Corporate headshots—they pay so well, and yet for many photographers, they represent the lowest form of photography. The work is repetitive, and yet involves some significant challenges in terms of managing quality and clients.
One of those challenges is managing light during office on-sites. You’ll rarely have the opportunity to scout locations beforehand, and yet you’ll have to bring the right equipment to be prepared for practically anything.
If you end up in a windowless room, you’re in luck. You can just set up your typical studio.
In 90 percent of circumstances, though, you won’t be so lucky, and you’ll have to retrofit a portion of an office floor and/or a conference room with windows.
In those cases, here are the four steps you need to take to get studio-quality portraits in any office environment:
Step 1: Turn Off All Indoor Lights
This is by far the most common mistake I see other photographers making. Miss this step, and you’ll have a client with odd, yellow-tinged skin on portions of their face.
I’ve found it’s almost impossible to white balance correctly in post-production when you have a variety of overhead lights hitting the subject’s face/head from different directions.
Photo-wide corrections are easy, but blending changes on specific parts of people’s faces is incredibly difficult and time-consuming.
To prevent various temperatures of light from hitting the subject, the first thing you should do is turn off all indoor lights.
I’ll sometimes get comments from clients on how “dark” the room is, but they’re universally ecstatic when looking at the end result.
Step 2: Position the Backdrop and Check for Reflective Surfaces
The next step is to position your backdrop in a location that A) gives you enough space to shoot and B) is at least five feet from any reflective surfaces.
You do not want random overexposed spots on your subject’s face due to your flash reflecting off of reflective surfaces.
Here’s a checklist of stuff to look for and avoid:
- Windows that have not been blocked from the outside
- Artwork framed in glass
- White boards/dry erase boards
- Big-screen TVs
Step 3: Block Out Light Contamination (Enter Mobile Backdrops)
The next step is to block out any light contamination from outside sources. If possible, all windows and doors should be covered.
The easiest way to accomplish this is with mobile backdrops. I will carry a gym bag full of these guys to every office shoot. They’re light, don’t require stands, and can be folded into a smaller space for travel.
As an aside, you could technically block the windows using stands and blankets, but I’ve found that to 1) be a nuisance to set up/break down and 2) look unprofessional.
For reference, it takes me about 10 minutes to set up in total. This is much shorter than most other setups.
I recommend bringing no less than four with you to every on-site, and even that quantity will easily fit in a gym bag when folded.
Step 4: Evenly Light the Face
If light contamination is not completely blocked, make sure it lands on the subject’s face evenly.
In some cases, you’ll have such a big conference room or office space that you won’t be able to block all the windows. When in doubt, back yourself into a corner or other space where your light is evenly hitting the subject.
Then, if you reset your white balance at the beginning of the shoot, your editing process should be easy.
And here are some photos from this shoot:
Follows these four steps, and you can turn any office into a proper studio in just 10 minutes flat! This process will make your on-site photography sessions a breeze and leave you with happier clients every time.
About the Author
Dan St Louis is the Owner and Head Photographer at HeadShots Inc, a headshot photography studio based in San Francisco. To see more of his work, you can go to his website and follow him on LinkedIn.
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