If you are good with portrait photography probably at one point you would be looking to jump in to the lucrative business portrait segment. Shooting a business portrait, however, is a different ball game altogether. This is completely different to what you have been shooting thus far. This is despite many of the same techniques that you have been using in other portrait genres like – wedding and family and so on, being similarly applicable to shooting a business portrait.

This tutorial is more about understanding how to approach shooting a business portrait; the lighting arrangements, use of different backgrounds as well as how to communicate with your clients during the shoot. If you are interested getting into the business portrait side of photography this tutorial is for you.

Establishing the client’s expectations

business portrait photography tips

Sometimes, when you go in to meet a client for a business portrait, s/he is quite clear as to what s/he wants. S/he might hand over a collection of photos on a tab and say I like this style. This leaves very little room to negotiate and introduce new ideas. At other times though, your client may be willing to give you an open hand.

In the second scenario you obviously have a lot more freedom to shape the images and guide your client. S/he may be clueless as to the right look, pose or style. This is where your experience as a portrait shooter comes in to the equation.

Either way, establishing the client’s expectations very early will help you to understand the requirement and then accordingly take the discussion forward. The last thing you would want is a miscommunication or a discussion where you and your client are on different tracks.

Scout the location for everything

Scout the location for ambient light, background and vantage areas where you conduct the photo session. Ambient light is important for environmental shoots as otherwise you will need to carry a whole lot more lights. It comes in handy as a fill light, as a background light and even as a key light in some situations. Though, ideally, the key light should be an artificial light if the shoot is indoors.

Scout for ambient light

Ambient light is very useful for lighting up the background when you want the shoot to incorporate the environment. Otherwise you will need a lot more lights to carry. Let’s say the kitchen of a restaurant. If there are a large number of lights in the kitchen along with large windows that has abundant sunlight flooding in you will not need a lot of light.

Scout for a good Background

scout for a good background

After all that we have just learnt, it would be an understatement to say that the background assumes critical importance for environmental portraits. It is nearly as important as is the lighting for your business portraits.

What is also important is that you should balance the exposure for the background and the subject in a way so that you have a more or less same exposure across the image. That will save you from extensive post processing after the session is over. I have discussed about tools to balance an exposure in the paragraph related with ‘light shaper tools’.

Scout for a vantage point to shoot the images

Where would you shoot the portraits? This question is ostensibly related with any location business portraits. If you are shooting in your own studio obviously this question does not arise at all. You have your own setup and you would be using it. But at a client location, you have to have a clear idea as to what the client needs and what you are going to deliver. It would be your job to scout the perfect location for the portraits.

If your job is to photograph a bunch of employees at your client’s location you need a place where the light is constant, you can set-up some extra lights you bring in and no one’s going to disturb as you do your work. A couple of chairs for your subjects to wait for their turn, when there are a lot of portraits to be done, will help as well. If you just need one image (OK may be a few more than just 1) the pressure to deliver does not diminish. You still need a good location and a lot of light.

Style of shoot

The style of shoot is a logical derivation of your discussion with the client and after establishing the client’s expectations. If this is to be an environmental portrait, you will have no choice but to incorporate the work place of your client in to the image. Of course the style as well as lighting will depend on the work place.

Let’s say that the owner of a restaurant wants to have a business portrait made. The important thing to note is that this would work better as an environmental portrait. A restaurant needs to be airy, roomy and a lively place. So, a brightly lit background that incorporates the restaurant interior would work well. Also, you could incorporate the dress code of the restaurant. Another background option is the entrance of the restaurant.

business portrait ideas

If the restaurant owner wants business portraits of his chef and his waiters for a handout or some advertisement you would have to think in a slightly different route. Sure, the bright background will work in all of the above situations, but you have to think specifically about which background to use. The chef would look at home in the kitchen. A restaurant kitchen is a busy place with a lot of activity going on. So you have to think about how to incorporate that busy feel in the images.

On the other hand, if this is going to be a very formal business portrait, with a clean solid background and formal attire, you could still maintain that approach this as an environmental portrait. But in this case the nature of the background will be drastically different to what we just read in the previous paragraphs.

Shooting with artificial lights

business portrait photography tips

Lights are very important. This is what makes or breaks your images. If you don’t have great lights to shoot with my only advice is beg or borrow at least two or use the ambient light as much as possible. This is of paramount importance if the shoot is at the client’s office.  Ideally, for a location shoot the lights need to be lightweight (no pun intended), easy to set-up and easy to dismantle when the shoot is over. Being lightweight, however, is not a primary consideration when the shoot is at your studio. You have your established set-up which you can use without major changes.

Shooting with natural light

If you don’t have lightweight lights and the shoot is at location you will need a way to be able to use the ambient light. Try using natural light instead of the indoor lights at an office or a restaurant. Natural light is a single large light source and adjusting white balance us a far easier thing to do than when you are shooting with different colored lights. If possible place the subject outdoors and under a shade with a nice workable background. Shooting a business portrait is a culmination of a few things, so do pay attention to the background.

Using light shaper tools for shooting a business portrait

diffusers for portrait photography

Use different light shapers. The primary light shaper I would recommend is a reflector. A reflector is a very handy tool whether you are shooting outdoors or indoors. It can work as your fill light as well as help you to create a catchlight when shooting outdoors. As a fill-light a reflector can help you to balance the exposure between a brightly lit background and a slightly underexposed subject by throwing back some light. Then again if you don’t have shade you can hold a large reflector over the head of the subject to produce some shade.

Another light shaper I would recommend highly is the softbox. The softbox, is a very versatile tool that would in both studio and outdoor photography. A softbox basically softens the quality of light and therefore produces a light that is more soothing and therefore ideal for portrait photography.

Engaging the client

An important aspect of shooting a business portrait is you have to engage the client. People react differently when they have a camera pointed at them. Most people feel extremely uncomfortable. Only a rare few and that includes trained professional models feel at ease when they are looking down the barrel of a camera lens.

Therefore easing the nerves is the first step. As a matter of fact when shooting portraits you have need to look at the 80 – 20 rule. It means you have to give the majority of your energy towards your subject and then the remaining 20% you put into your actual photography work.

Your clients will need a constant update. They will need to know how they are doing. You have to direct them as to the best pose. Take their mind off the camera and the whole tense set-up. Show them the back of your camera occasionally to give them feedback.

A few things you should avoid doing when shooting a business portrait

Don’t leave your client guessing as to the right pose and the right look. S/he is not a professional model and that means s/he would probably be looking for inputs right away. Don’t assume anything and be proactive right from the word go. I hate to use the phrase micro-manage. That sometimes escalates the tension and that can never be good. You have to do this subtly, not getting too much on to the face and yet managing the shoot smoothly.

Another thing not to do is keep the subject clueless as you are in your ‘zone’ shooting. Without feedback the subject has no way of knowing if s/he is doing ok. Any grimace on your face or any signs of dislike would do more damage than good. Keep your emotions to yourself and communicate clearly and encourage the subject that s/he is doing great.

Rajib Mukherjee

Rajib Mukherjee

Rajib’s love for the road is second only to his love for photography. Wanderlust at heart and a shutterbug who loves to document his travels via his lenses; his two passions compliment each other perfectly. He has been writing for over 6 years now, which unsurprisingly, revolve mostly around his two favourite pursuits.
Rajib Mukherjee

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