When you think of corporate and business portrait photography, creative and inspiring art directing may not be the first words that come to mind. If, on the other hand, you were to ask advertising photographer Viktorija Grigorjevaite, she would disagree.
In preparation for the International Festival for Business, photographer and co-founder of Sane Seven, Viktorija Grigorjevaite, was asked to put together a display with extraordinary business portraits of 36 charismatic business leaders. A challenge she and her three Profoto B1 Off-Camera Flashes were more than happy to take on. The Beyond the Desk exhibition emerged from her hard work and passionate lighting.
It’s not a secret that business portrait photography can be challenging when it comes to creating images that are to appeal to the general public. The subjects for Viktorija’s project were well respected members of the international business world, ranging from CEOs of huge car brands and wealthy property tycoons to retail and shipping magnates. The photographer wanted to capture their more playful and personal side, to break the stereotype. She wanted to capture them as they were – Beyond the Desk.
The locations ranged from airports and golf courts to dog kennels and mansions. Sometimes she would have access to scout the location beforehand but in most cases she had to come up with an idea on the spot and it wasn’t always possible to predict what to expect until she arrived.
“That’s why I went with the Profoto B1 Off-Camera Flash. The arrival of the B1 has changed my vocabulary. I don’t use word like ‘the cable is not long enough’ and ‘tripping hazard’ anymore, but ‘hello freedom of mobility’.”
It was not uncommon for the subjects to have opinions about the locations. Being managers of global companies they were used having the last word, so there was nothing else for Viktorija to do but abide.
“When business leaders like this say ‘I’m not sure about this. Could we try with a different location?’, you can’t really say ‘Give us 30 minutes’. You just grab what you can carry and follow the subject.
“Since I like using a three light setup it would have been a real hassle if I had to carry the battery generators, cables, and extension cords around like that. I would probably have gone for a one light setup just out of sheer convenience, but the B1 gave me that creative freedom and made my on-location shoots considerably more enjoyable and inspirational.”
“I prefer creating my own lighting conditions, often starting by choosing settings that fit the concept and then create the lighting appropriate for that environment. It’s a bit like choosing a film back in the day based on how you wanted the light to behave in the picture, but with many more options to choose from. I think this approach is much better than shooting first and doing post-production later.”
As an example, Viktorija points to the business portrait of Ian Ayre, CEO of Liverpool FC, which was created without the need for post-production. It was shot in the afternoon on a cloudy day with light drizzle. Wanting to accomplish a low contrast, slightly darkish feel she separated the subject from the background using two B1 heads with OCF Barndoor to create rim lights. From the left she lit her subject with a B1 and a Profoto RFi Softbox 4’ Octa. It needed to be held by an assistant due to uneven ground but she insisted on having it there to produce a nice and hazy flare effect.
“They were preparing the pitch for a match and access on the pitch was very restricted. Luckily, B1 heads with barn doors are so lightweight they leave no marks on the ground.”
The lighting setup for the business portrait of Graham Morris, former CEO at Rolls Royce and Bentley, was similar, though with a different pose. It was shot early in the morning. The sun was still rising, giving the clouds a dramatic look. To darken the background Viktorija underexposed the scene. That made the left side of the car and the highlights on the left side of the subject too dark. Using a B1 with OCF Barndoor she could light that side, mimicking the sun light. The subject’s face was completely dark, so another B1 with OCF Barndor was placed to light the right side of the face, generating an effect of reflected light from a shiny surface. The third and last B1 was fitted with an RFi Softbox 4’ Octa and used to fill in the deep shadows in the face.
Inspiration for the business portrait of Jenny Stewart, executive chief at Liverpool & Sefton Chambers of Commerce, was drawn from Tim Walker’s portrait of Alexander McQueen, Viktorija explains.
“I wanted to create a very light and bright portrait reflecting both beautiful life and death aspects of life.”
To create this diffused high key look the photographer used the RFi Softbox 4×6’ placed as close to the subject as possible. The white tablecloth acted as a reflector. The doors behind her subject were slightly open, letting the light from a B1 with bare head, adding a little bit more depth to the portrait.
Going for a less complex setup for the business portrait of Peter Jackson, Managing Partner at Hill Dickinson, Viktorija used only two lights. Main light was an RFi Softbox3x4’ placed really close to the subject, on the left hand side. With an RFi Softbox 1.3×2’ she created the highlights on the cricket balls.
As mentioned, a business portrait does not have to be the conventional composition of the serious manager firmly staring into the camera. It can be creative and fun too. Just look at the picture of Asif Hamid, CEO of TCC, who ended up petting a horse in the middle of a field.
“Working with animals is always difficult. They don’t tend to speak very good English and they are not too interested in looking where you’d like them to look. This, however, was one of more enjoyable portraits to shoot but a little bit more challenging to light.” Viktorija says.
She wanted to overpower the sun, but it was still quite intense since it was some 1-2 hours before dusk. Main light was B1 with Magnum Reflector in the front of the subject. It was set to full power, creating a nice shadow behind the model despite the sun shining from the left side. The B1 with OCF Barndoor on the left hand side lit the side of the tree to make a more even light.
“I used a WideZoom Reflector to the right. I normally use barn doors but the sun was very strong so I needed more focused and directed light to get the full power out of it. It also created a nice accidental highlight in the clouds that almost looks like the moon shining through.”
Next time you think of business portraits, rather than associating them with conformity, you are more likely to think about the vast creative possibilities that a shoot like that can offer.
3 x B1 Off-Camera Flash
2 x OCF Barndoor
1 x RFi Softbox 4’ Octa
1 x RFi Softbox 4×6’
1 x RFi Softbox3x4’
1 x RFi Softbox 1.3×2’
1 x Magnum Reflector
1 x Wide Zoom Reflector