Recently I was asked to take staff portraits for a charity for their website and publications. This article is about some of the challenges that I encountered. If you do similar kind of work then you might identify some of the issues I faced in this assignment. Blow is the list of gear I had on this shoot:
1. Nikon D3
2. CF cards 8GB (x2) + 16GB (x1)
3. Remote release
4. Nikon 85mm f1.8mm & 50mm f1.4 lens
5. Fujifilm XT-1 (Back up)
6. Fuji 18mm & 35mm & 60mm lens (back up)
7. Spare batteries (x 2)
8. Pocketwizards (x 3)
9. Nikon SB800 (x 2)
10. Vivitar 283 (backup only)
11. Minolta lightmeter
12. Eneloop batteries (5 sets)
13. Lighting stands (x2)
14. Reflective brollies (x2)
15. MeFoto Tripod
The camera kit went on a luggage trolley and the lighting stand and umbrellas were transported in a lighting case.
TRANSPORT: When travelling by public transport there is only limited amount of gear you can carry. My last shoot for a charity was in London; 10 minutes walk away from Victoria station. I was grateful for the dry weather. Taxi would have been great but when you are working on a low budget you have to work out your expenses very carefully.
STUDIO SPACE: I was told that the boardroom had white walls. However, there was very limited amount of free space in the room. The long tables were not easy to fold and put away. The metal chairs with soft cushions were great to sit on but very heavy to move. Moreover, they were not stackable. On a corporate shoot you have to make the most of the space available.
LIGHTING SET UP: To keep things simple I had to go for a two light set up. For individuals portraits I chose a corner of the room that had a bit of space and set up my two SB 800s reflecting through two 43” silver umbrellas. I find that I have better light control with reflecting brollies than with shoot through type, which tend to spread the light everywhere. One of my SB800 was set to 1/4 power and the other one at 1/16th to give me the right lighting ratio.
Another big problem encountered was that the boardroom ceiling height which was only 7’ high. This meant that I couldn’t raise the umbrellas high enough to get the shadow of the nose in the right place!
I quite like to do some portraits with folks standing up and leaning against the wall. However, other protruding building structures made that difficult as well. Therefore most portraits had to be done with folks sitting on an office chair.
I varied the lighting from person to person, softer for females and slightly harder on males. I also used one of the SB800 through a Rogue honeycomb for accent light. For the group shot I used Fuji XT-1 with 18mm lens lit by two SB800 reflected through silver umbrellas.
For individual portraits I used
Nikon D3 with 85mm lens
Aperture f5.6 – 8
I shot all the images in RAW. Even though the white balance was set to flash I had to correct it in post.
Practicalities apart, I believe the most important aspect of shooting corporate portraits is exploring the personality of the sitter in a short period you have with them, if you can, and reflecting that in the shot. Most sitters are generally self-conscious and nervous to start with and it’s our job as portrait photographers to help them feel relaxed. It can be a challenge sometimes but, to me, it’s all about building a relationship with the sitter and helping the person to enjoy the photographic experience. To achieve that the camera on a tripod helps but it can also slow you down. So, for the sake of the time limitations I didn’t use it.
I quite like meeting new people interacting with them which makes my work very enjoyable. I can’t say I am an extravert but I am interested in people, which makes my work very enjoyable. My greatest satisfaction comes from giving my sitters a enjoyable experience of being photographed. Of course my ultimate aim is to give my clients images that they love!