By Douglas Gritz
NexusTek first called me a few years ago to come create headshots of the their Denver staff. They are a fast growing company and over the last few years have had me return a number of times to create headshots for new staff members as they add them.
As happens often, a client will hire me for one thing and then when they see the results and are pleased with them they will ask me if I also shoot this, or shoot that. The answer is always “yes”, whether or not it is something I have shot before.
In my mind, I’m a photographer, so when somebody asks me what I shoot, my response is best summed up by Marlon Brando’s famous line from the “The Wild One” — whuddya got?
So last week in addition to headshots of new staff, I also created for NexusTek corporate portraits of their executives that they can use for press and industry publications.
They needed corporate portraits of eight people … and we only had a couple hours with which to do them. Corporate portraits are a different animal from headshots. With headshots you throw up a background and lights once and move people in and out. With portraits, it takes time to scout a location, light it, solve whatever problems exist with unwanted background elements, house lights, ambient light, and props (and there will always be problems) and then get the subject moved in, comfortable and posed. Doing that eight different times would require nearly a full day.
So I made my client aware of that and we hatched a plan to do two different setups with four people for each one. Once I finished up the headshots, I worked with my contact to scout a couple of locations around the office we could use for the corporate portraits.
Most offices are pretty uninteresting from a visual sense and NexusTek’s is no different. Most office walls and furnishing are some shade of white, grey, or black, so I always look for color and windows. I like windows because they bring a sense of life to the portraits. And color adds visual interest and contrast.
So while I was scouting with my contact I found a little corner where they had set up a kind of sitting area. It had dull beige walls, but in the corner was a beam painted red … and surrounded by windows. Ladies and gentlemen, we just found our first backdrop!
This being winter, the sun was setting quick, so I had to work fast to light the scene so I could take advantage of the sun. I set up key light and then put a light off camera left and directed it toward the sitting area so I could create a little shape of light on the beam and bring out the warm gold tones of the wood table. These four images above represent the results taken with the sun in various positions as it set over the Rocky Mountains.
We almost got all four in before the sun set, except our last subject was tied up in a meeting. Fortunately he was able to get out of it while it was still twilight, so I was able to get some light and color in the sky and avoid total darkness.
The portraits photos above represent our second location. For portraits, in addition to color and windows, I will look for geometry. NexusTek had a desk layout of six stations that wasn’t be used. Each station was surrounded on three sides by frosted partitions. I saw that and thought, hmmm, I like the geometry of that. So I pulled out my camera and framed up a test shot using those partitions in the foreground. I showed it to my contact and she liked it. So I proceeded to light it.
The background was a farm of cubicles. I turned off the overhead lights in the middle ground but you can still see overheads in the very back of the background. Those I left on because I needed them as a visual element and their geometry complemented the geometry of the foreground (later in Photoshop I created a mask to color correct for their green cast in just that portion of the image). Then I took one of my lights and directed it toward the cubicle wall on the left behind the subject’s head.
In the first portrait of this series, we still had the sun helping us out with some natural streaks of light perfectly hitting the frosted glass. Usually the sun is a beast I am constantly fighting and trying to tame, but once in a while it decides it wants to be on my side.
Finally, here are the headshots I did earlier in the day.