Executive Portraits

While most photographic portraits involve the full cooperation of the subject, executives often view sitting for a portrait as a necessary evil, something to be put up with because of orders from above or the situation requires it. They want to get it over with quickly so they can get on with their real work.

On the other hand, shooting a really good portrait can be time-consuming. You need to get the lighting just right. Hair (and makeup, if it is used) must be just perfect or appealing. Clothes have to fall nicely, with creases and folds adding to rather than detracting from the portrait. And you have to take enough shots to make sure at least one of them captures the right facial expression and posture.

In other words, the subject and the photographer could end up being at cross-purposes with each other, which can be counterproductive to getting a great shot. The answer is to get the executive on your side. Therefore, capturing a good executive portrait often requires that you employ a sense of office politics and fundamental psychology.

One thing you can do to help you navigate through this potential mine field is to prepare everything (including yourself) as much as possible before the executive arrives to be photographed.

■ Set up and test the lighting before the executive arrives. Have an assistant sit in for the executive—preferably someone who is approximately the same size and coloring as the executive.

■ Spend some time studying the exec before the day of the shoot. Know the geometry of his face, his coloring, any facial expressions you wish to avoid or encourage. (See Greg Gorman's suggestions on portraiture in Chapter 12.) Does he have a better side or a chin that needs to be minimized? Is one eye larger than the other?

■ Know what habits and mannerisms will best represent her and capture who she really is. Are her hands particularly expressive? Does her smile win her a lot of negotiations, disarming opponents, or is it a particular stare that she has refined to an art?

■ Study his personality, too; learn something about him ahead of time and prepare subjects of discussion that will help you connect with him.

Marilyn Sholin, the portrait photographer (www.marilynsholin.com), said that photographing men and women executives can be very different. "If it's a man, you need to engage him, not unlike the ways I work with children, but with more respect. For men, what they care about is that you give them total respect and recognize that their time is valuable," she explained. "If it's a woman, however, you need to find out what's more important to her. Is she worried about her hair, her suit, or her need to get to the next meeting? Women executives will be very precise with what they need, while men need to be handled. "

By the way, an executive portrait doesn't have to always be the same old traditional head shot. Consider composing a portrait that captures more about the person and the company, by having the executive involved in a definitive activity related to his role and to the company's strengths, which he clearly represents. (See Figure 14-2.)

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