The Process of Professional Headshots
Professional headshots tell the story of who you are and what you do. Great portraits aren’t effortless; there is a process to creating those photos that work perfectly for your marketing materials, website, or professional profile. You will need to choose the right style of professional portraits, prepare and plan for the photoshoot, and communicate with your photographer your needs and vision.
Professional headshots come in three styles: classic, environmental, and editorial.
Classic: This style keeps it simple—a straight-on shot with a distraction-free background. This look is great for professional profiles or employee headshots. Either an on-location or color backdrop can serve as the background. A solid color backdrop makes team photos easy to replicate when you hire new members. I always talk through with my clients what colors and backgrounds best suit their brand or business, as they are instrumental in conveying a certain feel to your audience.
Environmental: This style is well-suited for visually interesting locations. If your office has unique architectural features, cool outdoor spaces, or eye-catching artwork, taking your portrait on-site will add character to your headshots. Conversely, plain offices are ill suited to environmental shots. The same goes for messy spaces; straightening up is essential for professional photos. Overall, it is important to know what feel the background will convey, and choose your location wisely. Portraits should match your type of business; it makes sense for a landscaping architect to be outdoors, and a tech startup company to be in a cool office space. Some current office design trends include neat lighting and old wood, which end up making nice backdrops for in-office portraits. I like to arrive at locations early to scout unique backdrops—attention to detail is key to making your portraits memorable.
Editorial: This style focuses on your employees “in action.” If your business makes physical products or delivers services “on location” in interesting places, this can be the perfect option. Similar to environmental, editorial style is also not recommended for plain offices as the images will feature the surrounding space. If an office-based business wants editorial portraits, I may ask them to bring a few of their clients and/or partners into the office during the shoot. This allows us to take shots of their team in meetings, on calls, working in groups, etc.
Editing is essential to create a finished photograph. My philosophy of photo editing is to remove distractions from the frame and ensure the subjects look their best. After some minor color and lighting adjustments, I work with my clients to choose the best portraits. I then edit them more heavily, removing specks and stray hairs, softening shiny skin, or reducing the number of wires on a desk. Major changes I can make include taking a subject from one background and dropping them onto another, or even taking just a head or tie and placing it on another picture. With larger changes sometimes there are extra costs; it’s much easier to wear a tie than for me to photoshop a tie on you.
Communicating expectations clearly is vital no matter what style you choose. Miscommunication, or neglecting to explain your vision means you may not be happy with your portraits. When your photographer understands how you will use the images, and what specific look you want, the end result will better represent what you pictured.
Looking for an experienced professional headshot photographer? You can contact me at 317-443-3792 or send me a message.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.