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.