Labels, Distinctions, and Discoverability

We take a lot of professional photos of and for business executives.

I personally prefer to label what we do portrait photography.

That label feels more dignified and valuable than another (more common it turns out) label, head shot.

For the longest time we resisted using the latter term. It seemed superficial. It felt like slang. It felt like what aspiring actors and models seek. It didn’t seem business-like.

But when Google’s pay-per-click advertising began to sound like a practical sales and lead generation tool for our company, I began to listen more closely to the language our clients commonly used. Language they and their peers would presumably therefore use in online searches.

You saw this coming, didn’t you? “Headshot” is what most people seem to call what we do. Or maybe “head shot” if spell check disapproves of the concatenated variant.

So much for dignity and value considerations.

Go where the searches are

When it comes to marketing a professional service, it’s important to see beyond your personal biases or industry-insider terminology and stay attuned to the common vernacular. Potential new business from search results makes this seemingly subtle difference more significant than simply “You like tomato and I like tomahto.

For that reason our web site now uses both forms. If you discover FayFoto Boston while searching online for a headshot photographer, we are more than happy to provide a solid business portrait of you or members of your team.

But is there a difference?

Is the distinction between a head shot and a portrait merely semantic?

Well, actually no. Not in my mind anyway.

The difference comes down to time and attention, both in the image capture and the post production stages.

A Head Shot can be thought of as a high quality ID photo

Let’s say you have a large group of people (imagine a sales meeting, bringing employees from all over the country together in one place). Or you would like to add photos of a department’s worth of people to an internal intranet. You want to have a presentable photo of as many as you can. You need to move along, though. You allocate 5 minutes per person. We can do that. We’ll still bring studio lights and a background, but there isn’t time for the subject to review and select an image. In such cases we frequently edit each subject’s images to 5 or 10 per person and either send you a PDF proof sheet to select from or just simply send you moderately sized and cropped JPEG files of the whole bunch. In the latter option it’s on you to decide which image to use for each person. We will apply color and exposure corrections and custom cropping, but that’s it for post production.

For some use cases this is entirely sufficient.

This would be a headshot.

A Portrait affords more time with the subject and more post production

On the other hand, let’s say you present images of your firm’s Partners or executive leadership team to the public on a web site. Presentation of these executives reflects on your company. The image may also be used for press releases or LinkedIn profiles in addition to the company website.

In such a case it’s more appropriate to schedule 10 or 15 minutes per person, allow him or her to review the captures, take more photos if necessary, and approve one. Significant care and attention is paid to every inch of the image in post production. Several variations of crop and resolution may be applied to the final image to comply with various media specifications.

That, in my mind, is a portrait.

Evaluate your needs

Give some thought to what your needs are realistically. Then give us a call and outline your needs, expectations, and budget. We’ll work with you to give you what you need – nothing more but most certainly nothing less.

Professionals Do Sweat the Small Stuff

The popular phrase “don’t sweat the small stuff” might be good advice for a happy life, but you may be sure that phrase was not coined by a professional photographer.

Why hire a professional in a trade?

Why? Because for professionals in any given discipline, it’s all small stuff.

When you hire a professional, you assume that person or firm will attend to details you might not consider. You can be confident a professional knows the tools and knows how to be business-like.

If that professional is a plumber, it might be tight solder joints.
If that professional is a woodworker it might be perfect dovetails.
If that professional is a roofer, it might be sealing the roof/chimney joint.

Professional photographers likewise look for the things a non-photographer appreciates subliminally but might not be trained to pay explicit attention to. It’s less about the equipment we bring and more about the experience we bring.

For portraits, we look at hair, highlights, and neckties.
For product, we look at angles, texture, and intersection.
For interiors, we look for stray wires in the corner and cushions askew on the sofa.
At events we are attentive to distractions in the background. (You know, the hilarious lampshade on the head.)

Professionals don’t have supernatural powers. We have just learned to look for things other people might not pick up on.

Like what?

Let’s consider portraits

If that professional is a corporate portrait photographer it’s looking for fly-away hair, shiny foreheads, loose necktie knots, and glare (or smudges) on glasses. It’s sensing when the subject is anxious and uncomfortable, and helping them get past that. It’s making sure garments look crisp, necklaces are centered, and a myriad of other small details.

Consistency from session to session, year to year is another mark of a professional corporate portrait photographer, because it’s not uncommon for firms pitching a new account to assemble a team using photos taken many years apart.

And then there’s post production

Post Production is what happens between the image capture and the image delivery.

No matter how careful and attentive the photographer is at the photo session, final touches applied in post production are equally important to the final result. Since corporate portraiture is a significant part of what FayFoto Boston offers (as distinct from fashion or editorial portraiture), let’s look at …

Some examples

I do a lot of business portrait photography, and I do most of the post production on the images my colleagues and I capture. In case you ever wonder what the value of post production is (or why retouching might be an additional fee) I’ll show you a few examples to illustrate why hiring a professional can be money well spent. All of these examples are tightly cropped to preserve the anonymity of the subject while at the same time illustrating one specific area. The differences are obvious when you look at the before/after views, but in real life it’s only the retoucher who sees the difference. Your audience only sees your personnel in their best light.

By the way, none of these corrections were done at the special request of the subject. This is just what a professional who is proud of his or her product brings to the craft. This is what you can expect when you choose to work with FayFoto Boston.

local retouching refinements to portrait image
Smooth the shoulder, trim the neck and tighten the necktie!
retouch chapped lips
Digital lip balm
hair at neck removed
A subtle trim
bump removed from suit jacket shoulder line
Refine shoulder line contour
retouch fly away hair spikes
Hair will do what it wants to do

 


Sometimes at the end of an editing session I say “you’re welcome!
But only to myself.
To say it out loud wouldn’t be… professional!

Evolving Business Portrait Background Styles

collage of views used as business portrait background

It used to be easy…

Not that long ago a “business portrait” meant placing the subject in front of a roll of Thunder Gray studio background paper.

Times change, and so do styles. Although we still do many, perhaps the majority, of our business portraits in front of a studio background, today it’s not unusual for a client (or a client’s designer or brand manager) to prefer an environmental setting instead of a solid tone studio background.

What environment?

Sometimes an “environmental setting” is inside the client’s office with a softly focussed suggestion of a nicely appointed corporate setting in the background.

More often though, an “environmental setting” puts the subject in front of a large window with something interesting in the background. In Boston’s urban setting, that something is often adjoining office towers, suggesting the upscale, urban setting the client inhabits.

Read moreEvolving Business Portrait Background Styles

Keeping Track of Client Details

Whatever the business term is for a business that’s smaller than a small business, that’s what FayFoto Boston is. We have a full-time staff of three. However, even three is a lot more complicated than one when it comes to saving, retrieving, and sharing information each of us know individually. We have many of the same needs as any of our larger small business colleagues. We just don’t have the resources for enterprise-level solutions. Consequently, to keep chaos at bay we have developed numerous DIY solutions.

Client Preferences

We operate in the B2B sector. We don’t offer packages as a wedding or family portrait studio might. Every one of our clients has a slightly different preference, either for background, or file size, or both. It’s not uncommon for a client to ask for two, four, or even more variations for each selected portrait image. Web, print, LinkedIn, color, grayscale… Each with specific pixel dimensions, and often at different aspect ratios. And each variation has to have a consistent file name to indicate unambiguously what it is. (“lastname-firstname_web.jpg” or “Firstname-Lastname_print.jpg” for example.)

In other words… instead of telling our clients what they can have, our clients tell us what they need. And it’s on us to deliver that repeatedly and consistently.

Read moreKeeping Track of Client Details

FayFoto’s Negative Archive now lives at Northeastern University

boxes of FayFoto negatives stacked in hallway

FayFoto has been involved with Boston’s business, political, advertising and public relations communities for…
well…
we’re not entirely sure of the year of origin but we’re going with 80+ years.

We covered many assignments and produced many many images over the course of those decades (estimated at over 7.5 million negatives!). Our collection of negatives from the late 60’s until about the early 2000’s (when we transitioned to digital) is essentially unbroken. We also had several metal file cabinets filled with much older negatives that aren’t catalogued in any coherent manner.

We’re not hoarders exactly, but neither are we librarians or curators. Our collection hadn’t been maintained for posterity – photographers are pragmatic and we kept them mainly because someday maybe someone would buy a reprint from an image captured back when.

It is a unique time capsule…

Because we aren’t trained to be information specialists and because we don’t have resources to become that, this collection was effectively useless. Our logs maintained a good record of when an assignment took place and who our client was, but very little else in the way of metadata about the images. In other words, locating and retrieving a negative based on its content rather than an internal reference number stamped on the back of a print was next to impossible. Our logs from that era were hand written, so they couldn’t be quickly or easily searched. The cardboard boxes we kept them in weren’t in any way archival, and they consumed significant space.

What to do?

This is where Northeastern University comes in. Giordana Mecagni, a conservator in the Special Collections division of Northeastern University’s Snell Library reached out to us thanks to a timely referral from a contact at the Boston Public Library who was aware of our situation. As soon as we learned of the breadth and scope of the Library’s collection (which includes the Boston Globe’s archive!) we knew our collection would be in the best of all possible hands.

boxes of negatives in moving van
FayFoto’s negative archive is neatly packed in a moving van

Archivist Daniel Lavoie made several exploratory site visits to our office and on June 5, 2018 the collection rolled off in a moving van to a new home and a productive future.

Here’s a link to the story from the Library’s perspective entitled “FayFoto archive acquired by Northeastern University Libraries’ Archives and Special Collections”.

FayFoto Boston is grateful almost beyond words for the Library’s willingness to undertake the daunting process of sifting, sorting, organizing, and ultimately making these images available to historians and researchers. We anticipate that one day someone out there will discover just exactly the image he or she is looking for to tell a story about some aspect of Boston’s history during this era.

A new beginning, not an end

This isn’t the end of the story for FayFoto Boston! We continue to produce new work for businesses and organizations in the Boston area – digitally. It does, however, feel like the beginning of a new story for our older images.

Start Here

Blog posts by their nature get pushed down as new articles are added.
While we would like to think that everything we write has value and is useful, we do have some foundational articles aimed at professionals who work with photographers. We want to ensure that this “evergreen” content remains visible and accessible.

A Brief Index to Helpful Content

Here’s a short list of articles we feel are of particular value to people like you.

Related to Business “Head Shot” Portraits

Setting Up a Photo Session

Other Topics

Evolution: FayFoto’s Transition to Digital Services

early digital camera

Office Archeology

We have been working at clearing out old and unnecessary stuff recently. After more than 25 years in our current office, you might well imagine there’s quite a lot of that. Recently Wayne unearthed the very first digital camera FayFoto purchased. That got me curious, so I started sifting through old assignment log books for the first evidence of actually capturing assignments digitally.

They started showing up in the Fall of 1999. Given that we’re into the second quarter of 2018 as I write this, that feels like quite a long time.

We weren’t the earliest of adopters, but our market moved us into providing digital services before a lot of other photographers made the leap (or else said “to heck with this” and moved into some other endeavor). Pro-level digital cameras at that time were beyond our means. We eased into the inevitable by scanning negatives and transparencies for years before investing in digital capture equipment. Our first cautious investment in a digital camera was at the upper end of what was then the consumer level. (It was a Kodak DC265, purchased in the Fall of 1999 at the CompUSA around the corner from our office. You can still read the camera’s review in DPReview’s archive!)

Read moreEvolution: FayFoto’s Transition to Digital Services

Managing a Successful Group Photo

empty room waiting for group to arrive

A group photo is like a piece of performance art

I personally find group photos at once terrifying and exhilarating.

If you have never observed a professional photographer organize and capture a group photo, let me outline the stages so that remark makes sense.

The Stages of a Group Photo

  • Your photographer arrives early to get ready. The set is empty.
  • People gradually assemble and make small talk. There is amiable chaos.
  • Your photographer encourages people to pay attention, and starts to arrange people by height so faces aren’t obscured. (This stage is often humorously described as “herding cats.”)
  • Chaos gradually diminishes and the group quiets down.
  • Your photographer fine tunes the placement of subjects.
  • For 5 or maybe 7 minutes there is an splendid sense of order.
  • After the last exposure, people mill about, resume conversations, and gradually drift away. Chaos resumes.
  • The set is empty. Your photographer packs up and departs.

It’s predictable, and yet it’s magic every time I witness it.

Why would you want a group photo?

University reunion groupFayFoto is called to do groups for, among other things, College and University reunions, graduating classes, professional organizations, business units, award recipients, and workshop attendees.

What can you do to ensure that a group photo goes smoothly?

Advance Planning makes all the difference. Following are some key areas to consider when planning and preparing for a group photograph.

Read moreManaging a Successful Group Photo

Your Expression Matters

a grid of various degrees of smile in portrait images

Should I smile?

This is one of our most frequently asked questions when it comes to business head shot portraits. The subject has already wrestled with what to wear by the time he or she arrives to face our camera. Concerns about expression, however, don’t generally surface until the last minute. That concern is, specifically, whether it's okay to smile.

Some subjects come into the set smiling, and it’s clear we couldn’t ask this person not to smile. But not everybody wants to smile. Some subjects are self-conscious about teeth, or dimples, or eyes that close up when they smile. Some feel it’s fine for Facebook but undignified for work. Some are self-conscious because they have been told by friends or loved ones that they look goofy when they smile “for the camera.”

On occasion, a subject will arrive announcing that he or she wants to look fierce. As in "I want to look like a tough and intimidating lawyer."

Our Answer

I tell subjects “Yes, most of your colleagues do smile, but I haven’t been told it’s mandatory. Consider who is going to be looking at these images. Most of the time it will be a potential client or customer, not your business or courtroom adversary. You want to look like someone I’d consider spending a day in a conference room with.”

Read moreYour Expression Matters

Why don’t you show more photos on your website?

Well, I guess that’s a reasonable question.

I’ve seen plenty of photographer websites containing many hundreds of images.

I’m guessing you have, too.

So here’s my response to your reasonable question.

FayFoto Boston has been around for a very long time, and we hope to be around for a long time to come. We work primarily with Corporate clients. We have some internal limitations regarding what we can show. These aren’t “industry standards;” they mirror our own ethical position which has evolved over time and over many business interactions.1

Here are two questions I’d like you to consider:

Read moreWhy don’t you show more photos on your website?

Head shot portrait retouching

portrait retouching notes

Head shot portrait retouching

What’s in a word?

I’ll begin this article with a few words about the word retouching. We understand that this is the word everyone uses and understands, so we use it, too.

Reluctantly.

Frankly, most of the connotations about that word are negative. At best it implies fakery. At worst it suggests repair work on a flawed subject. We don’t want our work to suggest either of those! We are much more comfortable using the term polishing, which suggests making something good even better. So we’ll continue to honor the term which is used by most of the world but, between you and us, polishing comes closer to what we do.

These days, just about every head shot portrait image we release to our clients has been looked at carefully by an experienced digital technician. 1

You don’t have to specify or explicitly request the basics of retouching – you can count on that being done as part of our service. It’s built into our pricing.

Read moreHead shot portrait retouching

Client-Vendor Relationships

At a recent networking group meeting, customer service became a topic of discussion.

As part of the conversation a smaller, local hardware store was contrasted with the "big box" store across the street. How does the smaller shop survive in the shadow of the larger?

The consensus was that the customer experience at the local store was far and away better than the customer experience at the Big Box store.

I don’t know that FayFoto has a "big box store" parallel, but I can say that, because our market is saturated with competent photographers, we work very hard to make customer support our distinguishing attribute; our brand; how we want to be remembered and described.

I really enjoy knowing our customers. I love knowing their kids' names. I love knowing their dog's name or their favorite soccer team. I love picking up a conversation a month later. I love starting an email reply with "It's good to hear from you again!" I love walking up to a client’s reception desk and greeting the receptionist by name.

Read moreClient-Vendor Relationships