The assignment was to photograph approximately 300 employees separately, as traditional business portraits against a white backdrop. In addition, an environmental portrait was to be taken, anywhere in the facility, producing an image with a soft focus background. My creative initiative was to make every environmental background different.
There were a few considerations for this whole project. Being a corporate setting for an established commercial construction company, the facility was perfect with many locations within the building to shoot the environmental portraits. The headquarters was beautifully constructed with a variety of architectural details, tall windows in all directions, 3 floors, large, well appointed conference rooms, glass, steel, brick, bright daylight balanced pendant lighting, staircases, long hallways and cooperative participants. This is all a photographer could hope for.
My studio setup was in a large unused conference room. I had plenty of room with many outlets! My backdrop was an 8 foot x 8 foot section of white seamless paper. The plan was to be consistent with each photo session, since I would be breaking the set and setting back up for each day of shooting. I measured and marked the floor for lights, camera and background. The camera was tethered to my laptop so each participant could view and choose the frame they liked directly following the shoot.
Here is another view of the “studio” setup where the all important background lights are visible. Those background lights needed to be most consistent with regards to light output. The target color was a subtle off white. The whole job needed to look like it was shot in one day. In reality it was shot over the period of one month.
The studio images were consistent, engaging and lit the way I envisioned prior to the start of the project. I have my subjects stand and lean in toward the camera with elbows on an adjustable small table. With their back straight, this pose connects subject with viewer. I chat it up a bit before shooting. We have a good time and we learn a little about each other for the 7 or 8 minutes I allow.
Following the studio shot in the conference room, I had anywhere in the entire facility to compose and shoot an environmental image of each person. In total there were about 175 participants. As I mentioned earlier, I wanted to find a different background for each person. It was not as difficult as it sounds. My lens was a 105 mm f 2.8 macro lens. I use it for product photography but it is a great lens for these kind of portraits. Shot wide open at 2.5 the backgrounds go quite soft. Below are examples of the results of using that lens in various locations. It doesn’t take much. With a small turn to the right or to the left, a new background is there as you can see in this checker board example image.
When I look for the location, I look at the light, and where it falls behind the person. I look to see if there is a window or lights hanging and I look at color. All of these elements will be in soft focus. If I include a window, I only include a portion of it. I want the portrait to retain the reality that it was shot in doors.
The discovery I made, progressing through this photography project, was that backgrounds can be viewed on a separate palette or as an unrelated element from the subject. Basically, I ignored the person while I scouted for an interesting setting to shoot in. I knew, once I found it, my subject would look good as well. Don’t forget, we already spent 10 minutes shooting the studio portrait and getting to know each other.