(Editor’s Note: We welcome this guest post from James Maher. James is a New York corporate portrait and headshot photographer.)
For any photography business that specializes in portraits and headshots, working with businesses can be an extremely important part of your business, whether it’s large law firms or small restaurants.
However, corporate portraits are much different from family and creative portrait sessions and there are a variety of aspects to consider to make sure you are as successful as possible.
1. Make business people comfortable
I remember my first few big jobs. Walking into a law firm and having to photograph 15 busy lawyers in the middle of their busy days. You are the last person they want to see. You have 15 minutes to get the perfect photo of them, but they would prefer to be out of there in 10. What do you do?
Did I scare you? The first thing is to not panic! It’s your job to be the happy and comfortable one, so fake it till you make it. Over time you will get used to these moments and they won’t phase you, but it’s tough.
In the course a 15-person day, you will have some people who are super friendly until they freeze up in front of the camera, busy people who give you the perfect smile and then leave quickly, as well as people who are somewhere in between those two extremes (which is most people).
The first key is to explain upfront what you are doing and what they need to do. The last thing they want to do is to sit in front of a camera and lights with no direction. Show them the body position you want them in or ask them to collaborate on a position that feels comfortable for them. How much of a smile do you want? Do you want them to move a little and try a few different expressions and poses in between shots or would you prefer them to hold a pose until you ask them to switch?
The next and main key is to get them talking a little. Ask them a question or two to interact with you. This will let their guard down a little and help them to forget they are being photographed. There are some people who you’ll meet and decide that they’re all business and do not want to have much of a conversation, but for most, this will be welcomed and help out your cause significantly.
Over time, you’ll gain some canned comments and jokes that will work well and you will be able to read people better to get them to open up. For instance, if I ask someone to smile more and they give me a deer in headlights look, I might joke something like, ‘Oh, no, definitely don’t smile like that!’ That usually works for a lot of people (but I don’t use that on everyone).
2. Be as professional as possible
Here are my keys to being as professional as possible:
Have a contract
When working with businesses you need one. You can purchase one from TheLawTog or hire a local lawyer to write one up and you can use it over and over again.
Provide an official invoice
If someone asks you for a price, email it to them as a branded quote. This is a nice touch that they can show to their bosses if needed.
Dress the part
It’s better to overdress than underdress in business environments.
Learn all of the details and explain exactly what you will provide
You need to know what you are getting into before the shoot starts and you need to explain to the client what they will be getting from you, from the photography to the retouching.
Price yourself well
Good portraits will help a business relate to their customers and improve their bottom line. Price for your expenses, travel time, photography and the retouching time needed. And an important question that you can always ask for tricky pricing situations is, ‘What is your budget?’ Explain to them that you can provide different levels of services for different price points and figure out what they can pay.
3. Work on-location with a portable studio
Businesses will love it when you come to them, so create a portable studio to take on location. As ISOs have improved in cameras, I now mostly use Canon flashes with softboxes and umbrellas, which is much more portable than the more powerful strobes that I used to use. Instead of shooting at ISO 100 or 200, I now shoot at ISO 800 or 1600 and nobody knows the difference.
4. Use the office as a backdrop
Many businesses will want seamless backdrops for their portraits, but I love the look of using a good looking office as a background. It shows personality and feels more intimate to potential clients and customers, and you can get creative with it!
Seamless backdrops are easier to work with for big groups and thus you can offer a better price and make your life easier, so they are preferable for certain situations. But office backdrops with one light are not very difficult, they can help you stand out from the crowd and they are very fun to work with!
5. To smile or not?
Each person has a level of smile that they are comfortable with and it’s important to figure this out and to have them feeling natural as possible (although this is unfortunately not always possible with some people).
I personally find business portraits without any smile to be a little stuffy and old-fashioned, but for a few people, it’s the right way to go. You can even work to get a very slight but not too perceptible smile — for example, the friendly business look. But basically, try to bring as much relatability as possible to your portraits.
6. Impress the person who hires you
Work hard to charm the person who hired you. The job of organizing a big corporate shoot with busy schedules is not a fun one and the easier you make their job and more fun you are to work with, the more excited they will be to hire you again. And it’s much easier to get rehired by a firm than it is to get hired by a new one.
For big jobs, send a written thank you note. It’s a nice touch that will go a long way.