anything from simple business portraits to unique brand photography, I am comfortable taking portraits in the field or the studio. You can contact me here.