Taking corporate head shots is a great way to make some money, and play your cards right and it can be very lucrative. There are thousands of businesses and companies and many of these need corporate head shots of the directors, business owners, senior staff members and key employees for marketing and advertising material, business brochures, the company notice board and the company’s website.
The market for corporate head shot photographers is huge, and with fewer photographers trying to exploit it than in other sectors (such as the wedding photography sector for example) the competition is not so fierce. Yep, there is definitely money to be made taking corporate head shots and if you are not exploiting this and offering head shot photography services I have to ask the question, why not?
Camera for corporate head shots
Arguably, you can use any camera to capture corporate head shots, and over the years I have taken commercial head shots with a point and shoot camera (a Canon G1X), a mirrorless camera (Olympus EPL) and a dslr (which is my camera of choice). In my experience you need an interchangeable lens camera for the best corporate head shots.
Many photographers argue you need full frame cameras for corporate head shots. Full frame cameras do have the best image quality but the image quality of a crop sensor camera is more than good enough to capture commercial head shots.
I use a full frame camera for my corporate head shots (a Canon 6D) but this is only because I upgraded to a full frame camera for landscape photography. Prior to the 6D I used a crop sensor Canon 7D and this produced corporate head shots that were more than good enough for commercial use.
Unlike other types of photography where you need the camera with the highest image quality you can afford, this is not necessary for taking corporate head shots. The photos are not going to be blown up to bill board size, and most of the shots are going to be low resolution for marketing purposes or internet use so a prosumer level camera is all you need, unless you want to use a full frame or medium format camera of course.
Lenses for corporate head shots
You can use any portrait lens for corporate head shots, and the popular ones are primes with focal lengths of 35mm, 50mm and 85mm. Prime lenses are sharper than zoom lenses, but when taking portrait photos a slightly softer lens is better. A super sharp lens will show every spot, blemish, imperfection and variation in skin tone, none of which result in good portraits.
Whenever I take corporate head shots I like to get in close and personal to the subject as this captures a catch light in their eyes and leads to more engaging photos. Getting in close to the subject for these shots requires a wide lens.
I also like to vary the shooting position and take photos from different heights and angles. This requires using different focal lengths and the only way to achieve this quickly and efficiently, i.e. without changing lenses, is to use a zoom lens. At the end of the day you can use a prime lens or a zoom lens for taking corporate head shots, however I only ever use zoom lenses.
The lens I use for all my corporate head shots is the 24mm – 70mm f2.8 lens, and since I shoot Canon my lens of choice is the 24-70 f2.8L, and it is the best tool for the job. The 24mm-70mm covers all the focal lengths I use for taking head shots and being a zoom lens means I can quickly vary the focal length to frame the shot the way I want to. Like all Canon L series lenses (and I only shoot L series lenses nowadays), the 24-70 f2.8L is tough, durable and uses the best optics. The image quality is superb, and whilst it is a sharp lens it is not too sharp to show the subjects’ imperfections.
Lighting equipment for corporate head shots
Ideally you want to take corporate head shots outside in natural daylight since you won’t be plagued with nasty color casts. Even if you have to use a flash or strobe to add a bit more light, color casts will not cause any problems because they are daylight balanced.
If you have to take the head shot photos indoors you need to consider the lighting. Interior lights are different temperatures and when you mix natural ambient light and artificial light color casts can be an issue, and you have to know how to deal with them and be comfortable balancing the light sources.
Balancing light sources is a real faff, and it is something I try to avoid at all costs. Rather than balancing light I either use ambient light or a mixture of ambient light and flash.
I insist all artificial lights are turned off to make sure I don’t have to balance different light sources.
You should use even lighting (i.e. flat) for corporate head shots to create a well exposed photo. Corporate head shots are typically taken on location so a simple and manageable lighting system works best.
The lighting system I use to take corporate head shots consists of a Godox Witstro AD360, which is a battery powered flash that is a little bigger than a speed light (hence it is lightweight and portable) but more powerful, so I can get that extra oomph when I need it. The Godox Witstro AD360 sits between a speed light and a studio strobe and offers the best compromise between power and portability. Here's an honest review of the Godox Witstro AD360.
I use the Witstro as the key light off camera, and I fire it using the Yongnuo 622 radio triggers. I place the key light to the right of the subject and place a large reflector the other side to bounce the light back on the subject and fill in the shadows. I also keep a Godox Ving 860 speed light on the camera’s hot shoe as a fill in flash.
I find the most efficient way to take corporate head shots is to set up the light and the reflector and set the power for a correct flash exposure using a flash meter. Setting the flash power manually results in consistent exposures time and time again. Because of the way I shoot, i.e. without a tripod and moving around the subject snapping from different positions, heights and angles, I set the on-camera fill flash in ETTL mode and tweak the power using the camera’s flash exposure compensation as necessary.
Photography backgrounds for corporate photography
The current trend is to not use photography backgrounds for corporate head shots, and use the workplace as the background. Okay, I appreciate using the workplace as a background does provide some background interest, and put the photo in context however is this such a good thing? I mean, using the workplace as the background could be too distracting and take the attention away from the subject, which is not good.
You can intentionally throw the background out of focus using a wide aperture and leaving some distance between the model and the background however this is not always possible. Many workplaces are small and tight on space and getting sufficient space between the subject and the background to throw the background out of focus isn’t possible.
Whenever I am asked to take corporate head shots I always take a plain photography background, even if the boss has asked the photos are taken using the workplace for background. Many clients aren’t aware of the problems in throwing the background out of focus, and many clients seem to think that using the workplace for the background will result in the best photos, which is seldom the case.
There are many advantage using a plain photography background for corporate head shots and taking a background on all of my corporate head shot jobs allows me to take photos with and without the background and give the client the option to select which they think works best for their particular needs.
Skills required for corporate head shots
The skills you need to take good corporate head shots includes:-
Charging to take corporate head shots
How much should you charge for taking corporate head shots? The answer to this is the most you can get away with, however quantifying this figure isn’t so clear cut.
Photography prices vary from continent to continent, country to country, region to region and even city to city, and what may be considered the going rate in one location is going to be considered way too expensive in another location, and too cheap in another location. The trick to being a successful corporate head shot photographer is to know your market and price your services accordingly.
The idea is to set the prices for your corporate head shots low enough to win the photography contracts but high enough to actually make some money and make it all worthwhile.
Keen photographer addicted to cameras, lenses and everything photography related. Feel free to follow me in my photography ramblings, and if you have any thoughts, comments, queries or anything else to add I would love to hear from you.
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