7 Mistakes Photographers Make When Shooting Professional Headshots

Let’s face it — in-office corporate headshots will not be your most exciting project as a photographer. In fact, in many ways, they’re a photographer’s worst nightmare.

First, you don’t control the environment, and more often than not will be in less-than-ideal conditions for the shoot. Second, even with good conditions, you may get little to no time to scope the location for the shoot beforehand. And third, most corporate shoots contain a 50/50 mixture of helpfully enthusiastic and borderline miserable participants.

As a result, LinkedIn and company websites are littered with awful company headshots, leaving clients dissatisfied and photographers out-of-work. And that’s a shame, because as far as shoots go, they pay exceptionally well. And contrary to individual headshots, where your customer only needs new photos every three to four years, these clients can come back to you again and again as they hire new employees.

Despite the difficulties, these shots are worth your while, and worth getting right.

Executing classic corporate headshots will pay your bills

So, without any further ado, here are the seven biggest mistakes photographers make when taking corporate office headshots.

Mistake #1: Not scoping out the location beforehand

A quick five-minute trip by your client’s office can guarantee that you get access to the best conference room or office space for your headshots. If you don’t stop by, there’s always a risk that you won’t bring enough light blockers and/or will get stuck in a room that’s too small.

It’s worth it, 100 percent of the time, to do a quick scoping visit beforehand. Your client will appreciate the extra effort.

Mistake #2: Not sending a reminder email to participants

Your job is not to be a “photographer” — it’s to deliver an end result. You need to be doing everything in your power to facilitate a successful outcome. That means getting a list of participants and emailing or texting them the day before and the day of your shoot.

If you don’t put in this extra effort, some employees will undoubtedly show up unprepared.

Mistake #3: Not blocking light contamination

Offices are special places. Chances are, 90 percent of your client’s office locations won’t have beautiful, natural light to work with. As a result, you’ll need to bring studio lighting. However, the combination of studio lighting and fluorescent office lights can make for nasty, yellow-tinged headshots.

It’s fort-building time. Creating a studio environment when you don’t have access to a windowless room.

In every studio on-site delivered, I bring a gym bag full of old mobile backdrops. When in a pinch, I’ll throw these bad boys on the windows to control light contamination. A little bit of ambient light is OK, but nothing should be directly hitting the side of your subject’s face.

When in doubt, you can also turn off all lights and push your setup into the corner of the office.

For this on-site, I turned off all lights and pushed my setup into the corner.
One of the shots taken with the above setup.

Mistake #4: Not using a grey card / white balance issues

Similar to what we discussed in Mistake #3, every office is different and requires resetting your white balance for ambient light.

While shooting in RAW will allow you to adjust the white balance at your computer later, getting natural skin tones while “eye balling” color balance is both a waste of time and likely inaccurate.

In my experience, it is extremely difficult to individually nail the white balance after you’ve been sitting at your computer editing for 4 hours straight. Your eyes lose the ability to judge colors effectively.

Your clients will absolutely notice the difference.

Mistake #5: Not coaching the subjects

Every single participant needs to receive a brief 30-second training on how to get the most out of their headshots. They need clear instructions on how the session will play out, and an explanation of some keys to success. Your photography may be perfect, but if the participant feels uncomfortable, the photos will suck.

A little coaching can go a long way to making subjects comfortable with your process.

Mistake #6: Too few photos of each subject

Too many photographers embrace the “shut up, sit down, smile, get out” headshot-factory style process, which includes three to five photos. These types of experiences are usually delivered by photographers who are under a crunch from clients who want to get a massive amount of headshots taken during a short time.

While it’s tempting to cave to a client’s original request (particularly if they’re considering other vendors at different price points), you have a duty to properly inform clients that you’ll need several photos of each employee in order to get them something the employee will like. I wouldn’t take less than 20 photos of each employee.

At a bare minimum, make sure every participant gets a couple photos from either side of their face. If they wear glasses, let them do some with and some without.

Mistake #7: Not retouching every headshot individually

Yellow teeth, acne, and stray hairs stick out like sore thumbs. Perfect professional headshots can be ruined with batch editing that doesn’t take care of teeth, hair and acne. Even if the client doesn’t want to pay for airbrushing, I’d still offer this service for free.

You don’t want your brand associated with any bad photos, ever. Period.

That’s a wrap! If you fix these top seven mistakes mistakes when taking office headshots, you’ll be way ahead of 90% of other photographers. If you have any questions or just want general advice, feel free to email me at dan@headshots-inc.com.

About the author: Dan St Louis is owner and head photographer at HeadShots Inc, a San Francisco-based photo studio focused exclusively on professional headshots for individuals and companies. When he’s not taking business headshots, he’s likely surfing or playing the latest video game. You can connect with him on LinkedIn here.

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