What to Look for When Hiring a Professional Photographer
Photographers come in all varieties—wedding photographers, portrait-takers, stock photo creators, hobbyists and Instagram enthusiasts—and they are not necessarily interchangeable. Hiring a professional photographer means finding the right creative genius who can capture what it is you want to communicate.
What Every Photographer Should Have
That being said, there are certainly qualities you want your photographer to have no matter what your project is.
Work that is their own. The main thing that impresses me in other photographers is a unique vision. They should be able to handle the standard headshot, but can they also produce creative work that is unique and compelling? If you aren’t impressed by their photos of others, you will likely not be happy with their photos of you.
An eye for consistency. I often go back to clients to photograph new hires. Those headshots need to look just like the ones I did in previous sessions. Photographers need to be able to produce photos from different sessions for their clients that look as though they all happened in one sitting.
An eye for detail. Detail makes for a cleaner, more impactful image. Are there any distracting objects in the background? Are the subject’s clothes and accessories neatly primped, or did it look like the photographer wasn’t paying attention to how they looked?
Grasp of basic image creation. Being able to handle the basics is a no-brainer. Are the images sharp? Is the lighting on the subjects even and pleasing? Is detail lost to blown-out highlights or blocky shadows?
The Thing About Gear
Yes, gifted photographers can do a lot with a single camera and their experience; however, high quality gear still makes a difference in professional photography. There are times when my expensive, pro-level equipment allows me to keep producing compelling images in situations where entry-level tools would just fall over. You will want a photographer with both an artistic eye and quality gear.
The Right Professional Photographer
For different events and subjects, you will need a photographer who has experience photographing that specific instance you want to capture. Don’t expect a family and baby photographer to be on-par with a commercial headshot and portrait photographer, and vice-versa. As an example, I personally just don’t have the props and experience with babies to produce high-quality newborn photos, but throw me in an office environment and I can produce a whole photo stock library for a business website.
You also need to like a photographer’s style. Perusing their online gallery is one way you can determine what you like and don’t. Are their studio backdrops smooth and simple, or wrinkled like bed sheets? Is the post processing in Photoshop subtle or overly done? Are they using gimmicks like selective color and heavy Photoshop filters? If their style isn’t the look you’re going for, you won’t be pleased with the images they create for you.
Word-of-mouth referrals and testimonies are often helpful as well in deciding if a photographer is pleasant and professional to work with. You might also want to check their website: a photographer with a good website is indicative of an in-tune and business-savvy person who invested in their online presence as an important customer service.
Ultimately, the right professional photographer is the one who not only produces great photos for you at the end, but is also easy to work with through the entire process, communicating with you about timing and vision.
Using Your Office as a Backdrop for Professional Headshots
I have been doing professional headshots for Dittoe PR since 2011. They also refer me for their client’s PR event photography. They are a hip, young company with a happy, confident vibe that comes across in their faces as well as their office space.
Partnering with a company for so long means I get to work with them through all of their evolutions. Most recently, Dittoe moved from the Glendale area near Broad Ripple to South Broad Ripple, and their new space demanded a fresh look for their professional headshots. Whenever I work in a new place, I explore quite a bit to find the best backdrops to match the company’s personality. In Dittoe’s building, I found a stamped metal wall that suited their look perfectly. However, it was fairly challenging to use. I had to make sure my lights did not reflect off its shiny surface. The metal wall was also curved, acting like one big mirror. I couldn’t just put the lights anywhere; I had to find a location that both lit my subjects perfectly, and didn’t reflect. This challenge is a pretty unique one. Normally I use a painted wall or a whole office space backdrop that poses few challenges. As is evident, I did find that sweet spot, but it took both my onsite ingenuity and years of experience to situate my lights where they weren’t going to be seen. The result is a really cool backdrop I didn’t have to pass up just because the lighting was difficult.
Office designs can significantly change the look of professional headshots. However, I think this is a good thing. Photos of employees on a website can act like an introduction to a company’s environment, telling a consistent story about a brand. Dittoe’s move brought them to a space that had a wonderfully cool but simple vibe, and it became an opportunity to update their look.
I use my clients’ offices as backdrops in professional headshots whenever I can because the uniqueness and personality of their space carries into the images. Often my clients design their own offices to have a certain feel, which the photography will echo. I find that the designs vary depending on the company: lawyers like confident looks, banks like a strong, fortified feel, marketing and tech firms like fun and industrial styles.
There can be some drawbacks to using an organization’s space—it needs to have some character. If the space is bland, these kinds of photos won’t really work. My solution for a boring office is to bring my own colored backdrops. My clients can choose colors that fit the feel of their brand, or actually matches their brand colors, which will still bring that needed consistency. Taking photos outside is another remedy, in a nature or urban, city setting that represents the vibe of the company.
If you need anything from simple professional headshots to unique brand photography, I am comfortable taking portraits in the field or the studio. You can contact me here.
More than Corporate Headshots: Full Service Business Photography
Many companies need more than just corporate headshots of their team—they need updated team shots, new office photos, marketing stock photography, and others. Site Strategics is a client I have been working with for a while, and I have supplied the full service of business photography for their needs.
Site Strategics builds websites and provides other marketing services. Their brand is fun, smart, technology-savvy business people. Since moving to their new office downtown, they needed a whole slew of updated team photos, individual portraits and stock photos.
We started with their group picture at their new location, then we moved on to headshots for each team member. For corporate headshots I usually find one or two good backdrops in an office and shoot everyone on these. However, their office is especially colorful and interesting. It was their desire to showcase their cool space on their website as well, and I suggested we combine the the two goals. So, I photographed every team member in a different location to highlight their office in the background.
They are a hip young group and have a lot of fun in their office. While they were chatting with each other and joking around, I was able to capture genuine laughs and smiles.
Recently they built a media studio in their office to help clients who need videos or podcasts for their marketing. They also record their own podcast called “Edge of the Web”. The studio has a lot of cool technology and capabilities, and they wanted to market it on their website. They needed stock photos of the studio itself, people recording in the studio, and the variety of video and audio equipment.
For the stock photos, I had the license to be creative, finding the best angles and subjects for what was going to be their own stock library of images. Instead of going in with a preconceived idea for what media studio photos should look like, I focused on the environment and objects unique to their space—their microphones, cameras, sound equipment, dials, levers and lights—noticing the details and how their studio worked. A stock library will look different for each client; sometimes a few photos of something very specific are needed, while other times call for a bulk of photos with a good amount of variety. For Site Strategics’ studio I ended up taking 50 images because they had so much to work with.
Each time I work for Site Strategics, I keep in mind that their photographs need to have the same feel. I make sure to light them similarly with light modifiers, using almost identical camera settings, and review previous photos so they all look consistent even though backdrops and ambient lighting are different.
I really enjoy my working relationship with Site Strategics. They are great people to be around, and knowing them allows me to capture their personalities through the lens. I also know their brand, and can create the right picture for their message. Site Strategics finds having a business photography partner instrumental to their work as well. They simply have to reach out to me for any of their image needs. Jason Fletcher of Site Strategics took the time to describe what they liked about the process. “We chose Paul for his expertise as several members of our staff had worked with him before. Based on their glowing reviews, we trusted him to help make our website and other assets more professional with his photography. The pictures came out great and it was a lot of fun to work with him!”
Please contact me here for your business photography needs, whether it is portraits, professional headshots, group photos, or unique brand photography.
Business Photography and Executive Headshots
I got the chance to work for my great friend Chris, a colleague from my past days as a programmer, who was starting his own strategic consultant company, and he needed branding photos as well as executive headshots. Being the face of his company, he would need to convey both his personality and the personality of his business.
As Chris loves Indianapolis, he chose the iconic location of Fountain Square at night as our main backdrop for portraits. The evening scenes and nightlife vibe relate to his personality; he looks like the cool tech dude he is with the colorful lights and dark buildings behind him. Though it was a freezing night in February, we wanted the more dramatic environment the evening provided, as well as the vivid backdrops of night lights, so we braved the cold for as long as we could.
Working at night both outside and in makes it easier for me to play with my lighting: I don’t have the sun to deal with. Though I still blended my own lights with the city lights, I have learned how to recreate studio-like lighting with portable equipment, so our choice of background was incredibly flexible. This crafted lighting allows me to find an interesting backdrop first and worry about lighting second. If I had to look for a place with great lighting first, the choice of background would be limited to a very few perfectly lit spots.
We did our inside shots at the Murphy Building while we were warming up from our freezing outdoor photoshoot. I wanted to make sure we included backdrops that were not tied to Fountain Square. These pictures portrayed his personality and love of the city, but he would also need ones that portrayed the more business side of his company, and that would require a more timeless backdrop that conveyed an idea rather than be about a place.
This shot includes a very cool bank vault door as the backdrop. To brighten that door, I placed a light directly behind Chris, and later removed the light stand from the pictures in Photoshop. That extra shine on the door adds just the right amount of light and detail the picture needed.
In this photoshoot, Chris crosses his arms quite a few times. I have heard many photographers discourage crossed arms in professional headshots and portraits, but I have come to disagree as subjects like Chris naturally make the pose look relaxed and confident. Chris has good posture and carries himself well; he is aware of how he stands, but not unnaturally aware. Sometimes when I’m directing poses, people who cross their arms do look stuffy, so we try other poses. Chris with his arms crossed doesn’t look “closed off” or unapproachable—so we went with it. This confidently relaxed posture also reflected the feeling we wanted in all the pictures, conveying that Chris knows what he’s doing, and is also enjoyable to work with.
Whether you are looking for an individual portrait session or executive headshot, or need business photography for your company, you can contact me here.
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.
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!