By Douglas Gritz
Photographer, Denver, Colorado
Face It Together, a nonprofit based in South Dakota, is opening a new office in Denver.
They needed headshots for their Denver staff and looked to me to help.
I was instructed that the new photos of their Denver staff needed to resemble the style of the portraits of their South Dakota staff.
This is what they look like:
The feel of these is airy, contemporary, friendly, and organic. That’s the good.
The bad is that they are not consistent in terms of both the background and the lighting. Consistency in your staff portraits or headshots is important — it shows you are organized and pay attention to detail. More companies than not have mismatched photos or inconsistencies on their staff webpages. Often this happens as new staff are added and a new photographer is brought in, or the company has changes locations, which makes replicating existing styles challenging.
So for this new Denver office, we had a chance to start off on the right foot and create staff portraits that are consistent with each other.
The other photography aspect I wanted to improve upon in the new staff portraits was the depth. In the existing staff photos, the subjects are placed right on top of the background. This is undesirable because it renders in focus background elements, like the texture of the brick, that then compete for the viewer’s attention. Ideally, the background should be distant and out-of-focus so that the attention remains firmly focused on the subject’s face.
Typically with headshots I work with a backdrop, which makes things easy on location. All I need is a large, semi-private space like a conference room. Working with an existing environment is significantly more challenging. First, there needs to be adequate space available between subject and background. Second, the background choice must be carefully considered — you want graphic elements, pleasing tones, not too dark or too bright, and minimize any areas that might blow out, like a window. A few bright spots are good, such as in the photo above. They can add a sense of life to the portrait. But if there are too many or they are too big, then viewer’s attention starts to drift from the face and to those bright areas in the photo.
The third challenge is traffic. Ideally you want a spot where people would not be walking around in the background. Having to wait for the background to clear can be distracting both the photographer and the subject.
That said, you can’t always get all three and if I have to sacrifice one, it’s that last one. And that was the situation I had to work with at Face It Together’s new Denver office.
Another challenge with photographing staff in an open environment is existing office lighting. I travel with a lot of gear in the back of my car to deal exactly with those kinds of obstacles. Here is my final lighting set-up at the Denver office.
As you can see there are a number of track lights high above. Three of them were pointed right at the spot I had chosen to to place each staff person for their portrait.
What to do? Well, I could have just flipped the light switch too “off.” But I needed some of those track lights working on my background. So out to the back of my car I went. I dragged back in a few C-stands and flags (I like to use foam board because it is cheap and can be cut so it folds and pacts away compactly).
Once I got those flags in place I was ready to go. We had a great photo session and several staff members expressed to me how much they enjoyed it (a significant compliment as most people never enjoy getting their photo taken!) and how much they liked their new portrait. My contact left me this kind review following delivery of the final images.
“Super professional; great photos that everyone loved”
Below are a selection of the final post-processed staff photos. I left these with a more generous crop than I usually like because they will be putting a circle around them for use on their company website.