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  • Welcome to my blog

    "I am a Boston-based commercial photographer and short film maker. This blog is a companion to my main website. Instead of simply offering up more photos, it is the place for behind-the-lens glimpses into campaigns, reflections on the photography/marketing industry, and a more expanded view of a shoot - not just the best image. Enjoy!"


A Realization.

Last week, I was scouting an executive office space with a client for a corporate candid slice-of-life shoot in Boston.  As we were wrapping up, she shows me the last set of pictures done in her offices, with a different photographer.  This photographer had used dual strobes to light the scene: one on either side of the subject.  The people in the pictures looked like they were uncomfortable at best. Their faces poorly hid their discomfort, and they looked as though they had just been told to smile, whilst receiving a root canal.  Additionally, their props were placed in a neat and tidy way, looking decidedly staged.

It occurred to me that I take the photographic process for granted.  I generally don’t encounter subjects who look stiff or uncomfortable, even though I’m photographing people who don’t necessarily like to have their pictures taken.  There is a surprisingly simple explanation for this.  They don’t look uncomfortable because they don’t feel uncomfortable.  I only ask them to do the job they came to the office to do that day.  I’ll tell them: “Get together with your team and bring something you’re really working on.  But work on it here in the good light.”

When people look nervous, it’s often because they’re self-conscious.  They worry about how they appear.  They’re worried about making the picture look good so the company looks good.  In situations like this, I’ll pause for a moment and remind them how people who aren’t having their picture taken look: they sit back in their chairs, put arms on the table, they look other people in the eye.  In truth, as they listen to me explain these things, they’re usually sitting as I’ve just described, and I point this out to them.

I have found that using natural light to shoot these images helps ease subjects a great deal.  Team members aren’t as self-conscious as they are with the strobe lights; the rest of the office isn’t watching and those being photographed aren’t grimacing, waiting for the next bright flash.

So, the most successful shoots don’t look or feel like shoots at all.

The Proof is in the pudding.

These images were taken for Bulger Partners, a boutique, strategic, consulting company for the tech industry.  Bulger team members tend to be young, as well as innovative, collaborative types.  The offices have an open floor plan and people drift about, sharing ideas.  Their conference rooms are consistently filled with groups, collaborating and pondering.

To me, in the corporate world, the secret to good corporate candid photography is to make yourself part of the team and have the group work on an assignment they’re excited (and trained) to do.

Why is authenticity so important?

The images a business uses to represent itself encapsulates the personality of the company.  If the people portraying that message look awkward, the takeaway is that the business is not at home with its work.  If subjects look engaged, professional, and approachable, we embrace the message and include that company in our lives.

Who are these men?

This is my third year photographing the new searchers for Boston’s Search Fund Accelerator.  SFA is an innovative venture: it mentors and funds a handpicked group of young entrepreneurs in their quest to find a company to acquire, manage, and grow. It’s an amazing and rare opportunity.  The target company is usually family-owned and looking for an exit strategy.

Our portraits, then, are taken with the intent to portray these young men as professional, trustworthy, and approachable.  The message is: “I’ll take good care of your company”.

The SFA Brand

With this photography, we present the searchers as a team, branded in the SFA visual traditions we’ve already established (see previous SFA post).

Energy source

The searchers come from amazing backgrounds.  They’re Marine geospatial intelligence officers, rig drilling experts, investment bankers, world travelers, and company founders.  It’s like sharing the room with a huge ball of potential energy.

It’s no accident these portraits came out as successfully as they did.  To a man, the searchers were modest, earnest, and optimistic.   Maybe that’s what makes a good CEO.  It certainly made for a good photograph.


Believe it or not, one of the most valuable lessons I learned about shooting people came from a photo school class called “Intro to Still-Life.”  We were asked to photograph a bunch of objects and make them look like they were randomly placed on a set.  This is easy – dump things on a table (1 minute).  But that looked messy and didn’t make your eyes very happy.  I could arrange the objects in a pleasing way (15 minutes), but then the still life looked forced and deliberate.  Lesson of the Assignment?  The hardest shot to create is one where elements appear to occur naturally and make your eyes happy.

Here’s how that applies to photographing people.  You can pose people, but then they look contrived.  You can let subjects run amok, but then the photos look like chaos.  Our challenge for this lifestyle shoot: how to create natural yet appealing imagery.

Another issue: you can take hours to carefully arrange objects on a table.  But anyone who has been nudged about by a photographer knows that people don’t have the patience of inanimate objects.  Kids especially so.

Who to use for the shoot?  Most professional models can make a practiced pose seem natural, but a family of models smacks of being a little too perfect.  Instead of going the model route, we chose a local multi-generational family with great chemistry.

The idea behind this shoot was to create a library of authentic lifestyle images that captured a great day in a family’s life. We didn’t have a shot list, but we had a playground of sorts to romp in.  We were very fortunate that our friends, Beth and Chuck Welch, hosted the shoot.  Their home is stately and comfortable, with beautiful artwork and books filling every available wall surface.

There were loud action moments as well as intimate moments between family members. Instead of directing the family, I let them enjoy activities they would normally do on a weekend and then captured it in a non-invasive editorial way. Using all natural light, we constructed scenarios on the fly.  We tried things that didn’t work (a “must” for any successful shoot, IMHO) and got fantastic images we hadn’t planned for.

A great way to spend a day.

Wardrobe styling by Cynthia August and makeup/hair by Lynne Avallone.

“How long is this picture going to take?” my client asks me.  “The board just flew in from London.  They’re tired.  They have important meetings scheduled all day. They won’t smile for long.”  My tongue-in-cheek answer is “This photo will take 1/60th of a second.”

I’m kidding, of course, but I do understand: jet-lagged billion-dollar portfolio execs don’t want a drawn out shoot.  I strive to make our shoots a quick, enjoyable, non-invasive pause in their busy day.

So it was roundly appreciated by the board of directors of HarbourVest’s Global Private Equity Group that we did our homework.   We scouted the location, had everything figured out and set up in advance, and made the portrait shoot short and sweet.

The story behind the Board of Director

The individual natural light portraits had the same personal and accessible feel: Corporate headshots by David Shopper

“We hired David to shoot an executive board meeting which included individual board portraits, a group shot of the board, and working meeting shots. He is an amazing professional photographer and is so easy to work with but he immediately put the board members at ease which created fantastic portraits. He is also so attentive to every detail from scouting the location of each photo to the lighting and retouching that the entire process was easy and effortless.” 

–Christine McManus, Design Manager, HarbourVest Partners

Boston Photographer David Shopper discusses approach for the shoot with HarbourVest design manager.

David and Christine discuss the shoot.

For a business, building kingdoms (large or small) is hard enough.  You don’t need to sweat the details of a shoot – that’s my job. The setup might be a sophisticated integration of natural and strobe light with a formal yet honestly straight-forward presentation, but the smoothness of the process comes off as if I shot it with my phone.  Corporate portrait photography isn’t easy, but it should look easy.



I’ve been photographing concept ads for Zimmans for a half dozen years now.  The advertisements combine the store’s rarified fabrics and furniture (think ABC Carpet in NYC) with raw urban landscapes.  Zimman’s has been in the same family for 4 generations and all our ads have featured owner Michael Zimman.

The ads continue to be designed by art director and stylist Martha Sutyak, who has an unusual proclivity for making you believe in an ad concept which upon first appearance has you scratching your head.  Martha explains: “my thinking was that we should ‘take to the streets’ and show how Zimman’s has been a vital part of the Lynn community for generations. The store associates have been taking their cars to this place for years! By posing Michael in a car loaded with merchandise for a home delivery we show 1) great and intriguing merchandise 2) an unexpected visual image showing the rough and the refined in concert.”

Ad concept layout for "Full Service" print advertisement

Location scouting:   Lynn, MA location scouting for David Shopper lifestyle photography print ad

Here’s the initial “Mad Skilz Photoshop” ad comp, using an image of Mike from a previous ad polishing a car’s windshield:

Print ad mock up

All shoots have their challenges.  Besides a colorful Lynne location, variable clouds that made it tough to predict lighting conditions, blustery winds that threatened to knock over lights and balanced fabric and chairs, and a questionable soundtrack (as captured in the video below), we persevered and got a great image for the ad.