Empathy & Resilience: The Essence of My Work As a Professional Photographer
Photography has been a part of my world for most of my life. It all started in high school. My dad was a hunter and in the off-season he took up photography so he could still be out in nature. He bought himself a camera and helped me buy one too. I fell in love with it, but I did not think of a professional photographer as something I could do for a living. I was more inclined to standard livelihoods. I got my degree in psychology, taught myself computers and went into the tech field.
I worked at ExactTarget for six years and before that as an independent contractor for computer-related companies. I enjoyed moving from project to project and could feel my entrepreneurial spirit guiding my choices. However, owning my own business was not what drove me to start my own photography studio. My decision was based more on a lifestyle choice. I love photography, and the pace of a freelancer appeals to me. While many entrepreneurs enjoy the day-to-day management of running a business, that part of working for yourself isn’t what excited me. What I wanted was to spend my days enjoying my career and working with people I like! Photography was the perfect path to pursue.
My work means that I have busy periods where my weeks are full with photographing clients. Then I will have downtime where I edit the photos and take time to recharge. I believe that time to unwind and regroup leads to resilience, a term in psychology defined as the ability to handle challenges that come into our lives. When the annoyances of every day really get under our skin, where every moment is filled to the brim, we are less able to build the energy needed to have resilience. It’s not easy to manage our world with clarity and calmness. I find that because my work allows me to regularly regenerate my energy and creative juices, I am much better able to do good work and live a happier life.
Working with people is why I enjoy specializing in professional headshots. However, to be successful at my work I have to come into each project with an authentically positive attitude. Most people are not comfortable in front of a camera, so I must put them at ease to allow their personality to shine through. By being truly happy and at peace, ready to get to know them and address any concerns they have, I am much better able to mirror back the energy my clients need to have to achieve a good headshot. Empathy is a large part of setting people at ease. By not overbooking myself and taking time to relax, I am better able to practice empathy and therefore do good work.
So, when you set a professional headshot appointment with me, be prepared to be met by a relaxed, interested person who will help you enjoy the experience. Genuine smiles come out of people who are genuinely enjoying themselves – it is this energy that I am always trying to achieve when I work with my clients.
Large Group Professional Headshot Sessions
When the expertise of their team is the main message in a company’s marketing, it is important to have imagery that supports that idea. Walker Information is an Indianapolis-based company focused on helping businesses provide superior customer experiences. They were looking to take professional headshots of their employees for their website.
Walker wanted a wide variety of environments within their shots while keeping the same feel for each image. My challenge was to take the photographs in many areas of their building with different backgrounds while ensuring continuity within the final portraits. Their company culture is friendly, confident and slightly casual and they wanted these ideals portrayed in their shots as well.
This project was one of the few instances where I had to rely on Photoshop to achieve my clients’ goals. To accommodate the schedules of different employees, I was onsite on two different days; one sunny and one day snowy. One of our backdrops was a window, where you could see the weather! I had to use Photoshop to clean out the snow and warm up the background in some of the images.
Shooting professional headshots in many locations offers additional challenges as well. There was different lighting in each room we used – fluorescent in the conference room, incandescent in the break room, and natural light near the windows. Each of those light sources casts a different color, which I need to match my lights too. I use gels on my lights to achieve this look, then I use Photoshop to make tweaks as needed. Knowing ahead of time that my client wanted the flexibility of multiple locations yet maintaining the same feel allowed me to plan for the lighting challenges.
I feel that flexibility is a necessary trait for a photographer to successfully take individual headshots within a large group of people. Although we try to set a specific schedule of where we would be and who would be photographed, meetings run long, phone calls pop up and the best-laid plans go by the wayside. Having a main coordinator within the company is key here, and fortunately, Walker gave me Brenda Mackey. She ensured everyone was photographed where they wanted to be, regardless of the changing schedule. Unlike situations where I take photos with one backdrop so I can just hang out until needed, we had to move quickly and adjust on the spot. Although this job required more coordination on my client’s part, they ended up with headshots that worked for their brand and made their employees happy.
Brenda was kind enough to share a bit about her experience with us:
“We are a consulting company, so the expertise of our employees is the key to the success of our business. Some of the headshots on our website were quite outdated and did not accurately show the personality of our staff. It was important to us to show how each person at Walker Information is different. Paul was totally on board with this idea and visited our space before the shoot to scout out locations in our new building. My colleague and I went around with him to figure out what would work. We then made up a schedule of 6 different locations and time slots. All was going smoothly until Indy go the worst weather day of the entire year! Half of the people who had signed up for portraits were not able to come to the office. Paul took pictures of those who were there, but we had to schedule a makeup day. A few people who were not happy with the first round of pictures and Paul took getting them what they wanted seriously. Those people came to the makeup day and Paul dug deep into why they were not happy. He took care to address their specific issue and make sure we got a good shot the second time. Overall, people were very happy. Quite a few of our employees had never had their picture taken professionally before. Many people immediately put their shots up on LinkedIn and our website now reflects what our company wanted to communicate about our staff. I really enjoyed working with Paul and already referred him to others.”
Thanks, Brenda! If you have a large group in need of individual professional headshots, contact me here.
Client Highlight: Refresh Your Brand with Professional Headshots
Chrissi Peters is a local real estate agent who was revving up to refresh her website. Due to the nature of her business, new professional headshots were essential to reflecting her updated brand. We met a co-working space in Carmel to take the shots since it offered a wide variety of backgrounds and lighting for us to try out. The space was not only fun to work, in, but also allowed us to quickly create many different looks without having to travel or bring a lot of props.
The goal of the professional headshots session was to capture Chrissi’s friendly, open, and confident personality. With some clients, the camera immediately makes them nervous, so I have to work to get them relaxed and showing their real selves. Such was not the case with Chrissi! Her offered up her natural smile on her own, which went a long way to achieving the look she wanted for the images.
Chrissi prepared for the photoshoot by going to a hairstylist that morning and working with a friend to do her makeup. She looked her best self for the headshots. She also brought a whole stack of clothes, which we looked through and picked outfits she liked, was most comfortable in and provided a nice variety of styles and looks. I find that having pictures that include different color tones can expand their use. For example, her grey outfit offered a more casual look, while her red top felt more professional. Now she has professional portraits appropriate for many uses.
We also varied her stances, placing here in a lot of different poses to achieve different looks. We took some of her standing in front of staircase, sitting on a stool and relaxing in a big chair. These photos will fit different purposes, allowing her to show the full scope of her brand.
For this shot, we used an existing light panel, which as you can see gave us some great to light to capture Chrissi with. I always travel with my own light sources, but having some onsite that can offer more options is always a nice bonus.
Crissi shared her thoughts about her experience with me:
“From the beginning, Paul was awesome to work with. I had seen his photos on his website and knew I wanted to work with him, but I was happy when he was quick to get back to me and reasonably priced. He came to the photo location with me and did a great job of finding creative spaces and suggesting unique shots.
Currently, I am using his pictures on my business social media platforms and website. I think they tell a lot about who I am and what it is like to work with me. My friend and her family served as models during the photoshoot to visually show how I work with clients. They tell the story of how family-oriented I am, that I sit down with my clients and determine their needs. They also show that I am their partner through the process of buying or selling a home.”
If you are planning to refresh your marketing tools, it makes sense to refresh your portraits as well. Click here to learn more about what a professional headshot session entails. You can also reach out to me here.
Client Highlight: Bringing Out Authentic Personalities in Group Professional Headshots Sessions
Many of my clients are businesses looking to create a cohesive collection of professional headshots for a small group of employees. I recently worked with Independent Colleges of Indiana to take portraits of the whole staff for their new website. A tight-knit group is always fun to work with, because they tend to support each other through what can be for some a stressful experience.
ICI Strategic Communications Specialist, Ann Gilly, had a vision for tone of the images. They were looking for environmental rather than traditional headshots, so when I arrived at their office we toured the space to find good background alternatives. Turns out they have a large window with a great view of Downtown Indianapolis. The organization’s target market is located in Indiana, making this local iconic background perfect for their branding.
The goal was to get through all nine employees that day, so it was important to keep everyone on task. Fortunately, it was not a large group, so I was able to take time to chat with each person to help them relax. Again, for many, getting their picture taken is nerve-racking, so I like to set subjects at ease before we begin. One of the reasons why I enjoy my work is that I like people, and that attitude comes through to the client, allowing them to relax. When I first started out in this business, I was still learning about the technical aspects of my work. I was busy thinking about exposure of background, where lights should be placed, and other details. But after years of experience, the technique comes naturally and I spend more time interacting with my client rather than hiding behind my camera worrying about all the details. My shoots now have a more relaxed environment which has led to better work – more authentic headshots with natural smiles and twinkles in eyes. In the end, it is the subject’s personality coming through that makes the best headshot!
I am going to be a bit corny here, but my goal is to have my clients be their best selves for their professional headshots. In other words, I want them to look like themselves but in the best light. For example, if my client always crosses his or her arms when talking, they should be crossed in the photo. During the shoot, I help them bring out their personality, and then make them their “best selves” with lighting, editing, etc.
The ICI group was a fun bunch, however the nature of their brand is more formal than say, a startup. A “big laugh” headshot would not have been appropriate for their brand. Everyone wore formal business attire, yet formal does not have to be boring as you can see in the shots. Relaxed smiles came through, showing the individual personalities within each member the group.
Ann shared a bit with me about the organization’s experience:
“We were developing a new website and the photos that were on the old one were out of date and did not reflect our staff changes. I wanted headshots that would work for the new website where everyone looked professional and the list was up to date. I let Paul know that we wanted environmental portraits in our office; we have a nice space that we wanted to show off a bit. He came in and set up, and then we took our turns. Everyone said they felt very comfortable with him and the pictures turned out great. He got back to us in a good amount of time we were able to review the shots to choose finals for the website. During the photoshoot, people would come out and tell the others who were waiting that it went great and to not be worried or nervous about the experience.”
If it is time for your organization to update your staff professional headshots, reach out to me here. I’d be happy to talk you through my process and answer any questions.
Client Highlight: Sapphire Strategy Professional Headshots and Brand Photography
Having worked in Indianapolis for over 20 years, I get many opportunities to see friends and colleagues evolve and grow. Such is the case with Sapphire Strategy. I have known their founder, Jenn Golding, for many years now and I was happy to work with her when she opened her consulting firm. Recently, we got together again to take professional headshots of her team, as well as take some brand photography in their new office space.
Sapphire Strategy is located in The Union 525, a tech-focused co-working space in Downtown Indianapolis. The building has a cool vibe and served as a perfect backdrop for our photos. These more urban-looking places offer a lot of visual variety with unique architectural details in one building. The Sapphire Strategy Team and I wandered around the space, finding seating and standing areas, desks, windows, half walls and even wall murals to use as backgrounds for their photos.
Variety also has challenges, however. Each new area of the building could mean a change in light quality, color and tone. And, different spaces have different vibes – warm and inviting to cold and austere can both be in the same building. It was important that we keep in mind the look we wanted as we chose the environments.
Creating good composition for the photos can be challenging in these spaces too, especially for professional headshots where we want the focus to be on the person, not the background. I am always looking for a pleasing composition to place people into; busy environments can make it hard to create a visually balanced image. Even though for larger shoots I scope out the venue beforehand, this issue must be managed on-site in real time. Here is where having experience in understanding how different lighting and backgrounds affect the final outcome ensures a productive photoshoot. We certainly do not want to have to come back to redo the images!
Beyond showing their working environment, another goal was to show the vibe of the company. They are a fun loving and hard working company and their corporate photos needed to show that personality. Sometimes I take photos at more formal companies where it can be hard to get people to let go a bit and not look so stiff. This group had no problem looking happy and comfortable –at times had a hard time getting just smiles rather than laughs!
According to Jenn Golding, “When we work together, I give Paul very basic guidance and a shot list to let him know what I am thinking. Then I let his creativity go. He takes pictures all day and I don’t, so I trust his judgment. I like his eye for environment, headshots, office shots, etc. I let him know what I need but then tell him – ‘If you see anything cool, go for it.’ I’ve been working with him for years, and have always been happy with the result. For this shoot, we needed headshots, office shots, team photos and shots of individuals and our new location. We will use the photos in social media, website, email marketing, and collateral.”
Professional headshot and brand photography are central to communicating the personality of your business to your customers. If you are looking to launch a business or just need a refresh, you can contact me here.
Professional Headshot Sessions: Review Your Images On-Site
One of the challenges of my work as a professional photographer is ensuring that I walk away from a photoshoot with images my client will be happy with. Constant reviewing of the shots while I am there and making necessary tweaks keeps surprises from happening later when they see the proofs. The photos go straight to an iPad, where they can be evaluated immediately on a larger screen than what is on the back of my camera. We note little things like a stray hair or un-tucked collar, as well as body stance, lighting and smile quality. Often professional headshot clients are uncomfortable in front of the camera. I am better able to articulate to them what is going on – perhaps smiling stiffly or looking pained – by showing them the photo rather than describing what I see. This communication helps them get more comfortable and we end up with headshots that reflect their personality. On site, real-time review allows us to correct the things we cannot alter after the fact. Elements like skin tone, color and shadows can be edited with Photoshop if need be. This tactic works especially well when I am quickly taking professional headshots for a large group of employees. It shortens the communication process and helps move the photoshoot along.
For brand photography, my client is usually looking to convey a particular message through the shots. On-site review ensures we are telling the right story. Whether they are trying to convey a confident, trustworthy, fun or professional atmosphere, we are able to make adjustments as we go. Perhaps the expected background is too busy or too bland, or the angle of the shot needs to be altered a bit to set the right mood. Again, we correct the elements that are inherent to being in the space and leave the simpler adjustments for the computer. Just like a chef who tastes a dish through every stage of cooking, I adjust as we go during my photoshoots, adding a little bit of this and a little bit of that until we have exactly what my client is looking for.
Miscommunication is prevalent in professional photography because we are trying to describe what we see in our heads. The subtleties within a photo are not always easy to communicate with words. Having the image there to point to offers my client and I a shared vocabulary, making the tweaking process much easier. It’s not my client’s job to know the vocabulary of photography, so using imagery allows us to create a shared vision.
Looking for professional headshots or business photography? You can contact me here.