There’s a wide spectrum of headshots out on the market today, and I’m here to talk about the top end of the scale – the Commercial Headshot.
While most headshots are used to sell to some extent, the commercial headshot is targeted to businesses whose people, employees, partners, etc., are an integral, customer-facing asset of their brand. If you have your employee’s headshots on your website, then your firm has made a judgment call that showing the people behind the business is important to your success. It’s a smart move too. As people are increasingly routed to overseas call centers and less than ideal service slowly becomes the norm, putting a face behind the transactions of your business creates an immediate personal connection that can set you above the noise of a crowded marketplace. But beware, if you’re going to go this route, do it well. Just like any other marketing initiative, it will serve you well to invest in great shots that will last and provide the image you want to project. Here are a few tips I share with my clients to ensure their investment is a good one:
Choose a consistent background for your headshots. As with any branded initiative, consistency is king. It’s a smart move as your company grows and/or changes staff, meaning you can replicate the look time and time again (and even throughout locations for national/international firms), without creative drift. I favor pure white because it’s got a great contemporary flair to it, it blends easily into a white background on the web, and it’s about the only background that can be replicated flawlessly over time. You can even have the background color changed later if you so desire by “clipping” the heads out from the background. They also look much better when shown as a team on a single page.
Finding a quality photographer that’s easy to work with for the long haul makes this a no-brainer. You don’t need to buy an off-the-shelf headshot look either. A great headshot photographer will be able to translate your direction/brand guidelines into the headshots you need, and then be able to produce them on-demand, as needed. I recommend a fully-lit shot, without the drama of shadows or other wizardry that might date you in a year. A well and evenly lit headshot always looks good and is flattering with men and women of all shapes, sizes and colors. Finding a headshot photographer that has their own studio, where you can send new hires is smart to, as this alternative will be far less disruptive to your office when you need new headshots.
Match your headshot’s wardrobe to the same that you would wear while interacting with your clients in person. Think tradeshow attire. In general, Seattle has a very casual work attire policy, and may be a little too relaxed for some firms. While creative firms are encouraged to be your true quirky selves for headshots, some might not want their customer service manager, clad in his vintage 80’s AC/DC concert shirt, living on their website for three years. Create a reasonable standard and stick with it unless, like a creative agency, your brand derives legitimacy from its team’s personality and individual style.
I’ve been called into firms to re-shoot entire teams because the previous photographer had shot everyone in the most awkward of poses. In one case in particular, the previous photographer used a mix of shockingly inappropriate attempts at humor, combined with poor posing technique to catch everyone at their worst. A good headshot photographer rolls at a relaxed pace, keeps things light and, ideally, catches you at your best without ever knowing you were being posed. Granted, even I go over the basics up-front, but after those are out of the way, if we end the session and you say, “That’s it?” then I’ve likely done a my job of making a great headshot.
- Communicate with Your Photographer (and vice versa)
The aforementioned thoughts on posing are a great place to call attention to your need to speak up if something isn’t going to way you’d envisioned. In the situation above, I found out that the whole team knew the sessions weren’t going well. Everyone from the employees to the Creative Director was frozen in disbelief, as their headshot budget was disappearing before their eyes.
First, there is no better way to ensure nothing changes than being silent. A good shooter has more than one trick, so have them take a break, have a polite, yet frank chat with them about what isn’t working and re-boot. While personality conflicts can be a deal-breaker, often it’s more about lighting or poses, and those are easy fixes that are best addressed early in the shoot to get the consistent work that you love.
Second, I, as the photographer owes you some very clear communication, and nowhere is that more important then in the work I’m delivering, as we get it. For that reason, there is NO excuse today for a professional commercial headshot photographer to be on a shoot without being tethered to a computer. None. Shooting tethered is my responsibility to you as a good communicator. It means you see immediate results on a computer screen as you go, and those little “we can take care of that in post” promises can be vetted on the spot, ensuring you’re getting exactly what you want, with no surprises. I also use my laptop screen to intermittently check-in with the people being shot, making sure they are happy, and showing them examples of how the direction I’m giving them works to put them at their best. While some don’t ever want to look, it becomes a fun way to relax most people for a headshot session. The majority usually even comment on how great they look because they’ve never seen themselves lit so professionally.
Feel free to reach out with any questions!