The designers crafted logo, layout, and color palette with meticulous care. Then they posted lots of headshots with little or no attention to how they look, which is usually dictated by the photographer who submitted the pictures. Since each office and maybe each person might have a different photographer, their headshots don’t have a unified look. It is a mess. It hurts branding. And it is typical of most websites. These headshots should strengthen the branding and overall image of the company. Instead they detract.
Fixing the Problem of Poorly Branded Headshots
The answer is simple. Just include the headshots as an important element that needs to be branded, like the logo or color scheme. You’ll want a look that is seamless, upscale, distinctive, and appropriate for your company and business type.
By seamless I mean that if there are different photographers doing the work, which is the usual case for a national or international firm with offices in different cities, you must set a standard look to be followed by all photographers. This look can be created by a photographer, web designer, or graphic designer. Some companies prepare detailed guidelines and ask photographers to adhere to them. Often one or two sample photos would suffice.
By upscale I mean it shouldn’t look like your photography was done in the retail portrait studio of a cut-rate department store. You would be surprised how many times large international financial firms have a shot of their CEO that looks this cheap. If the photographer’s samples don’t look upscale and worthy of the country’s best companies, find another photographer.
By distinctive I mean design your look so it is different from what everyone else is doing, a branded look rather than a generic one. Package your company portraits as carefully as you package your products. Look at your logo and your stationery and you’ll see what I mean.
By appropriate I mean that one style does not fit all. A look that might be strong and creative for one type of company might be over the top for another. The look should fit into your company culture and it should look like what people have come to expect from companies like yours in your field.
Creating the Branded Look
The truth is that most companies don’t care about the branding of the headshots. They want great shots, of course, but the branding elements mentioned above never enter into their requests. Some of the companies I’ve worked with do have a branding scheme already established and request that I follow it. Others solicit my help in creating one. Increased and improved branding is becoming critical in all forms of promotion, both online and in traditional media, so it is wise to make this a priority.
Here Are Some Examples of Branding with Headshots
There are many ways to give your headshots a branded look. You can choose a certain background. One of my law-firm clients chose cinnamon. Not a color I would have recommended, but it definitely made their shots stand out from the pack. The photographer can shoot your people in front of a certain color of background paper or add the color of your choice in post-production.
Some firms with visually appealing offices use office views, usually out of focus for backgrounds. If you have stunning views from the windows, you might use those views as backgrounds. Different angles and windows for different people could provide a unified but varied look. (See figures 1 & 2)
An alternative is to work with the color of photographs. Black-and-white is distinctive, now that most headshots are done in color. Desaturated color, where most but not all of the color is drained out of the images, can be very distinctive and upscale. (See fig. 3)
Changing the lighting is another way to make your branding stand out. The most striking example of this that I’ve ever seen is what I was asked to do for a New York City law firm. We shot horizontally rather than the more common vertical format. We shot in black-and-white rather than color. And we used a high-contrast spot light rather than the traditional soft light from diffused sources. The result was totally distinctive and upscale. And this shows that you can combine changes to several elements at once to create your own branded look, in this case, color, layout, and lighting. (See fig. 4)
Layout is another tool in designing your branding. A large national law firm I shoot for changed their branding a few years ago. During the first ten years I’ve been shooting for them, they didn’t have unified branding, which is still the common situation for most firms. I shot hundreds of lawyers for this firm, and they never told me how to do the headshots. So there was a wide variation in style and look from office to office. Each photographer would give them a different look. Now the firm sends each photographer they use for their many offices a 4-5 page document with their guidelines and sample photos. The new guidelines call for their lawyers to be shot horizonally, centered, with the office out of focus in the background. This makes their headshots and their pages with the images look different from most other firms and is a major improvement in their branding. (See fig. 5)
You can work with layout, format, or any element of the photo to achieve your look. I’ve never done this yet, but suppose we’re shooting company headshots for a high-tech company that makes products for small children. What if every employee wore a brightly colored shirt, with different people wearing different colors, e.g. red, blue, yellow, green, etc.? For the appropriate company and on the right website, this could be a killer brand.
Make Your Company Headshots Work
Every aspect of your brand needs to pull its own weight and work together with the other elements of the brand to make your company stand out in an ever more cluttered, online marketplace. Strong brands achieve more top-of-mind awareness, customer loyalty, and customer evangelism. Your company’s headshots, just like your logo, can help you achieve this.