Dressing and personal grooming tips for that “perfect look”.

One of the most common questions I’m asked when I get called into a project (portraits, advertising, workplace etc.) is, “What should I wear?”  For the most part, the answer is simple. Wear what you would wear if you are meeting the viewer of the website/magazine/signage in person. If there are several different types of people viewing the image, dress for the audience that will impact your business the most … or to whom the business use of the image is aimed. 

But, as they say, the devil is in the details. Opt for something to wear that is a comfortable style for you. That doesn’t mean formal dress is out. Many business people, especially those who work in a formal business environment, feel more at ease in a tie and suit. So, if it fits the image purpose, a white shirt, dark suit and dark tie are perfectly acceptable. However, physical comfort as well as the attractiveness of the final product is largely influenced by the actual fit of your clothing. So please choose apparel that fits your body correctly.

Tasteful and subtle is usually best, but “Bold and Dramatic” can work as well if that is appropriate for your company and is the message you want to convey. In fact, a small but significant sample of bold color can improve the composition of an otherwise subtle or monochromatic image.  And there is an entire spectrum of boldness you may opt for so you can choose to be bold, “tastefully.” That being said, big patterns usually don’t look good in the final image because they tend to dominate the frame, taking attention away from the primary subject (such as the person’s face) and overwhelm any subtle background cues we are trying to convey. Large and colorful jewelry or scarves can distract from the main focal point as well.

As far as color and smaller patterns go, there is great flexibility. Make sure the color you choose complements your complexion, but contrasts enough so background, jackets, skin tone, etc. don’t “blend” into the clothing.  Stripes don’t have to be avoided, but in cases where the background is complex, the background images may have to be blurred a bit. Whites and blacks used to be avoided in photography because they were somewhat difficult to capture on film.  This is no longer the case, so avoiding them is no longer necessary. 

With regard to grooming, men, shave or groom your facial hair, carefully, on the day or the shoot. Major haircuts, hair re-styling, or mustache and beard reshaping should be avoided as much as possible in the days immediately before a photo shoot. Likewise, any major procedure on your skin, such as a chemical peel, should be held off until after the session. Finally, dramatic makeup should be reserved for non-business purposes.  Photography doesn’t need additional makeup to accentuate facial features. Your best bet is to wear what you do in a regular business environment and let me use my camera and post-production expertise take care of the rest.


Maximize time management with the use of artful digital manipulation.

com•pos•ite kəm-pŏz′ĭt - noun, a thing made up of several parts or elements.  However, in commercial photography it should be defined as a photo that uses technology to solve scheduling and location problems.  In my experience getting a group of people in the same place, at the same time, ready to take a photograph is not a simple nor painless pursuit. Conflicting personal schedules, unexpected business or personal emergencies, environmental issues at the shoot location. All these can make an executive or staff shoot a nightmare to stage, and take up a massive amount of unproductive time.  And the higher up the corporate ladder the subjects are, the more difficult it becomes to synchronize availability.

This is where composites become a super-tool in overcoming these all-too-common hurdles. Instead of arranging every subject within the same frame at the same time, I often shoot a static background and separate shots of the individual subjects required within the photograph. I often do the subject shots in front of a solid color background. I can even shoot people in multiple locations, such as in a corporate office in San Francisco, the lab in San Jose or elsewhere in Silicon Valley. Or even at their residence in Walnut Creek. Then, in photoshop I mask out the individual subject’s image and copy them into the group and in front of the background. And while this sounds easy, if the light source, direction and brightness are not closely matched and managed the composite looks amateurish – not up to the level needed for corporate or business photography. That is why I pay particular attention to this, taking a set of photographs of each subject and of the background, and carefully inspecting the final lighting and perspective to make the image believable. 

Even the subjects in the image above have to be matched. Despite the fact that the client chose the effect of a pure white background for this group shot, the lighting, angle of view and size of each subject have to make sense to the subconscious “eye” of the viewer.  AND…..

Composites work for single subjects as well. I often shoot a series of portraits in front of a backdrop under controlled lighting - a very quick process. Then later I walk around the location shooting slightly blurry background scenes with existing lighting. These images are then composited with the portraits to show the subject in their individual work environment. The trick here is to light the subjects as though they were caught with beautiful natural light while matching the background color and contrast with the the subject to make a believable image. If you’re photographing people in the real location environmental portraits like this take a lot of time to figure out the location and light. Sometimes that’s necessary to convey the information you want to convey. But when that isn’t critical it’s so much quicker, easier, nicer looking and not subject to environmental issues not under our control, such as weather. No scheduling and rescheduling needed to produce an impactful shot with exactly what the customer wanted for their business. 


Using background cues to provide a richer story - or, in favor of the environmental portrait.

Out of focus doesn’t mean out of mind. Everything in the frame conveys information. In fact, the part of the image around the subject can be the richest area to provide context and flesh out messaging.

When someone looks at a photograph, that person’s attention is drawn to the point of focus, i.e. the main subject of the photo, if I’ve done my job right. But non-focal and peripheral vision, as well as the subconscious, take in the information from the background and start processing it immediately, blending the information from the background and unconsciously overlaying it with the information from the focal image. This delivers a more complete story to the viewer’s brain.

From my portfolio of portraits you can see I pay particular attention to background and work diligently to place strong “hidden messages” within the frame.  I try to impart concepts about the subject – “working team” manager or top-level corporate executive - and the firm the subject represents – warm and relaxed, suburban medical practice or innovative, unstuffy, successful company

I think this is one of the things that differentiates me from other corporate and business photographers. I spend just as much or even more time determining background images, lighting, etc. to elaborate on the company and the person’s message so it can be more powerful. This contributes to the impact and memorability of the image, so it can be much more effective.

One of the most useful tools I use in this effort is blur. While some background images are most impactful when those images are crystal clear (see my blog post: Did You Get My Good Side), controlling the level of blur, either with the camera during the shoot, or digitally in post-production, I can bring many elements into the frame (or leave them in the frame if they can’t be removed) without losing the eye’s focus on the main subject. It reduces the “busy”-ness of the image but still conveys recognizable elements that provide additional information about the subject. Even high levels of blur, where these background elements are barely identifiable they still convey certain messages about warmth, friendliness, casualness by incorporating even just the pattern of color and luminosity.

Of course, not all shoots require this skill. In fact, many executive portrait sessions are strictly governed to maintain background as consistent and universal as possible. And I am perfectly happy and experienced to shoot those. But for situations where complex messaging is extremely important, such as for magazine stories or annual reports, I find my approach to background messaging to be a potent tool to create the most successful, best look.

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