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4 portrait photography flaws to avoid
Picture Day was arguably the most important school day.
Deep down, everyone knew that single image would represent them for the entire year and would be forever immortalized in the yearbook. No one wanted to be the person sporting the Pimple of Shame for the rest of recorded history.
The essence of Picture Day trickles into adulthood too.
More and more, banks and credit unions are including staff photography on their websites and other marketing collateral. Staff photos not only serve as a handy tool for your customers to get to know you before an in-person meeting, but they also give your business a face, which in turn can distinguish you from your competitors.
As with your bank website as a whole, staff photos often serve as your business’s first impression. As such, it’s important to take the time and effort to make sure you are conveying the right image. Low-quality files and careless compositions can be as big a turnoff as a bad perm.
Whether you are adding staff photos to your bank website for the first time or reshooting existing ones, here are four photography faux pas to shun:
1. Avoid Inconsistency
Viewers have certain expectations when it comes to viewing photos. When each photograph features a different color tone, background or angle, a staff page ends up looking like a social media feed instead of a professional bank website. It’s important to maintain a level of consistency when handling compositional elements such as backgrounds, lighting, and the position of camera and subject.
The focus of the camera, the time of day and even the type of lightbulbs in the room can drastically alter the colors of your photo. The smallest change can produce a completely different outcome. Setting a camera to its default “automatic” mode and then shooting multiple images in a row causes the camera to treat each photo separately, adjusting based on its readings of light in the room, which is reflected differently based on factors like hair or skin color.
Solution: Artificial light is generally too dim and responsible for unnatural coloring in photos. Use a camera with a manual mode and/or utilize as much natural light as possible.
The photo on the left was taken using an automatic mode, producing a flash. The photo on the right was taken with camera settings adjusted manually, resulting in better color quality.
Perhaps you have a mural in your office that you think would make a great backdrop. But there’s a window on one side, and a blank wall on another. Then you look back on all of your images, and each one has a different piece of the mural in the background. Susan’s has the window peeking into her photo, while Albert has half of a blank wall behind him. When your backgrounds are inconsistent, it makes your staff photos look like puzzle pieces.
Solution: Opt for simplicity when it comes to backgrounds. Neutral, blank walls are timeless yet professional. (If that mural is a must, you can always aim for a blurred background effect, which keeps the image from becoming too busy for viewers.)
The background in the first image is busy and distracting. On the second image, it's been blurred, guiding the eyes to Alyssa's lovely face.
Location, location, location
Remember that scene from The Shining where the twin children stand at the end of the hallway and as the camera cuts back, they’ve suddenly moved closer to the screen? While this is done to achieve a frightening effect in the film, you don’t want your staff “jumping around” the page from image to image.
Solution: Mark a spot on the floor for subjects to stand on and use a tripod when taking photos, which you can adjust vertically to compensate for height differences without throwing off the frame.
The fact that these two images were taken at different angles becomes apparent when the photos are positioned next to each other.
2. Avoid Distractions
Staff photos allow you to present people as a group while letting each person stand out individually. You want the people themselves to shine. Therefore, having a distraction in your photos is no different than the Pimple of Shame; you don’t want the diversion to be the first thing your client sees when looking at you or your employees.
Why so serious?
Even if your company’s name is Serious Corporate Bank, you won’t want to come across as too severe to your clients. Suits and ties may work with your brand’s target audience, but it’s important to make sure all of your staff are at least smiling in their photos. Stoic portraits come off as cold and mean, whether or not their faces are like that naturally.
Solution: Keep the life in your photos with a subtle and natural feel. Make sure your subjects are smiling at least at little in their photos.
The left photo looks more like the cover of a pretentious indie album — not suitable for a professional bank website catering to clients.
Wait, you’re not the lame credit union, you’re the cool credit union…the fun credit union, right? But if your colleagues end up stretching their faces into crazy shapes or obscuring them altogether in their photos, it could come across as trying too hard. In some cases, it might even end up looking unsettling to people outside of your company. You want your staff to be recognizable in their photos — and hopefully Lucy doesn’t actually walk around with her nose scrunched up like that.
Solution: If you decide to use goofy portraits on your staff, be sure to also include neutral poses. Above all, use good judgement to keep from creeping out your customers.
While all of us at the office got a good laugh at this photo, it's bound to be unsettling for anyone else.
Vivid and elaborate patterns might be all right in person, but they tend to become a distraction in still photos. Remember, the focus should be on the face, not the outfit. Schedule a day for taking photos, and make sure everyone knows about it ahead of time. That way, they can keep their cowboy hats and paisley button-ups at home.
Solution: Solid colors and simple shirts like polos and plain tees turn out the best.
Patrick's a cool dude, but he can be just as cool without the distracting neon hoodie.
3. Avoid Shortcuts
Customers can identify a careless effort when they see it. If you want to come off as a dedicated, professional organization, it’s important to demonstrate that dedication in your staff pictures as well.
Phoning it in
Though your smartphone might have an 8-megapixel camera, it lacks other functionality to produce photos that are clean, professional, and high quality for print and the web. If you use a phone, you risk your photos being fuzzy, out-of-focus, unflattering or a combination of the three.
Solution: Use a DSLR camera whenever possible. At minimum, use a tool built primarily for taking pictures — not a tablet, phone or your old Nintendo DS.
The left image was taken with an iPhone 5s, which boasts an 8-megapixel camera. The lack of quality is evident when compared to the image on the right, which was taken with a Nikon DSLR.
Snap and share
Every photograph needs at least a little post-processing time. I’m not referring to the major retouching jobs you see in most magazines, but rather some brightening and color management.
Solution: Properly using Photoshop or another image editing program will make a world of difference.
The unedited image was taken on a cloudy day, resulting in underexposure. A little lightening and retouch goes a long way.
Bad lighting is the worst culprit of all staff photo blunders. While studio lighting is often the most professional route, creating a flattering light setup requires extra time and skill. Photographers who fail to update their light setups based on modern tools and techniques typically produce outdated photos.
Solution: If you’re not a whiz at studio lights, utilize natural light by taking photos outside or near a window with a lot of light.
The first photo was taken in a poorly lit hallway while the second was taken beside a large window with plenty of sunlight.
4. Avoid Trends
That black and white photo of the flower you saw on Facebook — the one with only the red color of the petals showing through — looked really cool the first time you saw it. But after all your friends shared it, you start seeing similar photos all over the place. Such is the fate of overused photo fads.
“Vignetting” refers to darkening or lightening the edges of a photo to draw focus to the center. Before digital cameras, vignettes required a special type of lens. Nowadays, they can be easily added with any photo-editing program or app — which is why they’ve become overused.
Solution: Vignettes usually end up looking tacky and outdated. Be subtle or, better yet, avoid them altogether.
The left image shows a heavy vignette effect. On the right, a vignette effect was still added, but subtly.
You might be surprised at how often black-and-white and sepia portraits pop up. There are other ways to be creative and unique without robbing your staff photos of life and variety.
Solution: Keep the color in your employees’ faces and save the drama of black and white photography for true theatrics.
By making this image grayscale, we robbed the light from David’s beautiful eyes.
Please don’t ever use marbled backgrounds, if only for my sake. Those portraits with dappled backgrounds peaked in the 1980s and never left. In the modern world of flat design and minimalism, marbled and other abstract textures look out of place.
Solution: If your photographer offers you a marbled backdrop, opt for anything else.
I couldn't find a marbled backdrop, so I had to Photoshop one in. The horror!
The best bank website design can’t save you if you have bad photos. Either hire a professional or take the time internally to prepare and manage your staff photography like you would any other project.