The humble portrait with a white background
Over the years I have lost count of the number of portraits I have taken that comprise of a head and shoulders image with a pure white background. It is easily the most popular format for any company needing a photograph of many employees that can have one room set aside for the day and doesn’t require resources or imposition .
It is a very versatile image, clean and concentrates the viewers attention on the subject, no busy distracting background, especially important if the profile photo is going to be relatively small on a website or document.
The background should be smooth and pure white so I always take a pop up screen as the client half remembered white wall turns out to be magenta after all and covered in picture hooks or marks.
The lighting should be even and consistent throughout the day, I use professional Elinchrom flash with a large soft box to illuminate the subject and another flash to light the background it has to be bright enough to override the ambient light, be that daylight, fluorescent strip or tungsten etc as each will have its own colour cast and in the case of daylight vary over the time of day, but not so bright as to be off putting to the subject or singe their eyebrows.
Next the consideration of the clients expression and position relative to the camera. I never set a person such that they are square on to the camera, it looks too clumsy and intimidating, always have shots taken with the body turned away by about 1/3 but the head and eyes turned back towards the lens from both directions. Why? Because if the photograph is to appear on the left hand side of a web page for example then the body language has to be facing in towards the text, rather than having a suggestion of rejection by have his or her back to the copy.
The facial expression too should not be serious as this always implies a sense of worry or grim determination, equally a photograph of a director laughing doesn’t convey the gravitas required for a large company. The ideal expression is of course something in between the two, a look that implies competence, and professionalism but approachable too.
Allow about 10 minutes per person so there is enough time for late arrivals or swap arounds if there is a ‘no show’.
Portraits against a white background allow for easy cutouts and any suitable background dropped in at a later date. This has proved useful when a client will be moving offices in six months but needs the portraits now. The portraits can be cutout and placed against the new plush office backdrop without having to reshoot everyone.