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Executive Portraits with my Sony A7II

Tips For Photographing Executive Portraits

Executive Portraits with my Sony A7II: One of my passions is creating compelling executive portraits. When an executive or prospective headshot client contacts me for an executive portrait or headshot, they want to look their best. Its either a direct referral or they took notice of the quality of work on my website. Below is an outline of my though process for executive portraits and headshot sessions. A little pre-planning goes a long, long way. As a professional photographer its part of my job to ask allot of questions and listen to their my clients needs before their portrait session. If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you know that I recently sold all my Canon gear and moved over to Sony. Below is an inside look how I go about setting up and shooting my executive portraits and headshots.

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A killer portrait of me {above}, if I do say so myself. Taken by my good friend and PPA Cert, Master Craftsman photographer Kevin Connors. Shoot with the Sony a7II and FE 70-200 f/4 G OSS and Profoto strobe with a 3×4′ softbox in his backyard during the last light of the day in San Diego. I applied the lo-fi look while post processing in Adobe Lightroom. Kevin a long time Canon shooter, mentioned to me after viewing the images in Adobe Lightroom in his studio that he was amazed at the sharpness of this image which was photographed at f/4.

Ultimate Use & Location Questions: My first consideration when creating executive portraits or headshots for clients….what is the ultimate use of the executive portrait? Is it for the web, print, magazine – is so what is the distribution?, brochures etc. Another question is where will the portrait take place and what type of background will be used? Will it be in their office – environmental?, outdoors – environmental?, or using a seamless? If a seamless, indoors on location then I’ll need to set up a small foot print studio. About a 8’x8′ semi private space. No one likes to be watched when having their professional portraits created. I’ll also suggest a few different options for seamless colors. I’ll also need to know if its a head and shoulders, half body, 3/4 body or full body which is rare. Also a vertical {more common} or a horizontal {which I like allot and is very cool and more contemporary}.
Two reasons asking allot of questions. 1) It serves my clients. To best understand what they’ll need I need to ask allot of questions. To a prospective client, its simple. They need a headshot…period. As a professional photographer it is our job to guide them through the process. Often bringing up scenarios they hadn’t thought of and educating them along the way. 2) If the images are to be used in a commercial venture, such as print advertising, then licensing will take place. For instance if they are national or international speakers, an attorney who plans on using it in a full page advertisement, on a billboard, or a bus wrap. Or part of a larger national campaign for XYZ company. For these scenarios I use Cradoc Photo Software, an industry standard photo quote software that provides me with spot on quotes for print usage predicated on ultimate usage, size of advertisement, circulation, type of print advert, regional, national, international and more. Its a great place to start in negotiating the price of licensing. And its important to note the licensing conversation always begins with “I use an industry standard software to determine licensing figures.” Cradoc Photo Quote also gives quotes with the aforementioned info and the type of usage license, and period of length of the licensing. At $149 its inexpensive and you’ll make your money back on your first licensing. “FotoQuote is the industry standard pricing guide for stock and assignment photography with over 300 stock photo pricing categories and a wealth of coach information.”
orange county executive portraits & headshots

A recent executive portraits session done for Purus Wealth Management and Charles Schwab & Co. Inc. I brought along a white seamless as specified by the stylist but opted to use a large white office wall as the background and lit it with speed lights on 1/4 manual power, each bounced into twin 30″ sliver lined umbrellas on stands, camera right and left. You’ll notice a bit of wrap around light coming from the back which add a nice dimension to the executive portraits. Both portraits taken with the a7II and FE 70-200 f/4 GOSS at ISO 200, f/8, 1/160th sec. Chimera 2’x3′ softbox camera right.

Styling: Finally, we’ll discuss clothing options for men and women: Men: suit, tie and shirts {my advice is to stray away from patterned shirts and white shirts} and a few choices for casual attire, plus a discussion of what colors could would work best depending on skin tone/color and eye color; for women: I always suggest hair and makeup be professionally done {yes there is a difference between DIY and pro level hair and make up artist}, plus what type of clothing and accessories to wear. I always suggest bring extra ties, suit jackets, shirts, tops, blouses, accessories. If its a casual look, then several outfits need to be available for wardrobe changes. A client may think they look fabulous in something but it may not translate well to a photograph so brining more clothing is always better.
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Gear: When I’m photographing executive portraits I’ve gravitated to a one light setup. The exception is when I have to light a white background. See the diagram below. Its not only simple, its also very effective. My gear consists of a 2×3′ softbox, two light stands, Profoto AccuteB600R pack with 1 Profoto head, Pocket Wizard III’s, 1 Lastolite 30″ Wescott Tri Grip sliver and white reflector, a Manfroto Variable Magic Friction Arm with a Manfroto Super Clamp on both studs…for holding the Lastolite to a light stand used for fill with women, a heavy duty background stand…for seamless, tripod, Sony a7II, FE 50mm f/1.8 ZA, FE 24-70mm f/4 ZA OSS, and FE 70-200 f/4 G OSS. Back up gear: Sony a7s with vertical grip, Profoto 300 w/s compact flash head, extra Pocket Wizards, extra batteries, extra SD cards. When lighting a white background, I’ll bring along my speedlights, an assortment of umbrellas, and extra light stands and model release forms.
orange countya executive portraits & headshots

These portraits are photographed with the FE 24-70mm f/4 ZA OSS. I am delighted with the image sharpness and color rendition. There was zero chromatic aberration around the hair and edges of the shoulders and arms. There was a propensity for CA from the amount of light being popped off in the background.

executive portrait lighting diagram

For on location shoots of a single individual I’m using a 4′ seamless background. For groups I’d suggest a 9′ or 12′ seamless. When using a 4′ seamless I only use one light, the softbox, camera right.