Business Portraits – Before and After

This morning, I was given the opportunity to give a 10-minute presentation to my weekly BNI breakfast/networking group in St. Catharines. Normally I bring in a slideshow of images, give tips on how members can improve their photography, or talk about my philosophy as a photographer and an image maker. This morning, I thought that I would do something a little bit different – I would do a “live shoot” for a business portrait.

A lot of the times after I take a great portrait and show people, they will say something along the lines of “wow, you must have a nice camera”, which usually just makes me laugh. It’s really no different than walking in the kitchen at your favourite restaurant after a delicious meal and saying “wow, you must have the best pots and pans back here!”. At the end of the day, the equipment doesn’t make the photograph, the photographer does, and the skill, knowledge and personality of the photographer will be what makes a great (or not-so-great) photograph.

Like I mentioned, this morning I did a before-and-after walkthrough of my set-up for a typical on-location business portrait. I discussed how creating a great image is more than just “snapping the shutter” and instead it’s a carefully thought-out process on posing, lighting, positioning, cropping and other relational elements (getting reactions and expressions).

On the left of the photo, below, is the “before” photo. This is when I said to Mat (one of our members) to simply stand there for the photo. Maybe some people would be happy with this “before” photo – it’s a pretty decent picture of Mat. To me though, it’s lacking any professionalism, finesse and flattery. Here’s a few notes I made about the “before” photo:

  • There’s a distracting background (tables/TV screen). 
  • The green background/wall colour doesn’t photograph well in my opinion.
  • The light source (fluorescent lights) light Mat from overhead, so there are non-pleasing shadows under his face and under his eyes (racoon effect).
  • The fluorescent lights also create an unflattering green cast on Mat’s skin tone, and hotspots on his forehead that are not complementary to his face shape.
  • Mat’s body positioning is straight-on to the camera, making him appear wider than he actually is.
  • Mat’s expression is relatively bland (after all, what would you expect of an expression if a photographer just pointed a camera at you and didn’t give you any direction?) – he’s a fun, friendly and warm kind of guy and so this doesn’t portray the real Mat that we all know.
  • The camera-angle is at the same level as Mat’s eyes, creating a very “ordinary” perspective – boring, once again.
  • Mat’s head position is as it would be when he normally stands, which isn’t the most flattering for portraits. There’s no definition between his chin/jawline and his neck, and being able to see under his chin is unflattering.


I took literally 60 seconds (I only had 10 minutes for the whole presentation) to change the lights, the pose, etc, and came up with this “after” photo. Here’s a few notes as to why I think it’s much better:

  • Cleaner background by cropping and positioning.
  • I turned off the fluorescent lights and opened the blinds strategically to light Mat with a soft directional light, from the side instead of overhead.
  • I added a flash in the background with a blue gel to eliminate the bland green background.
  • I sat Mat on a chair angled slightly. This achieved a few things. First, my camera angle is now higher than his eye level, resulting in a more powerful pose. Secondly, his body is angled instead of being straight-on, resulting in a more pleasing and flattering pose and thirdly, he is looking up towards the camera which eliminates being able to see under his chin.
  • I had Mat “turtle” his head out towards me to more clearly define his jawline and create separation between his head and his neck.

Let’s say that I had done all this and was “done” and asked him to “smile” for the camera. I still wouldn’t have come up with a great portrait. The finishing touch was the natural reaction and smile that I coaxed out of Mat. It was a quick photo when he was in the middle of a genuine laugh (I think I said something along the lines of “don’t look bitchy” to get him to laugh). This is the most important point and I tell people all the time that you can be “technically” the greatest photographer in the world, but if you can’t make people feel comfortable and elicit great, natural expressions out of them, then you won’t make a great portrait. This is a great example of it, in my opinion.

And that’s it for my BNI presentation! A quick before-and-after example of the kind of warm, inviting and environmental business portrait that I can create in a seemingly bland, un-photogenic and open meeting space.

This is what I specialize in – on-location business portraits. I like to come in, work with the environment to create an image that tells a more complete story while making you and your space look great. If you’d like to see more of my business portrait work, please check out the “Business” section on my website here.

One Response to Business Portraits – Before and After

  1. Jim Brown says:

    Great work this morning Bryan. I was at your presentation this and your knowledge and understanding of photography is quite apparent. The pictures that you created in the short time and unusual setting; impressed us all. As you mentioned, it not the equipment that make the professional; because we all have cameras. Well done, imagine what could be accomplished if it wasn’t all pressed into a ten minute presentation.

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