Truth in Professional Headshots

Today’s photographer has more tools to create photographs than ever before – from removing objects, to creating scenes, blemish removals, etc..  You can create composites, add people to a photograph from a different session, etc.. But personally, I draw the line with replacing backgrounds.

Maybe it’s just me, but I’ve yet to see a photo where I couldn’t tell something was wrong – maybe it’s the depth of field (for those of you who don’t know what this is, it’s the areas in front of and behind the main focal point of the subject that is in focus) that doesn’t look quite right, or maybe it’s the lighting that looks a bit off, or the way the person just doesn’t seem to blend well into the scene, I always find myself frowning when I look at a headshot or portrait where I’m pretty certain wasn’t representative of the original scene.

So why does this matter? And what if nobody else cares? Admittedly, I’m somewhat of a perfectionist (although my wife might disagree given some of the results of past projects I’ve done around the house….); my brain immediately reacts to things that don’t seem right – and from a photography perspective, I don’t like to be “hit over the head” with an image that yells “hey, I’ve been manipulated”. Don’t get me wrong, I love dramatic portraits – work by photographers such as Gregory Heisler (“50 Portraits”) and Joe McNally (various books) always draw me in to the mood/message they’re conveying about their subjects. But their images look believable to my eye, whether they’ve been manipulated or not. Ansel Adams spent a good deal of time in the darkroom “dodging and burning” his images to achieve the look he wanted for his work. To me, those are artists who are creating art, and when I’m creating an image for that purpose I too will use whatever tools I have in my disposal to create that look.

But to me, professional headshots are different – It’s about the person, their personality, professionalism, how approachable they are – or about the team/company and perhaps a common theme (friendly, concerned, collaborative, team oriented, etc.). If you want to show people in the office environment, then the shots should be made in that environment. When a prospective employee, partner, or customer who saw the image on your website visits your office, they may recognize the scene (consciously or sub-consciously) and feel some familiarity, which is a good thing. Placing that person against the Boston skyline, when the company is based in Worcester (Ok, that’s an extreme example) not only doesn’t make sense, it feels like false advertising. It just doesn’t look right.

It’s becoming harder and harder to separate fact from fiction – and in a business setting, customers and employees want to work with people/companies that have integrity, are truthful, and honest. Your images should reflect that as well – keep it real. And my suspicion is that I may not be the only person who reacts this way.