Headshots on Location

On Location Headshot Greenville SC

Headshots on Location

The Concept:

I’m always open to photographing professional headshots on location, any location, because they stretch my photographer brain.  I’ll take the challenges associated with on site business portraits any day over coasting in the studio on auto pilot.  Thus when an electrical engineer here in Greenville, SC contacted me regarding a professional headshot on location, my adrenalin began to flow.  Her company, Engineer by Night, routinely interfaces with clients via the web and thus she needed a business portrait for her social media and online communications which succinctly articulates her brand and personality.  Sorry, but when one’s business attains a certain level of legitimacy, a selfie or ‘blue suit, boring background’ (yawn) snapshot doesn’t exactly radiate professionalism and sophistication, nor does it speak to one’s unique branding and skillsets.  Like most execs, Anne (my client) is busy and doesn’t have time to make the commute to a studio… any studio.

Now for the challenge –  How the heck does one visually convey ‘electrical engineer, working remotely, after hours’ to the masses using accoutrements from a typical electrical engineer’s office?  Fortunately Anne’s office is located in a pretty hip building close to downtown Greenville.  Greenville is becoming a hub for the tech industry, and  if you have not had the opportunity to visit the city, definitely add it to your list.  Her building’s techy-industrial architecture lends itself quite well to concepting some innovative headshot ideas.  During our on site executive portrait session, we shot in a few different locations around the building.

The Lighting and Location:

Each on location headshot presented its own unique challenges – lack of space, control of ambient light, angles, etc.  A few of the easier shots are showcased above.  The final location for the shoot, inside Anne’s office, proved to be the most technically challenging.  Here’s how her office shot progressed:

Similar to many engineers’ offices, Anne’s was furnished with papers and coffee mugs and computer screens and gadgets and boxes filled with more papers.  Initially, no one single item stood out as the room’s centerpiece.  Then I muted the lights a tad and a white corrugated wall behind her desk suddenly came to life.  The translucent material allowed ambient light from the hallway to pass through and provide a nice background light.  Additionally, the beams supporting the background would frame her head and torso nicely.  The wall also doubled as Anne’s whiteboard.  She had scribbled some Rosetta Stone-looking equation thingies (circuits and node analyses, of course) in a variety of colors.  This would make for one heck of an on location portrait background – color, texture, a visual representation of what she does and how her thoughts are sequenced.  Precisely what one would expect from an engineer swimming in logic and abstruse concepts (well, mostly what one expects from an engineer – she doesn’t exude the reclusive, disheveled nature that comes to mind when I think of some engineers…Lazlo anyone?).

So now we have our background lighting and we’re working in a fairly tight space, thus it would be tough to safely position any type of softbox or umbrella in the room for this on location portrait (I say ‘safely’ as I’m not comfortable gaffer-taping a set of studio lights and tripods to her walls just a few feet from her 27″ monitor.  I have faith in the covalent properties of adhesion, but I have more faith in gravity).  Her computer monitor would make for a cool main light source (cool in terms of both color temperature as well as a unique and somewhat diffused panel of light).  The 27 inches covers enough real estate to wrap the light nicely around her face.  However I didn’t want the light to illuminate her solely from below (think ‘scary Halloween guy holding his mag light low and shining it up into his face’) as its a bit too sinister-gothic looking.  In need of a second light source, positioned higher than the main light to neutralize some of the falloff, I grabbed my applebox (just a set of wooden boxes that people can stand on to make them appear taller when doing waist-up photos) and placed it upright, precariously on top of her desk.  Next I balanced her laptop stand and laptop computer upon the applebox and positioned it about 45 degrees her side and just above eye level.  A little higher would have been nice, however this would suffice to create the necessary fill-light to eliminate the Halloween lighting previously mentioned.

I stopped down the aperture a tad to create a bit of bokeh – strong enough to make one’s eye track to her but not too strong as I wanted to preserve the texture and the ‘code’ inked behind her that I had yet to decipher.  Since we are dealing with a relatively weak light source, the shutter speed was slow.   I mean real slow, like 1/8 sec… an eternity in photography.  To put this into perspective, I shoot waterfalls at 1/10 to create that soft, cottony feel.  Anne would have to be statuelike as cameras usually register shake / involutary movements at anything under 1/60 sec (more like 1/150 sec in this case as my lens was zoomed in pretty tight).

The ambient lighting was slightly warm.  I wanted to cool the color temperature so I dialed through my white balance to fool the camera into registering false color temperatures.  That, along with a few bumps in post processing, cooled the colors from ambers and yellows to a slight blueish-greenish, creative a feeling of evening / night (after all, her company isn’t “Engineer by Sunset”).

The Pose:

Thus far in our headshot on location, we’ve crushed our ambient light, set the depth of field, and created a nice ratio of main to fill to background light – all to reflect her competence, approachability, friendliness and to illustrate that (as the name of her company implies) she works at night (even though we shot this at 2:30 in the afternoon).   She brought a variety of tops to wear – black, blue, pink, etc.  Black may have worked, but in my mind black communicates artist, edgy, rebellious, scruffy reclusive, etc… none of which apply to Anne.  Pink would make a slightly bolder, more inviting statement against the subdued background.

Anne position herself at her desk, graciously obliging my subtle directions while simultaneously working an a project she needed to wrap up by 3:30.  I wanted her boxed-in by the frame  in background so as to further help one’s eye gravitate towards her.  A slight dutch tilt of the camera and the horizontals and verticals quickly became askew.  Leading lines are nice to have and in this case the dutch tilt provided just the slightest bit of disorder to an otherwise exacting layout.  The horizontals and verticals would have been ‘too perfect’ (read ‘boring’) and thus I was looking for a way to create interest.

We took a few shots – Anne looking at her screen, Anne glancing off to her side, Anne with a friendly smile engaging with the camera, etc.  Here’s one of the final images of (electrical) Engineer by Night’s headshot on location with Forrest Briggs Photography.

On Location Headshot Greenville SC


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