Women in Business

Have you ever noticed how male-dominated a lot of business imagery is? And then if there is diversity, it tends to be a rainbow nation of ethnicities and all genders in a slightly bizarre “aren’t we all just so happy to be here with our lattes and iPhones pointing and laughing into the middle distance” sort of a way.

My advice always is to avoid the cliché by featuring your own business and your own colleagues in the images for your website. That way, you’ll represent a natural cross-section of your team.

However there is one area of my own website where I will always favour an image of a female business person over that of a male. The reasons aren’t purely for promoting women in business, but that too is a factor in my policy when deciding which photo should be on the home page.

The thing is, my work consists mostly of corporate portraits, with editorial-style business pictures, conference photography and various other forms of corporate communications photography following in behind, so it makes sense to make my main image a portrait.

Following on from that, for the most part people looking to book me for the work I do will find my website through Google (other search engines are available, but nobody ever uses them) and more often than not it’s marketing managers, office managers and personal assistants who find me. And they’re overwhelmingly female.

So yes, perhaps cynically, I want to make sure that landing on my home page is a comfortable experience for those most often given the responsibility of booking me. Certainly I see no reason why the “hero/ine image” needs to be male, and there’s something to be said for offering a main image to which my core clients can relate.

There is also the practical consideration that if someone landing on my home page sees a male face, there’s a risk they’ll think they’re looking at a photo of me, which if not necessarily upsetting, might at the very least appear conceited. I save my site visitors that particular pleasure for the About page, which when you see it you’ll understand why vanity is probably one of the few vices I don’t suffer from. The reason I feature my face at all is because I believe in practicing what I preach.

This post was inspired by the person who is the latest to be featured on my home page, Hazel, who works for a firm in Bristol. The other week I asked Hazel if she’d mind being featured, and the points outlined above are pretty much how I framed my request. Hazel completely understood and had no qualms about being featured on my home page, which is great because not all headshots necessarily fit, but her company’s portrait requirements work well within the space.

So thanks Hazel! And to anyone out there I photograph in future, especially women, don’t be surprised if I ask you too – I do like to update that page whenever I can. Equally I’ll understand if you’d rather not be featured, but at least if you’ve read this article you’ll understand why I’ve asked in the first place.


Goldilocks and the photo.

Can brilliant corporate photography save a failing business? No. BUT it will be part of what makes success easier to achieve. Conversely if a business is using snaps or stock imagery, this can be, as an American business guru might put it, a drag coefficient on your success rocket. *blech!*

I don’t pretend that the photos I take will turn you into an overnight sensation and put you in contention for The Sunday Times Rich List, but it’s fair to say that when marketing departments go to the trouble of getting a lively, engaging web design together with compelling text and a user-friendly interface, what often lets the whole project down is the lazy or cheap approach to the accompanying imagery.

call centre staff on telephone

Quality photos say “quality business”.

Head shots of key staff needn’t be cheesy, and they certainly mustn’t be low quality just because they’re going to be used small. You never know when you might need to reproduce one to a larger scale and in print, and that’s when poor lighting and composition as well as poor resolution really start to show up. The purple gargoyle look doesn’t suit anyone. Neither is it helpful if an over-compressed file leaves you looking like you have some kind of skin disease.

Photographs of products and processes, people, places (and all the stuff not starting with p) all require a level of quality. After all, shot once you can use these images over and over again and they’ll pay for themselves in time, whereas low-grade, badly taken images will simply remind potential clients how little you care for quality every time one of these photos shows up.

Equally, if you get great imagery but either don’t use it at all or don’t use it properly, you’ll be wasting your money and you’ll think it wasn’t good value. This comes back to using a quality photographer who can give good after care, and a marketing specialist who knows how to use pictures for maximum impact.

Where’s all this going? Well I believe it’s possible to overstate the importance of photography in business, but what’s happened since the mass-accessibility of digital is that things have swung too much in the other direction. General opinion is often that photography has no, or very little importance. Often I’ve seen web designers refer to the photos in their designs as “eye-candy”. If the photos are just eye-candy, why bother with any imagery at all? And why do I have so many clients if what I do has no impact on their business?

If your business uses photography it should be as a way of communicating something to existing and potential clients. Not just showing that which is in front of the camera, but the quality, composition and presentation of the photo will all be shorthand for the kind of business you are.

Now, that’s not going to save a business which is already circling the drain, but dismissing photography on your website and in your literature as “so much fluff” won’t help you to the top of your market either. As Goldilocks might have said, you need to get the balance just right.

Face Up to Portrait Fears

Recently I’ve been asked to shoot a lot, and I mean A LOT, of corporate portraits for many different clients. It tends to go like this; slightly nervous office staff shuffle into the broom cupboard I’ve been assigned to as my portable studio for the day, and I have to stop them hyperventilating with fear at least until I can get a nice photo of their smiling face, preferably with eyes open and a minimum of sweat shine on their noses.

I understand the fear. I too am not delighted when someone points a camera at me, so I feel their pain. That’s why I try to settle the sitter, crack some bad jokes, and be as quick as possible.

However, there is another way. Not to say that the standard portrait isn’t important and useful, but if you’re trying to arrange a photo shoot for a collection of colleagues who break out in hives at the thought of looking into my dead, glassy eye, perhaps the candid portrait would be a better option.

In this scenario you can gather a selection of people around a table and get them chatting while I work around the group, capturing smiling, positive expressions. Lay on some coffee, biscuits (cookies for our American friends), or water and let people chat, relax and forget that I’m there. They might use the time to discuss some project that they’re planning, or just have a bit of a social. Within minutes they’ll forget I’m there, and it’ll show in the photos.

relaxed corporate portrait

Chatting to a colleague takes the mind off being photographed.

Another option is to have colleagues come to me in pairs. One of the pair will be photographed while the other chats to them, tells jokes and makes them laugh and interact. They won’t be looking into camera, but as with the round-table discussion shots it’s a way of relaxing people into the photo session. It creates more dynamic images which can be useful for more than just the About Us section of the website, and you’ll have a broader choice of angles and expressions so pictures on the website can be periodically refreshed, and pictures in a brochure can be different from those on the website.

In any event, I can always finish off with a final shot to camera, by which time the sitter should be relaxed enough to give a more natural smile.

I’ve blogged before about why decent portraits are important, but at the risk of repeating myself, these photos are generally used on business websites in the About Us section, or in corporate literature. They are the World’s window on the people that make up the business and those photos are the first impression anyone gets of the business. The photos will be used repeatedly and different contexts, each time making a first impression on someone new. So if you’re going to spend good time, money and fear on corporate portraits, consider the options I’ve set out. It really doesn’t need to be as painful as route canal work. At least not always.