At LJP, corporate headshots, both in studio as well as environmental portraits are assignments that have happily become the norm for us. It's seemingly the simplest form of commercial photography. But for me, it's one of the many sub categories as the photographer, to choosee to treat each one as if it's the sole job I have and force time to slow from my perspective (although we are always on a time crunch for their schedule). This, I have learned by continued compliments, I am really good at creating together with my subjects.
I call it "our blind date"! Session is set up between their staff and my office manager. We meet for the first time, shake hands, and from there on, I quietly begin to read everything I can about them. From their clothes selection, hair style, personality, ease or unease about their current situation with this session, and most importantly their overall demeanor,: the "vibe" they're giving off as a whole about this session.
The quick observation of people... this, I know I thrive in. Keeping the camera within the studio area, I greet them without it in my hands and use the few moments it takes to bring him/her from our gallery sitting area, through Lisa's office, and into my studio. I thrive at taking the 30 minutes I'm allotted for their portrait and slowing down the minutes into micro moments in order to squeeze all that I can out of this time, while bringing the subject to a calm, REAL version of themselves, which is so often left behind in the sitting area when a camera is picked up.
Minutes 1 - 5: Greeting them, shaking hands, answering any outfit/clothing questions they bring up for conversation, and shifting their focus a bit further away from the moment and back into what they do for a living, how long they've had this position, and taking in their attitude and level of pride they own for their career (what has brought them to needing this portrait).
Minutes 5 - 10: Continuing the conversation while having them seated within my studio lights. Here is where many times they may feel I am "dragging my feet" perhaps because it's 10 minutes into their alotted 30 minute or less time frame and we've yet to even begin shooting. I am reading them still. Did they become more nervous with the studio lights on and positioned within arm's reach away from them, looking like a well-lit operation table. How did they naturally sit on the stool? Slumped with a foot up, over-straightened back and stiff legs, or still have yet sat down (nerves). Or did they sit and just look around, communicating they're just ready to get it done and onto their next appointment? This is probably my favorite time. I love observing their natural positions. We all have our "go to" way of sitting when we are waiting for something. Arms crossed, legs crossed, feet apart... This time also allows me to determine whether their natural positions are flattering or not for their body type. And while we are still talking, (I've asked by now when the last time they've had a professional headshot done and whether they liked it or not) I begin reading the light on their face, and determining what their strongest visual features are (strong jaw, nice hairline, relaxed smile).
Minutes 10-12: Then, standing about a yard or less away, I get immediately in front of them as ask to see their "best fake smile"! Regardless of their demeanor prior, every person cracks into a laugh at the awkwardness of the question, mixed with the closest proximity I've created. I do this to soak up this laugh and the facial changes it creates. (I'm laughing with them at this point.) A few seconds later, when they've realized I won't be moving- I really DO want to see their fake smile, they muster one up. This information, mixed with their laugh prior, gives me what I need for a facial analysis. I mentally assign which side is their strongest, and then have them hold my gaze while shifting their head left to right. (Checking eye muscle strength and which eye is larger of their two - you know we ALL have a bigger eye, right?! That'll be saved for another post within facial assessments!)
Minutes 12-15: It's only now finally time for adjusting my lights accordingly to all I've acquired and observed. While making these minor adjustments (all is largely prepped ahead of time where only small parts may need changes within the shoot), I assure them they are almost done with their session. "But you haven't taken even ONE picture!" (Never said but understandably what they're thinking.) That's correct! I then elaborate, "My process isn't about you sitting in front of what feels like a stadium lit microscope, capturing a tired smile for 30 minutes... but yes, we are about to begin."
Minutes 15-20: This actual shoot time capturing their portrait can last as short as LESS THAN SIXTY SECONDS, or up to but very typically never over five minutes. Why should it? With my process, the literal ONLY thing left is to record what I've already seen, adjusted, and the building through direction of their best angle and light - the hardest part is over. I just have to capture an image while continue providing the right direction in order to preserve what we've built within the last 15 minutes. The portrait has already been built at this point, they just may not have noticed. :) I capture a few images, trusting my inner artist's communication - I know myself by now: When I pull the camera down, I know now that it's BECAUSE I feel like that last image taken was the "one". Or at least, in my opinion, the one... though now it's time to see if I was correct!
Minutes 20-25: I show them what we've captured, share, if requested, my suggested image of the handful we took, and I continue to observe. Are they LOVING it? Do they like it? Impressed by what they look like "straight out of the camera"? If not, my few questions will begin to extract what they see that's holding them back from nothing but a sense of pride in their portrait. On the rare occasions this occurs, within a minute or two, we've determined the one or two things they don't love and this reaffirms their trust with my direction in stance and pose, and we are only a few more clicks away from that "perfect portrait"! "That one is just fine." is never acceptable... I'm out to CHANGE the common feeling of "Ugh. My headshot... bleh." and enjoy the quest for the image(s) they blurt out with excitement upon seeing... "OH wow! Yes! I LOVE these!" It's in there somewhere for us all.
Minutes 25-30: IF we are still within the studio at this time, it's the final capture and more than one visual confirmation of their favorite image. Confirming the spelling of their name, how they will receive the image, and any minor editing requests they may have, on top of the included edits we provide within our session fee. And we are shaking hands (or sometimes a hug is offered, which any Southern girl won't turn down) and I'm walking them to the elevator, asking my final question: So how was it?? The compliments, elaborations or laughs at my unique ways, but obviously successful within the shoot, and their sharing of what they THOUGHT the session would be like are time and time again my "bread and butter" for continuing my love for headshots and corporate portraits.
I've never journaled my process for commercial portraits. I've never thought of it being anything worth writing about. But while watching "Stay Here" on Netflix earlier this week, explaining the blogging process and answering the question of "But what do I write ABOUT?", the host's answer was this: The tasks/views/product you create everyday seem boring to you, yes, because it's part of your daily career. However, to others, sharing what you do, sharing some of these seemingly ordinary-to-you tasks is a joy to read about! It's a mini learning experience for all the others that don't experience these things all the time.
My friend, and the City of Lake Charles' mayor for seventeen years has found his next endeavor since handing over the reigns to Nic Hunter earlier this year. I was thrilled to have him in the studio earlier this week for an updated portrait!