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Shoot: Corporate Headshots

Lesson 19 from: Lighting, Logistics, and Strategies for a Life in Photography

Joe McNally

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Lesson Info

19. Shoot: Corporate Headshots


Class Trailer

Class Introduction


Location Assessment


Gear Overview


Direction and Wardrobe


Exploring Location and Available Light


Bar Owner: Setting the Scene


Shoot: Bar Owner


Shoot: Bar Owner, Evolving the Look


Lesson Info

Shoot: Corporate Headshots

All right, how's it going? You doing all right? Good, yeah. Good, nice to meet ya when we (mumbles) five minutes ago so we're old friends, you know? Yeah. All right, all right, have a seat. Just relax and I'm going to switch up my lens here. I'm gonna go to a 105, 1. which is kind of a newish telephoto. I'm gonna ask the guys... Do you wanna go hand held here? I think I'll go hand held, I think I'll go hand held, not use a tripod in this particular situation, 'kay? One of the things that I will do, I'm looking already. This chair might be a good camera dolly and platform for me so I'm gonna move this outta the way. 'Cause it kinda has a high back and (chair clanging) try to to bust up the video guy's wires there. And it could project out of her. Let's see, where, where, where? Okay, all right. So hang out there for a sec, hang out, hang out. Tsk, tsk, tsk, tsk, all right. Now, if you look at Brittany, she's got wonderful available light on her face. Could I get a fill board...

, kind of a small silver white fill board kind of dealy? All right, so, thank you man. So let's just see if we wanted, how we could modulate this light. I mean if we just kinda bring this in here. See how it kinda brightened up a little bit? Just like that, just kinda, just a little bit of a glow, kind of a low glow. You can tell how this might be affecting her face by looking at the low catchlights in her eyes. And if you see that low catchlight, this is, generally speaking, gonna have some measure of influence. But also, fill boards are fill boards, they're wonderful. I mean these guys, these are TriGrips. They snap down really easily, okay? And they pop open. So pretty nice to work with. Very kind to the face, you know. You can diffuse light to push it, pull it, reflect it, all that sort of stuff, but it's also, it's passive, right? Like if I have it down here and out of my frame, then it's not gonna have that much effect. But if I bring it in, it has a very palpable effect. But what have I done? I've constrained myself compositionally. So the fill board is effective, and it's nice, and it's loverly and it's wonderful, but also you have to be aware that you might have to go from a passive kind of a fill to an active fill which would be a flash that you might deploy on your behalf. We won't do that right away, we'll wait and save the flash for over there. But let me pull up a frame here and we'll see where we go. Thank you man. Yeah, five six 250. Five six at 250. That's the universal shutter speed f-stop by the way. Five six at 250, it's my favorite. 250 five six, I always shoot, no I'm kidding, I'm kidding. There is no favorite f-stop, you know. There is no favorite shutter speed. Some folks, occasionally I get asked, "Well do you always use your dome diffusers?" Or, "Do you always use a tripod?" and my answer to that, and it's not disingenuous at all, my answer to that is, I never always do something photographically. I never say never, and I never always do something. It is a situational art and craft that is always shifting around on you and your responses have to be, you have to be chameleon-like when you're on location as a photographer. You sometimes have to be a field marshal. Hey, move that light, get this! On radio, get that, move that! You have to sometimes be a psychologist. I've actually counseled on occasion a couple of major celebrities who were very nervous about getting in front of the camera. Had a walk up and down the hallway with one while she chain smoked, you know. And she was so beautiful, but she was so nervous about being in front of the camera. I'm like, you're one of the most beautiful people of earth and you're worried about it? I mean, give me a break. You feel like saying that, but you can't because you have to be nicer about it. And sometimes you have to be a diplomat and broker the situation. Sometimes you have to be a lighting technician and a director of photography rolled into one. Sometimes you just have to shut up, okay? And if somebody doesn't want that relationship, you tell them where to go and what to do and then you shut up and then they leave. It's all these different things under the same kind of name or job description of being a photographer. It just falls into this whole sort of catch-all of various skills that you need. And what hopefully you're getting out of this class at some point here, is the fact that this is not just nuts and bolts and f-stops and shutter speeds and light stands and all of that, it's a job that involves a great deal of human relations. You have to be a person that can talk to people and sort of draw something out of them. How am I doing so far? Great. Just nod, just nod, yeah. He's fabulous, he's amazing, god almighty, you know. Any way, all right, Brittany here we go, okay. So I'm gonna sort out, the coolest thing here sort of is that intersecting lines and then the computers back in here. So, let's see. Could I get a hand here Cali? Let's see, oh, I'm a little tight on Brittany. Can you push her chair back? Do you mind if I move this Brittany? (Brittany mumbles) Come on back. Don't worry Brittany, you're in good hands. Come this way just a tiny bit, too much. There we go, okay let's hang out there. Twist her chair so she's faced more towards the window please. Nice, okay, cool, you okay with that? Yes. All right. All right so let's do eyes of camera here. Now Cali set me up as he always does. We have a starting point. What we try to religiously do, is we try to zero our cameras when we're going out into the field. So he lets me know where our base line is. I'm at ISO 200 right now, 250 at five six on manual. So what I'm gonna do is I'm gonna get out of that immediately. I know where I start, but I'm thinking like, aperture priority might be the way to go here. Anybody can predict how aperture priority might react in a situation like this. All right, so could you kind of maybe just get a little more of aggressive pose there? Kind of lean forward with your shoulders? That's it, lovely, that's beautiful. Okay, kinda like an I'm the boss sort of pose. (shutter clicks) All right. So, aperture priority behaved predictably. If you see this, her skin is a little blown out. Why? She's wearing a black jacket, she's got a black shirt, there's a black wall back there, there's black computer screens. Aperture priority is part and parcel of the machinery of this camera. It is very predictable in its responses. It's gonna see that field of black and it's gonna react and say, oh I wanna make it gray. And so hence this exposure will kind of be a little on the hot side. So I can correct for that, and I can actually add a little ISO. I'm gonna add a little bit of ISO right now, and I can correct for that by introducing, I don't know, let's call it minus one. My shutter speed will get faster. Beautiful. (shutter clicks) All right. Now I've got her reflection in the computer screen. We can't put imagery up on the computer screens because of commercial sort of licensing sort of stuff. We can't have MSNBC on back there or something like that. So I'm gonna kind of live with that. I'm really just showing you what I might be able to do here in an available light scenario. Very quickly, I could do this, I could just take the camera, go to consecutive high. Come in here. (rapid shutter clicking) Now just maybe, just move a little bit, kind of, you know, give me a little bit of, Nice, good look, good look, good look. Nice, perfect. That's cool, that's cool. (rapid shutter clicking) Maybe bring an arm up to your face, relatively or something like that. (rapid shutter clicking) Good look, good look, good look, okay cool. Now could you, if you were making a point to the camera, and if you were like looking at me saying, "No." Come forward and elbow on that, yes. Okay, this is really what I meant to say. (rapid shutter clicking) Okay, cool, nice. (shutter clicks) Nice, perfect. (shutter clicks) And that all kind of comes around pretty well, okay? Pretty easy going stuff. Not a big deal to shoot obviously. Let's just pop this up on my LCD here. She's kind of lit from the, a little bit back lit over in here. Let's bring in a fill board and let me get a little bit closer. Joe can you give us a second to just catch up? Oh are we-- We're tethered and we're raw. I'm tethered and we're JPEG raw and-- Continuous high. Continuous high. (all laugh) You might wanna describe to the audience as to how that might not be a good idea. All right, let me down shift, let me down shift to JPEG fine, we'll get out of raw, okay? We'll just do that, we'll get the raw out of here, find JPEG. Let me know when the computer recovers or if it's just gonna continuously start screaming. This is from Junior Truth Guy, "Does Joe ever take outside suggestions for creative ideas or stories, or are they all the team's, the people that you're working with?" Do you get them elsewhere? Okay, depends on the nature of the job. If it's a home-grown idea that we're trying to pitch, it basically comes outta my head. And Lynn and Cali and Andrew, who you see in the background there too, is very much a member of our team. He doesn't live up near us, so he's not always with us, but we have a good creative team and they will modify my ideas, they will counter punch back you know, and say, "Look you know, "that's gonna be too similar to what we have done "in the past," or something like that. Or Lynn will look at me and she'll have the alarm bells going off in her head, she goes, "There's no way that's gonna be able to be "presented with a reasonable budget." Okay, all right, all right, all right. So sometimes we modify the ideas and shape them. Other times the ideas come to us because the corporation or entity that is assigning us has a pre-fixed notion of what they want. We did a book for a hospital two or three years ago and they wanted an overview of the hospital. Within the context of that, I was pretty free to roam, but they did have objectives. We have to show this machine, we have to show this operating suite, we have to show this particular team of surgeons, et cetera, because they are noteworthy on some level. So then you respond to the needs of the client. Thank you. So it's a question of the direction of the idea. Brittany, I'm gonna go back to single shot (crew chuckles) 'Cause you know, I said I had a lot of coffee. Joe, in what scenarios then, are you shooting in continuous versus single shot? When things are moving fast. Yeah. Olympics, consecutive high, that's obvious. In a situation where I'm shooting available light in the street and, say I have a active model, you know? A sports model, something, jumping around. That kind of thing, then I'm shooting consecutive high. Most likely when I'm out in the street because you can't really see your computer anyway. Probably not tethered at that point. At that point, I have found the D5 consecutive high almost impossible to buffer out. It's really hard to buffer this camera out and it just cranks through files. Helicopter work, that's a job for consecutive high. 'Cause you have that position in the air relative to your subject, and that is always shifting and changing and there's vibration and all sorts of stuff. So yes, I do go to consecutive high on specific occasions. Thank you. Sure, sure. All right, so, let me come in here. I'm not liking the apple and all that sort of stuff. That's at f5.6, so let's see if we can get rid of that. Can we come in with a fill board here? Ken, is that all right? Yeah. You feel good? Yeah. Did I disturb you? No. It looked like you were in a dream state. (crew chuckling) No you all right, okay? All right. I might need some more coffee. (chuckles) I'm gonna come in tighter on Brittany. Okay, beautiful. Now, nice. (shutter clicks) All right, now that looks, that's nicer, but it looks a little bit under. Let's spin you this way, just a tiny bit. Okay, come towards the window. There you go, good, nice, all right. Now, Ken go right underneath her. Right there, flat, nice and flat. And now lift up, up, up. Cool, cool, too much. Come back down Ken, come back down Ken. Good, good. (shutter clicks) Come back down Ken. Good, nice. (shutter clicks) Good look, good look, (shutter clicks) good look, good look. (shutter clicks) All right, so that's a minus one exposure. I think at this point now, getting closer to her, what have I lost? I've lost all the blackness, so now the meter is reacting in what you might refer to as a really tried and true way. (shutter clicking) Sorry? Single, I was on single. Single. I swear to god I was on single. Single won't even hold you back. Let's take maybe a third of a stop out of it. 'Kay cool, beautiful. (shutter clicks) And that's actually really pretty light. That's really pretty for light. That's minus a third. Is there, are the police here? (all laugh) No, we're good. We're all right? Okay, all right (chuckles). I thought I heard one out of nine there or something like that. Okay cool, nice. (shutter clicks) Beautiful, beautiful Brittany. You're absolutely lovely. (shutter clicks) Maybe chin down and look at me like an underling you're about to give a very stern order to, okay? Beautiful. (shutter clicks) Nice, cool, awesome. (shutter clicking) All right, so I'm in single, area AF, I'm dropping that cursor right on her eyelashes, and the camera's grabbing quite well and we have just a very quick, nice, available light portrait. Okay, so, thank you very much. Relax. So I don't wanna belabor that too much, but if I see available light like this, I'm gonna grab it, I'm gonna jump on it. I'm just gonna shoot a few frames and make sure that we have something in the can now we can get more quote, unquote, adventurous. Now let's switch back to a 24 70, let's go over here. My original objective was maybe to look into the dimensions of this room. 'Cause it is a very cool looking room. If you had an office like this, this is gangbusters. This is wonderful, this is fantastic. So we're gonna take it in stages. That was available light, available light with a fill board. Now, Brittany, would you mind coming over and standing over here? Okay, maybe perch on the edge of the desk. Swing around, you're gonna be facing this way. Okay. Nice. Eh, perched, no it's good. Try sitting on the edge of the desk, I'm sorry. Okay, cool, that's also quite nice, lovely, okay, all right. Stay there for a second. Comfortable? Yes. Can I get you anything? You all right, all right? Good, cool. Now, if I look at Brittany here, and actually in this instance, let's go with a tripod, just so I have a continuous frame of reference there. Start in aperture again? Yeah, let's start in aperture again. Cool man. Just one leg extension should be fine. Yeah, oftentimes you wanna be slightly above your subject. In this instance, I wanna keep my line to these windows straight. What will kill you in a situation like this if you really get kind of weird with the windows 'cause they're such a powerful graphic in the background. So, let's do this. Is it a bit high for you? Well let's see. Joe, we'll start natural and then-- Yeah, yeah. Okay. So I'm gonna do an aperture priority test. I'm on f4, ISO 400. I'm just gonna look at the scene. This is defacto a little but wider obviously. That was a headshot what I just did. This has more of a scene. She's in that window area, okay? I have some of my equipment in the back of the room here, I'm not gonna worry about it so much, okay? It is what it is. We could maybe lose that silver fill board though, 'cause that's sort of glaring. Do you need me to move Joe? Sorry? Do you need me to move outta the space? That would be awesome. 'Kay, I will do that then. All right. Us too? Naw, you guys can have a meeting at the conference table back there. I'm pretty relaxed on the set. I think I'm actually quite, you know... Yeah, you got it. (chuckling) You do have to try to have fun when you're doing this. I say that all the time. You have to be, try to project a light-hearted atmosphere, a collegial atmosphere. Try to have fun, have a laugh, and try to make sure that nothing gets super tense on the set 'cause then that just makes for a bad day. So now you're seeing, what you are seeing right now is Brittany framed up by the window, looking very nice. Computers gives an indication of a work space, that kind of thing. We're cleaning up some of the background area there, all of that sort of stuff, okay. But again, aperture priority. What's the camera reacting to? The camera's reacting to all this, okay? All these windows, these big beautiful windows which were my light source just a minute ago are now, not my enemy, but they're working against me in terms of making a viable exposure. So let me do a couple of things here. Okay, Andrew, could you do me a favor and let's actually take that umbrella and let's bring it past my camera. Sure, all right. Here we go. Okay, all right. When you're hot on that light, you're okay. Cool, cool, all right. You want this hot? Not quite yet. I'm gonna get my lines together here. Brittany you look absolutely awesome. I am gonna come up just a little bit though. So what, are you a full time model? I'm actually in school right now. Oh, yeah? Where do you go to school? U-Dub, which is just the University of Washington. Oh nice, nice. Yeah. What's the team logo there, the University of-- Huskies. Huskies, that's right, that's right. Cool. So where is that in relationship to where we are now? Um where are we? We're kind of like down town, it's north Seattle. North Seattle. Yeah. Okay, I've heard really great things about that school. Yeah, I love it. What year are you in? Senior, so I'm about to graduate. Oh goodness, now it's nervous time. Yeah, no it's... (chuckles) what have you been studying? Psychology. Oh, okay. Yeah so. You're gonna have a field day with me you know? All right, cool. You look wonderful, stay with me now. So this is just kind of a part time thing for you? Yeah, so far. All right, nice, cool. (shutter clicks) So 250 at f4, she's framed relatively decently, but now those windows are blowing out. So let's stay in aperture priority, let's work our way through this scene in aperture priority. I know yesterday I said, let's get rid of aperture priority and let's get, attain more certainty, eliminate a variable. And that's always a good instinct, but for the sake of teaching at this moment, let's stay in aperture priority. So how would I get those windows to work for me? I would get those windows to work for me by drawing down the exposure which would mean going into my underexposure dial here, and dropping in, let's call it two stops. Let's go to f8. (shutter clicks) Did I just go the wrong direction? I just went the wrong direction (titters). I looked at the shutter speed, it was twentieth of a second, I'm like it sounded a little slow. That's not where I wanna be. All right, beautiful. That looks absolutely wonderful. Stay with me. (shutter clicks) Yeah, now I'm at a 400th at f8, okay? Now I've got the windows, I've got the windows as a graphic, what is the price you pay for that? You lose the rest of the room, okay? So there's probably kind of a middle ground here that I'm gonna have to establish or attain. Let's maybe not make it like two stops, let's go to one stop stay at f8, 200th of a second at f8. That's brighter and more reasonable. I think that's more reasonable, okay? Would you guys agree? Yeah, Joe, okay good, yeah we all really like it. Okay yeah, that's the class next door. All right, so let's again take it in steps here and try to keep it as simple as possible. What is a big friend that I have right now? (banging) This wall. It's a huge expanse of white wall. There's lots of flat, wonderful, kind of creamy light coming in here. This little flash, bounced off this wall, could give me an equivalent kind of thing. Let's do a bad picture first. Sorry to do this to you Brittany. (Brittany giggles) All right, so green green, we're talking to this SP 5000. I have it camera right, and it's gonna blast its way towards Brittany. (shutter clicks) And there you have it. But I would submit for your consideration that the light that I've just introduced is way too harsh. You see the shadows? It's decent enough exposure. Mechanically I've made an "accurate" photograph, okay? Or a mechanically correct photograph I guess. You could take this and drop it in the newspaper tomorrow and say, Brittany, chief executive officer of CreativeLive. Does Chase know that he's had to abdicate? Yep. So Brittany's now running the show. Awesome. I'll send him a letter. So blasting this light at her, there's a psychological disconnect, right? Because the information and feel of the light that's swirling around in this room is flat, flat, flat, okay? And I've hit her with a sharp light and that is discontinuous with the existing feel. So let's do the incredibly arduous thing of that. Beautiful Brittany, you look absolutely wonderful. (shutter clicks) And that's much, much softer. If you look at that. Now I'm gonna brighten it a little bit more, but the shadows are nowhere near as sharp and as hard. That's because I did a small experiment here in size of light source. Went from a tiny little light source, to a much bigger light source. This wall enlarges it dramatically. Now let's see. I think from the audible of that light, what it quacked at me was that it still has a little gas left. So let's go plus one on the light alone, just the light. (shutter clicks) Okay and now she is, how 'bout that? She's one stop brighter. I put one stop in and she's one stop brighter. That's pretty good. You're doing okay Joe. And that actually is very pretty light. Yeah it's really nice light. Simple, clean, effective light. Is it amazingly articulate? Is it astonishingly revolutionary? No, it's flat light. But it doesn't appear or evince itself, express itself as flat light because it's off at an angle to her. If this wall were right behind me and I washed it this way, then we'd have a classic flat light scenario, almost like a V-flat scenario. Here, it being off to the side, it has, I have a chance to articulate it a little bit. Give some shape and shadow to her face, which gives her face volume and direction.

Class Materials

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Joe McNally Gear List
McNally Lighting Diagrams

Ratings and Reviews


What is there to say, this is a master at work. I feel like I owe Joe a hundred lunches for the information I’ve learned from him and used in jobs through the years. Personally I relate to his slightly self-deprecating style quite well. Joe’s a confident, supremely knowledgeable and incredibly experienced photographer who doesn’t need to wear that on his sleeve to get the point across. He is also clearly a great leader who has built a terrific team. I snap up everything of Joe’s I can find and use it as a library, where every time you watch you take away something new. Thanks Joe, you’re a legend and good on Creative Live for offering this wonderful and beautifully curated course.

ileana gonzales photography

When I saw the chance to learn from the great Joe McNally I jumped through the screen at the chance to be in the audience. It's one thing to see how a fantastic photographer works, thinks, composes and styles, but to get a behind the curtain view at the way his entire shop operates was truly amazing. By allowing us to see Lynn's processes and Cali's workflow it encouraged me to diversify before taking the plunge into the business side of photography. Truly an amazing team and an unforgettable learning experience.


Joe is fantastic! The wealth of information, experience and extraordinary talent he shares is invaluable! He's also a very engaging, humorous instructor who keeps an audience a part of the "discussion." Don't miss a Joe McNally class, seminar or workshop opportunity!

Student Work