3 IMPORTANT THINGS TO CONSIDER WHEN PLANNING FOR GROUP HEADSHOTS OR ON LOCATION HEADSHOTS
Planning for group headshots or on location headshots always seems overwhelming at first. This is true even for me and I’ve been doing it for 10 years now. I have a hard time just figuring out what to call them — are they group headshots, team headshots, or multi person headshots? Are they considered to be in office, on site or on location? Other than the frustration it causes I suppose it doesn’t really matter outside of marketing. For the purposes of this article I’ll simply use the phrase group headshots to refer to headshot sessions of more than one individual, and on location headshots to refer to headshot sessions outside of the studio. Typically this means in office.
I get quite a few requests for onsite and large group and on location headshot sessions. In fact they are a large part of what I do. There’s definitely a special art to both location and group headshot photography sessions. Only part of it is the photography itself. The other part is producing and planning a location shoot or a session with large numbers.
With larger teams or groups the planning and logistical details are things learned only through experience. There are technical things like what kind of space is available on location to shoot in? Is the space large enough to make use of a longer focal length lens? And then there are scheduling questions like, how many individuals can we shoot in one day?
And then there’s the photography itself. And within the photography portion things can be broken down even further.
To begin this post I need to break things down a bit and clarify a few terms. But before I do I want to note that I’ve tried to set this article up to be easily skim-able for the sake of time, that said, all of the guidelines below are in some way relevant to whatever type of session you may be planning.
Although I think you’ll find that it’s pretty self explanatory the breakdown of different types of headshot or portrait sessions is as follows: There are location or onsite headshot sessions and then there are group headshot sessions. Within group headshot sessions there are small group sessions and large volume group sessions, and either small or large group headshot sessions may occur onsite or on location.
I hate to overcomplicate things but it’s important to know the difference as preparation and the necessary conditions will differ depending on the project type.
Long story short, you may need a session in office with a single individual. That would be an onsite session. You may need a session on site with 50 individuals, that would be a large group onsite session. Those two scenarios require a totally different type of planning. Again, it’s not complicated just worth mentioning, as each case is different.
Without going on any further, here are the 3 things to consider when planning an onsite or large group headshot session.
This is often self explanatory with respect to physical address, as onsite shoots are, not limited to but typically, in office or on location at your place of business. However when you break it down there are some important details to consider when thinking about where the shoot will happen inside (or outside) of your location.
For location shoots that consist of only above-the-waste headshots, I recommend at least 15 x 10 worth of unobstructed space for shooting. I say unobstructed, but I’ve had to shoot over or around a conference table on more than one occasion. So there is some grey area here, and that can be discussed over a quick email or call. To get more technical about it, I need about 15 feet to shoot a subject on a backdrop with the ideal headshot lens (telephoto). And about 5 feet on each side to set up lights. If there are tables or chairs that just aren’t moving, they can often be worked around. The ideal situation is to be in a mostly empty room. But the ideal situation is not always an option. If you have any doubts about your situation always reach out to confirm.
Indoor vs. outdoor
I have a whole article on things to consider when deciding on an indoor or outdoor space for photographs. And another with a few things to consider when shooting outdoors. I would suggest reading it if you’re looking for additional details. I’ll simply say that indoor shoots are typically easier to manage, more flexible, and are at less risk of being disrupted. They are absolutely an option, but I typically would only suggest shooting outside if you really need the outdoor ambience or if you have no working space for headshots indoors.
2) SCHEDULING AND TIME
Time is of the essence when photographing large numbers. Although doing 40 headshots in a day may seem like too much at first, often folks are surprised how little time is needed for each individual. For a typical headshot against a solid background I suggest scheduling each individual on a sliding scale depending on volume. Although it’s my job as a headshot photographer to get the best shot in a limited amount of time, more time never hurts. If you have the time there’s no use in wasting it, as a location fee usually stays the same regardless of how many individuals are being photographed. My scale is based on what I suggest as a minimum. A lot of your scheduling choices are going to depend on subject availability and what’s most cost effective and convent for your situation. So at a minimum I would do as follows: Anything over 50 individuals will likely require more than one day. If you have 30-50 individuals I would work to schedule each individual at least 5 minutes apart with a 1 minute buffer on either end. So 7 minutes total from person to person. If you have 15-30 individuals I would try to schedule each subject at least 7-10 minutes apart. 15 people or less I’d allow for a mimim of 15 minutes each. When scheduling don’t forget lunch. I suggest setting at least a half hour aside for lunch. If you don’t have one already there are a ton of daily planner spreadsheet templates on Canva.
Any photographer may be able to get the right expression if they have the time to take enough photos. But do they have the technique necessary to get the right look in 5 minutes? This is where an experienced photographer comes in. It’s years of experience that teaches a photographer how to do this. But time still matters, there’s no doubt about it, the chances are greater you’re going to end up with the right look the more time you spend shooting. This isn’t to say the photographs in a quick session will come back subpar by any means. But it does mean you need to have that right expectations. A subject may walk away and wish they had done some things differently. They may wish they had more choices to choose from. But just keep in mind that large volume sessions are meant to serve a practical purpose. Those looking in from the outside at images of a team of employees don’t see the same “flaws” that we may see in ourself. So although I try to please every individual who steps in front of my camera, the main goal is to produce a product that works for the entity that hired me. And I’ve received no complaints with respect to this so far.
A third consideration is the style, design or feel of the images themselves. You can look through the images on my site to see what I mean. Some opt to shoot everyone against a uniform solid backdrop. Other opt to shoot everyone against a solid backdrop but with different colors for each subject. Some like office ambience or an architectural element in the background. Some want a contemporary feel, others something more traditional. I could go on and on about what make a great headshot but I’ll simply point out a few key points below.
Contemporary vs. Traditional
There are certain techniques that we photographers use to give an image it’s feeling. Typically, when working with established mainstream entities, to do this without going overboard, we need to tap into the zeitgeist and recreate the essence of a style that most people associate with an already established brand. How far we push the limits of said archetype depends on who we are working for and how much of a risk they are willing to take. By risk I mean in creating an image that is not immediately familiar to the average person. Some entities can get away with this more than others. With most, however, I suggest staying closer to the safe side. All of the philosophical jargon aside, it’s very possible for me as a photographer to work off a term like contemporary as a starting point. It’s very possibly to intentionally plan a photo session to have a contemporary feel. And the same goes for traditional. I don’t intend to point out what elements make up each. I simply want you to know that there is a distinct difference, both say something different about your brand, and both are possible to achieve intentionally. The best way to get to get on the same page with this is simply to share images back and forth between photographer and client.
Photography Background Style
A typical rule of thumb is that you don’t want your background to distract from your subject. Although you don’t want your background to distract from your subject there are ways to add in background ambience that helps a photo rather than hurting it. In fact a subtle architectural angle in the background may give your images the modern look you’re hoping for. The same can be said for a splash of color or implied warm sunlight entering a window. Of all the design related question I get solid vs ambient background is the most common. By ambient I mean something in the background that represents some kind of ambience. Because we are shooting headshot this doesn’t mean it has to represent your location. All though it very well could if that’s your intention, it’s very possible to take a small part of your environment that creates a certain feel without capturing the whole thing. Often I choose to shoot with long lenses that add a blur to the background to keep focus on the subject. This sometimes renders what’s in the background as shape and color rather than object, making what’s in your location even less of a factor — if so desired. The short of it is an ambient background is going to give you a different feel than a solid background. Neither or wrong or right, just different. The second most common design question I get is related to color. This is typically applied to shooting against a solid background. A white background and a black background are obviously going to give you two different feels.
If your small company think about your brand. Consult your designer if you have one. We can adjust the style of our headshots to represent your brand. This is what’s called being “on brand”. This may have to do with color, composition, pose or any other of the aforementioned elements of design.
How budget effects style
To figure out how much flexibility you have here you can simply take the two above considerations, location and time, and cross those with your budget. As the adage goes with a large enough budget anything is possible. This is not to say that you’re limited to a solid backdrop on a budget. I’ve done sessions of 40 or more subjects before with blurred out office ambience in the background. I often do groups of individuals all of which are posed in different office locations. The latter, if isolated to a single location, can be pulled off with generally the same amount of resources necessary to shoot against a solid backdrop. It’s when you start moving around that things get expensive.
Location, scheduling, and style are the three things I tell clients to focus on when planning for group headshots or on location headshots. Make sure your location is doable, practical and within your budget. With really large groups I would only suggest shooting outdoors when necessary for style or logistical reasons. Scheduling is key. But be careful here, often a lot more or less time is needed than you may think. You are not limited to a solid backdrop for location shoots. But be careful to make sure the style you choose is on brand and fits well with your other brand materials. Over all, with all of the facts understood and a little forethought, much can be achieved on an average budget. For more about our group headshots or on location headshots please visit our on location and group page or contact us for more details.