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Tips on Becoming a Business Portrait Photographer

written by: dbvirago•edited by: Rhonda Callow•updated: 7/15/2010

There are many genres available to the professional photographer. Most photographers seeking out a new market think of wedding photography, fashion photography and family portraiture. Don't miss out on a great revenue stream with less competition - that of the business portrait photographer.

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    Understanding the Scope of the Assignment

    Being a business portrait photographer is a good niche to add to any professional photographer's bag of tricks. Although it can be a bit repetitious, it can also be rewarding and challenging. Business portrait photography jobs can be as simple as a single executive headshot for a business article to portraits of everyone in the company for an annual report.

    The main thing a business portrait photographer needs to do up front is the same as for any other contract job. One needs to make sure that the exact requirements and deliverables are agreed on up front, put in writing and signed off on by all relevant parties. For example, the job calls for taking 80 portraits to go in an annual report. Are all portraits to be taken in one location with common lighting and background or in everyone’s individual office or cubical? This detail means the difference between a two day job and a two week job.

    Before the job can be scoped out and a contract written, the photographer needs to tour the location and see where the shots will be taken. Ideally, they would take along a camera with a standard lens and fire off a few shots at each location, just to get a feel for the ambient lighting they will be working with or around.

    This is also a good time to discuss the timing and availability of the subject or subjects. If it is a handful of executives, when can they make themselves available? If it is a large group coming to a central location, how quickly can they be brought in? A group of executives can’t be expected to line up outside the door like high school students getting an annual picture, but the photographer can’t be expected to stand around all day waiting for the next subject. Ten minutes is a good gap between subjects if it can be arranged.

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    Executive Portraits are a Lucrative Market

    Executive Portraits are a Lucrative MarketYoung Executive on White
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    Planning and Shooting the Assignment

    After the contract is signed and the job is ready to begin, the next step is to determine how to light the location. If everyone is coming to one location, then it is like shooting in the studio. Set up the background and lights once, test them, mount the camera on a tripod, and then don’t move anything. If the photographer needs to be moving from office to office, using a single light with a large umbrella or softbox will work best.

    Once the shooting begins, the main job of the business portrait photographer is to make the subject at ease. Spend a few minutes talking with the subject and determine if there is anything they may be concerned with. This is the reason for ten minutes between shoots. If they are stiff and uncomfortable it will show in the final image. If they are relaxed, the finished product will look much better and everyone will be happier. Despite the best efforts and intentions there will be those few that hate the camera and don’t want to be there. For those subjects, it is best just to make it as quick and painless as possible and move on.

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    Deliver the Product

    After the shooting is done and the photographer is packed up and back at the office, it is time to produce the deliverables. This will have been specified in the contract. Are the images burned to a CD and mailed, emailed to a publisher, or put on a website for download? However the product was promised, the goal is now to process the images as quickly as possible and get them to the final destination so that an invoice can be sent for final payment.

    And while on the subject of payment, never wait until the job is complete to get paid. Different business portrait photographers handle this in different ways, but a substantial deposit up front is customary. A good practice is to get half to reserve the date(s), 25% to begin the work and the final 25% on completion.

    Corporations have large marketing budgets. Being a business portrait photographer and taking images for marketing brochures, annual reports and business publications can be a lucrative addition to any studio’s repertoire.