For the past couple years I have been doing some corporate photography for a Washington D.C. law firm called Clearspire, which has been a very interesting group of people to get to know and to work with. Starting from the ground up, we worked together to establish a unified look for the photography their website and materials that might promote this unique firm. From the start I’ve known that the firm would be hiring new members around the country and overseas, so this posting is done in order to provide some guidance about how other photographers, shooting in locations where new Clearspire attorneys are hired, might try to replicate some of the work that has been done so far so that there is a consistent look to the site as the company expands.
For all the Founders and also the lawyers and staff who have been brought in to Clearspire, we had two very specific types of portraits that had to be created:
First, there was a desire to create a nice environmental portrait of each individual that could be used as a thumbnail on the website, and when clicked on, would appear adjacent to some biographical information. Rather than trying to make these static portraits, there was a desire to make the people appear accessible and somewhat interactive, almost as though you might be seated across from them in conversation or at least in the room observing or participating in the action.
I approached these photographic challenges in a couple of different ways. I say, “challenges,” because in most cases there wasn’t much real interaction taking place, and the offices where we made these photos are somewhat spartan in their trappings. The idea behind the firm is that most of the lawyers can work from home, so the offices are mostly used for conferences and training and aren’t elaborately furnished or decorated.
In general, I am using one large umbrella (48”) with a speedlight about 45˚ off to the side from the subject, generally set so that it is only about ½ stop brighter than the ambient. But in the conference room photo above, I'm just bouncing a couple speedlights off the wall in relatively small room. In a few cases I’ve used a small speedlight in the back to light architectural elements or to backlight the subject so that there is a small amount of separation from the background, as with the woman above standing in the reception area of the office suite.
In these photos we don’t want the background to fall off to black, so meter the ambient carefully and use that for your baseline exposure.
For portraits shot when the subject is seated, it’s often useful to have the person leaning in toward the camera just a bit, as though they might be stressing a point while chatting. And it’s often very useful to ask the subject to hold something. Clearspire is a very tech-savvy firm, and lawyers do much of their work from iPads and Mac laptops, which can make for decent props. In order to have iPad screens not simply appear black, it’s a good idea to ask people to turn up the brightness all the way and also to have some app running that is fairly bright (the “field” of apps as they float on the screen is pretty dark overall: books and publications are often good to have on screen, as they often have white or light backgrounds.) You can see here that the screen is not on at all, but so little of it is showing that it's not as distracting as it might otherwise be.
All of these environmental portraits have ended up running as verticals. On the website the viewer is first shown a color thumbnail cut from the larger image, so you need to keep the images uncluttered, and then when you click on the thumbnail or information link a larger version is shown in black & white. Shoot and deliver everything in color. Some photos I've composed as horizontals, but with the awareness that they will probably be cropped, as the photo below was. As all these are being turned over to a design firm, it is good to give a little bit of variety while trying to stay within the guidelines I've talked about here.
The other requirement has been to produce a series of three clean, simple variations on the standard mugshot for use in the company’s internal communication platform, which is accessible to some degree by clients, and some of the images are also used for the lawyers’ LinkedIn profiles as well. There are three settings that need to be created on a white background (I used a Savage bright white seamless):
- A “straight-on” headshot. Generally I’ve had the subjects rotate their shoulders a tiny bit to the right to add a little bit of depth.
- An “I’m on the phone” photo, where the subject holds an iphone up to their ear like they are talking. Again, the person is rotated a tiny bit to their right, so their right shoulder is back, and it’s a good idea to have them hold the phone in their right hand so that it doesn’t block off the body. Also, we’ve found that it’s better if the person holds the phone just a centimeter or so away from their face, because when it’s pressed right in to the cheek it both obscures the phone and can distort the cheeks a little.
- An “I’m busy now, don’t interrupt me” photo, where the subject holds one hand out in the traditional “stop” gesture like a traffic cop would. It’s important to make sure that the hand is perpendicular to the floor, so that it doesn’t end up looking like a fascist salute in the 1930’s.
Many thanks to LightingDiagrams.com for creating the files that I used to show the lighting setups.