Expert techniques for taking exceptional profile photos

Whether you’re in a posh office or at an external location, these three simple tips will help you master the light, relax your subjects and capture their true essence.

In businesses that rely on the trust of their clients, establishing a real, human connection is crucial.

In this digital age, however, conveying emotion and personality without face-to-face interaction is especially difficult. In-person meetings have been replaced by online messaging, handshakes have been replaced by “likes,” and corporate announcements have been relegated to tweets.

The digital age has revolutionized efficient communication, but it has also made it more difficult to have a human connection between businesses and clients.

In this digital world, it is important that you take advantage of the opportunity to showcase the humanity in your interactions. Your employee profile photo is a unique opportunity to show the human behind the memo, the announcement or the perfectly placed emoji.

Your profile photo can restore the personal connection in the workplace. And it is not just the fancy DSLR camera or the latest smart phone that creates a strong photo, but the photographer: you!

Your interactions with employees through the application of these simple tools can make a photo go from stiff and lifeless to authentic and personal.

If it is your job to make these photos, whether using your phone or a digital camera, on location or with available light, here are some simple photography guidelines to get the job done.


Where do you place your subject in the frame?  

Before the subject even arrives, you should scout a location that has good light and minimal background distractions and will allow the subject to feel comfortable in their surroundings.

Employee profile photos should be close up, filling the frame with a friendly face. Be close enough that you can really see your subject, close enough that it feels like you could have a conversation.

It is also important to consider the background. You do not want the background to distract from the focus of the picture. That lamp that looks like an antenna growing from their head, for example, should probably be removed.

The angle from which you photograph should also be considered. If you photograph from below, you run the risk of portraying your subject as having more chins than fingers (not ideal). Instead, you want to flatter the subject and the natural lines of their face.

It is often best to photograph your subject from a slightly higher angle, which avoids the chin(s) issue and evokes a friendlier connotation.

Separate your subject from the background by moving the subject off the back wall and create space between the background and the model. This will blur the background, creating a shorter depth of field, and draw attention to the person and not the background.


How can you use available light to give life to an image?

Have you ever photographed inside and had the people in your photos turn a sickly green, blue or yellow? Or have you used a flash in a space only to have people in the photograph look stunned and washed out?

Offices are often lit with florescent overhead light, creating a green or blue cast on the photo, which is not very flattering for a portrait. It is best to move around and look for a well-lit space with a simple background.

Perhaps move to a window and sidelight your subject, use a whiteboard to bounce light, or move to that bright breakroom. Essentially, find a space where the subject looks good in the light—avoiding harsh, artificial light that can detract from the warmth of the photo.

Turn off the flash on your camera or phone. I know many people swear by the way of the flash, but I find that a flash flattens out the subject and people often appear as deer caught in the headlights.

Think about it this way: Are you more likely going to get a natural, comfortable expression with a blinding flash of light in the subject’s eyes, or without?

If you prefer or are assigned to an outside location, you should scout locations for backgrounds that add life to the photograph without stealing the show. You should also pay attention to the direction and quality of light.

The golden hours for photography are early morning or late afternoon where the light is soft and a golden color. Photographing someone outside at high noon creates high contrast and harsh shadows, and it can be unpleasant for the subject.


How can you use timing to capture the true personality of your subject?

Making a photograph is an interactive process. You don’t just point a camera at a person and say, “Smile.” It is not a firing squad, where you line ’em up and shoot ’em down, but an interactive engagement.

Have a conversation, ask questions, relax your model until they forget you are a photographer and respond to you more as a person who is interested in their story. Have your camera ready, the image all framed in the viewfinder and be ready to release the shutter (press the button) when your model is fully engaged.

French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson coined this action as “the decisive moment,” the perfect moment that photographers seize to make the best photo.

Slow down, pay attention to detail, look through the viewfinder, frame and compose the image, observe how the light lands on your subject, engage, and wait for the decisive moment. Click.

And remember you should be having fun, interacting with your colleagues!

Eileen Ryan is a Ragan Consulting Group Affiliate and has been photographing people all over the world. Her photographs tell stories and emphasize the humanity of all those in front of her lens.

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