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January 2013
More Than Just A Photo - What images say about your business and how to improve them
By Ryan Sumner

     In today’s digital marketplace, the photographs on your company’s website and social media are the equivalent of your firm handshake. They should be thoughtfully presented and represent you in the very best light. No matter how eye-catching your headline or snappy your copy, it is imagery that first attracts a viewer to an ad, article or website. It’s also the first and sometimes only thing later recalled by a viewer.

     Photographs of your building, offices, executives and/or staff can begin humanizing your company long before a prospect actually meets or talks to a member of your team. If they make a favorable first impression, the viewer often experiences what psychologists call the “halo effect”—whereby the perception of positive qualities in one respect gives rise to the perception of similar qualities in other respects or in the whole.

     Studies have shown, for example, how being physically attractive skews judgments favorably towards individuals in terms of likability, competency and trustworthiness, and advertising is predicated upon the effect of selecting attractive candidates to represent products and services. The more positive a viewer reacts to photographs of your business or executives, the more likely they are to favorably view your products and services.

     And, according to a 2005 Princeton University study published in Psychological Science, people make those decisions about competency, trustworthiness, and likability in less than 1/10th of a second. Literally the blink of an eye. People will continue to use a website or read written material that makes a favorable first visual impression; if unfavorable, they will leave your site and toss your mailed pieces before they learn you may be offering more than your competition.

     You can’t afford to risk your business’s reputation with poor-quality photos that will infer poor-quality on your services and products. But you don’t want to waste money either. So what is the best way to get your company represented in the best possible photos?

     Sending company executives to an outside studio for portrait shots will require a great deal of time by all concerned and result in less than engaging photo formats. Oftentimes, in fact, environmental portraiture can tell more of a story than a traditional seamless background photo.

     Attempting to use Jim from the mailroom for corporate photography because he also “does photography” could be equally foolhardy, especially considering the expenses of time spent and business interrupted whilst employees are diverted for less than professional results.

     The best option is to outsource the project to a professional photographer that specializes in location studio work. Such an image-maker can set up backgrounds and lights in a meeting room or other space and/or can utilize visually evocative elements of the building or interior office for environmental portraiture.

     Additionally, good photographers have a great deal of knowledge regarding different lenses and lighting to create different effects or evoke particular emotions; good frame visualization and selection of background effects; suggestions for scene layout, perspective and even posing and dress; and, frankly, experience assuaging even the grumpiest of executives.

     In short, the professional can pose the company’s people and premises in the most favorable and engaging light possible while providing a continuum and consistency to the photography taken.

     Equally important to obtaining a quality photo is the knowledge and skill in processing it post-production. Processing encompasses overall adjustments to the photo’s temperature, contrasts and saturation, and retouching. An experienced professional will want to get the photo right in the camera at the outset, with proper lens work, composition, exposure and lighting…i.e. not a lot of befores-and-afters.

     A lot of the photos that people think are retouched actually aren’t—the colorful effects in the Firebird photo shown here, for example, were not created in Photoshop, but are mostly a product of the exposure time through a very small aperture and polarized lens. Likewise, the airplane shown here was shot using green gels over the lights and white balanced for fluorescent; it’s not a composite sky.

     To avoid the appearance of fiction, good retouching in business photography is necessarily subtle and age-appropriate. Skin should never have a blurry or waxy appearance. To retain skin’s qualities, the retoucher should work at the pore-level with little brushes. Blemishes should probably be removed, unflattering shadows lightened and flattering ones darkened, and the appearance of wrinkles reduced. Ill-fitting collars and waistbands are often smoothed. Usually specific requests can be made between the processing and retouching stages.

     When searching for the right professional, beware of faux-tographers. Anyone with a business card, a consumer-level camera, and a $50 website template can market themselves a professional photographer. The down economy has washed many green amateurs into the market hoping for a little under-the-table income. The web mixes the good and bad and makes it easy for the unscrupulous to misrepresent their abilities and experience.

     Recently, a Texas-based image-maker charged that the portfolio of a Charlotte-based studio advertising on one of those daily deal coupon sites was full of images stolen from her site. Charlotte consumers have likewise been burned buying from photographers with fake portfolios on Etsy. Of course there are more Craigslist horror stories than can be recounted.

     To ensure continuing confidence in the professionalism of the field of photography, many image-makers are choosing to undergo certification from the Professional Photographic Certification Commission. Certified Professional Photographers (CPP) must pass stringent standardized tests and a portfolio review by a panel of experts, and adhere to a stringent code of conduct. Certification must be renewed on a periodic basis, through further exams or continuing education.

     Finally, in selecting a professional photographer, you’ll want to shop around and look at lots of portfolios. Look for range and a consistent quality and cohesive visual style across the artist’s portfolios. Determine how long they’ve been in operating as a professional and how much executive portrait work experience they have. Take a meeting to talk about your company’s brand and what emotions and messages the photos need to evoke.

     When you find a photographer’s whose work you love and like and trust, book them. You won’t regret it.



Content contributed by Fenix Fotography, providing professional photography for advertising, executive portraits and architecture. For more information, contact Ryan L. Sumner, CPP, Creative Director, at 704-957-1697 or visit

Ryan Sumner is a professional photographer and Creative Director at Fenix Fotography.
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