Business portraits with Ryan

Business portraits don’t sound like the most exciting or creative things to photograph. Maybe it’s the “business” part that throws people off. Corporate head shots can fall into the same bucket.

I actually like photographing business portraits / corporate head shots. There’s a certain simplicity to the photos. My main goal is to present the subject in a clean, simple, and professional manner. “Professional” can be a subjective term, but, really, all it means to me is my clients want to use the photos to represent them in their businesses and are happy showing the images to their colleagues and clients.

I recently had the opportunity to photograph my old college buddy Ryan’s business portrait for his freelance work. Ryan is a web developer and working with a startup company that needs a more business-like presentation on their company site. Even though their daily work attire is pretty casual (just imagine your stereotypical work-from-home web geek), they decided to go for a slightly more polished and formal look to their business portraits. That meant putting on a suit and tie.

We decided to try a couple of looks for Ryan’s portraits. The first one was a straight-forward head shot on a plain background. Nothing fancy here. I had one speedlight in a shoot-through umbrella for the key light just to the right and up high and another speedlight in an umbrella for some fill on the far left. The background was a collapsible white backdrop clamped to some light stands. Exposure on the shot was 1/200 at ƒ/6.3 and ISO 200, shot on my Nikon D600 with a 70-200/2.8 at around 135mm. Like I said, nothing fancy.

For the second look, we went outside to get a more natural-looking environment. The day was a typical of spring in Seattle: overcast but bright. Generally, that’s not a bad thing — overcast skies can provide nice diffuse lighting — but we were shooting at around 11:30 AM. The sun was pretty much straight overhead and casting deep shadows under the eyes and nose. Not exactly flattering light.

To get around that I wanted to use OCF to overpower the daylight and give me some more control over the exposure. I set up a single speedlight in a shoot-through umbrella and busted out my Fujifilm X100T. Why? Because the X100T has a leaf shutter that can sync at up to 1/1000th of a second reliably with wireless triggers (for me) and allow me to control the ambient light. I could also shoot at ƒ/2.8 to throw the background out of focus.

For this shot I put the TCL-X100 tele converter on my X100T to get a 50mm-equivalent field of view, which is more flattering for portraits than the normal 35mm-equivalent view. Exposure was 1/500 at ƒ/2.8 and ISO 500 (I set this higher so I wouldn’t need as much juice from the speedlight). My Cactus RF60 speedlight was set to 1/4 power and positioned just out of frame to my left.

I like that the portrait doesn’t look overly lit and that Ryan pops from the background nicely. Definitely helped that he was wearing a dark suit, but shooting at ƒ/2.8 really pushed the background, well, into the background. I kept the speedlight up pretty high, so it would still feel like the key light was still coming from the sky and reflecting off of another surface to fill his face.

Here’s the setup shot:

In both shots, I definitely wanted to keep the setup as simple and easy as possible so I could spend more time taking photos and chatting with Ryan. I think I spent more time composing this post than it did for me to set up the backdrop and lights for both shots. 🙂


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