Craig Sherod Photography


Corporate Photography: Headshots – Part 2


In Part 1 of this blog post, I talked about how to choose the type of corporate portrait that’s right for you. In Part 2, I’ll discuss a few issues that are common when considering any type of business portrait, such as clothing choice, styling, and retouching.

“What should I wear?” is the most common question I’m asked by my clients. There’s no right answer to this question but I do have a guiding principle: Clothing should not distract the viewer’s eye from going directly to the subject’s face. Typically, this means controlling the amount of strong colors and patterns in the clothing you choose.

If you saw a headshot of a man wearing a red sport coat, can you guess where your eyes would go first? I bet you’ll agree it would not go to his face. How about if he wore a black sport coat with white stripes? In this case the black color is fine but the pattern attracts our eyes this time. How about just a plain white dress shirt (no coat)? Certainly, that can’t be a problem? Actually, surrounding your face in a large area of a very light color also attracts the viewer’s eye. (And there can be other unflattering side-effects of that choice too.)

So what works best? For men, I recommend a non-patterned dark sport/suit coat with a crisp light-colored shirt underneath. Why does the light-colored shirt work now when it didn’t work on its own? Answer: Quantity. You’re only seeing a sliver of the bright shirt now.   Also, the part of the shirt that’s visible is forming the shape of a triangle (a powerful shape in visual design) that leads the eye directly to the face. And the dark coat is what’s called “negative space” in design terms; So the dark coat is less about formality more about surrounding you in something in which the eye is not very interested. Finally, what about a tie? Since it’s not a huge piece of cloth, you can get away with a tasteful splash of color and pattern here. It’s a great accent without being too distracting. You can present a very professional appearance with or without a tie. Of course, that assumes that your coat looks good and the shirt is crisp, well fitting, and reasonably new (ie, no pills!).

Women have a little more latitude than men when it comes to clothing choices that work in a corporate photo, but the same principle still applies (ie, what you wear should not distract). Typically, women can wear more color and pattern than men before it becomes a distraction. Perhaps it’s because we’ve become accustomed to more color and pattern in women’s clothing. The problem areas that I notice most often for women are jewelry and makeup. As you might guess, I’m referring to “too much” jewelry and makeup. Not that they make a bad photo but they don’t look “corporate.” Imagine your headshot on the company website next to the photos of your male peers and ask yourself if it fits in. Jewelry and makeup should be subtle. Lipstick should be conservative and not too shiny. And speaking of shiny, I’m not a fan of makeup that gives a moist look to the skin. It looks fine in person but the shine is rarely good for the portrait because of all the lights being used. The lights come from many angles and that creates bright reflective lines and patches that are unintended. A light face powder is usually ideal…even for the guys (and I carry powders for exactly that purpose).

Having a good hair and makeup stylist on the set is a wonderful thing. When I’m doing headshots for a team of executives, the client will often spring for a stylist. It’s a lot of bang for the buck when you spread the cost of the stylist across 15 portraits. In this situation, I will usually allow each subject 10-15 minutes with the stylist immediately before his or her 10-15 minute portrait session with me. After styling, the subject looks very natural (not ‘made up’) – a better version of themselves. A talented stylist does wonderful things with skin texture, wrinkles, dark circles under the eyes, and more. And it shows in the photos too. The people look better and seem to have more confidence too, so I love it when there is budget for a stylist. Could I get the same effect as the stylist by using Photoshop? Not completely. The crows feet and circles under the eyes can be fixed in Photoshop but the overall texture and color of the skin is hard to manufacture in Photoshop. And the stylist knows how to control shiny skin too, which is time-consuming to fix in the computer.

What is retouching? It’s one of those words that people understand but it’s boundaries and not clear. I like to use the terms “adjustments” and “retouching” for the processes that happen to your portrait in the computer. I use a program called Adobe Lightroom to organize and view all the images after the shoot. It also allows me to make a lot of useful adjustments to the image without going into it’s big brother, Adobe Photoshop. In Lightroom, I will adjust things like brightness, contrast, color balance, sharpness, and many more things. I can even apply a non-permanent crop to the images and create a gallery from which the client can make selections. Often times, “adjustments” are all that’s needed by the client. Other times, the client wants to look their absolute best and that’s when true retouching with Photoshop comes in. Almost anything is possible in Photoshop, given enough time. But since time is money, we need to strike a balance and I find that I can usually achieve a lot in 15-20 minutes. During that time, I’m fixing things like stray or out of place hairs, lint and wrinkles on the clothes, shiny skin, blemishes, crows feet, dark circles under the eyes, bloodshot eyes, yellowed teeth, neck wrinkles, and more. It’s even possible to make a person look thinner, and reduce double chins but that takes a bit more time usually. I always do the “adjustments” at no charge but true “retouching” is an inexpensive optional expense.

I hope this helps you prepare for your next corporate headshot!



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Craig Sherod Photography