4 techniques for spicing up corporate photos

Photographers and newsletter editors share how they stay away from hackneyed images.

Articles about new employees, prestigious awards and big donations are staples of your internal newsletter, but you don’t want employees to toss the issue when they see the accompanying photographs.

Those tired grip-and-grin, big check and execution-at-dawn-style corporate photographs are overdone; they don’t add anything to the story or draw readers in.

Replacing them with something fresh is easy; it just takes a camera and some creative thinking.

“The bar has been raised because of digital imagery,” says Suzanne Salvo of Salvo Photography. “For that reason alone, same old same-old is just not cutting it anymore—and that goes for grip-and-grin. There’s always a more visually interesting way to show something than the cliché.”

Follow these tips from professional photographers and successful newsletter editors and you’ll charge up the visuals of your newsletter or intranet.

1. Change the angle

The easiest way to add interest to a potentially boring photo is to move your camera off-center. Try shooting from the sides, above, below, or behind—a different perspective can go a long way.

Sam ogden
Sam Ogden avoids standing two people side by side in photographs. View larger.

Salvo says she’s had some success taking award photos from behind the stage rather than in front.

“We took the shot and turned it around 180 degrees and got behind the people,” Salvo explains. “Then, in the background, rather than a plant or a podium is the audience. We were also up a little high, which made it a little more different than the standing up at eye level shot.”

Sam Ogden, staff photographer for Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, takes a similar approach for the shoulder-to-shoulder lineup photos he’s often assigned to take for the institute’s publications or intranet.

Instead of lining up the subjects, he assembles them around something, often a binder or a microscope, gets them talking, and then asks them to look up. He also tries to vary the levels in the photo and, when photographing two people, avoids positioning them the same way. He’ll have one person sit and one stand. With larger groups, he’ll shoot his subjects in sitting and standing positions.

“I’ll cheat [two to four people] into reading something,” Ogden says. “I’ll have some sitting and some standing like they’re working on something, and I’ll put down something they’re interested in or put a microscope in front of them, and I’ll have one of them describe what’s there. I’ll say ‘Look up,’ and some of them will be looking at the camera, and it looks like the photo is secondary and the discussion is primary, like they’re just looking up for a second.”

2. Incorporate objects

Sam ogden's pic in a labAnother technique Ogden uses is making a relevant object part of the photograph. For example, if he’s taking photos of people who work in a lab, he will find an empty glass beaker and take the photo of the subjects through that. Similarly, taking the photograph with something out of focus in the foreground draws the eyes to the subjects in focus, while making the composition more interesting.

An in-focus object in the foreground with an out-of-focus subject background will also emphasize the subject, although taking such a photo is difficult if not impossible with regular point-and-shoot cameras. The prevalence of easy-focus cameras, however, makes the well-done, out-of-focus shot that much more interesting to the viewer because they don’t see it very often.

Salvo sometimes uses just an object in a photo; if it’s artfully done, a photo without people can be alluring. Or, try pairing the award or an object with the subject’s face.

Salvo Photography. View larger.

“Where is it carved into stone that it has to be just one shot?” Salvo says. “A photo of an award or a display, someone doing something interesting with the award, or holding it close to their face—it becomes a face shot. Grip-and-grin shots are often taken head to toe, but the story is about the person, so it’s the face you want to see, not the shoes they have on.”

3. Capture the emotion and action

If objects aren’t interesting enough for you, try action. A Pittsburgh-based communicator who commented on a MyRagan forum said she carries a camera around with her at company events to take candid photos.

“I’ve become known as the paparazzi in my office! I’ll show up to lunch-and-learns, in-office meetings and staff social events with my camera— they beat the ‘mug’ shot any day.”

To capture the action for a recently redesigned Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare fundraising newsletter, Angela Lindell, the publication’s lead writer, says she makes sure to print photos of the children that the money benefits. Instead of printing only a mug shot of a featured fundraiser, she’ll also use a photo of the child that inspired the donation. Or she’ll choose a photograph of a child who has recovered most dramatically thanks to Gillette Children’s—and that adds poignancy.

Salvo award shot
Salvo Photography. View larger.

“In an eight-page publication, we don’t have a lot of space available for tons of photos,” Lindell says. “But one of the strongest features of our new publication is that right away you can see what you have done. You’ve given to Gillette, and you can see that a child’s life has been changed by your dollars.”

Salvo says capturing the action and emotion of a shot helps readers connect with a shot.

“Any award shot that doesn’t show emotion just dies,” Salvo says. “It’s boring. Get people to yell and scream or hold up a peace sign—it will bring some life to it.”

4. Take your time

Getting the emotion and action you want might entail taking the photo before or after an award is given. That will give you, the photographer, the ability to take your time to get the right shot and give the subject time to breathe, says Salvo.

“Almost without exception, if you take the photo out of real time, like a minute before or after the actual ceremony, it takes the pressure off of the photographer and they’re able to get a better performance out of the participants,” she says.

smiling employees
Dana-Farber’s Ogden makes employees comfortable in front of the camera. View larger.

Another MyRagan communicator from Phoenix recommends taking the photo just before or after the subjects expect you to take it, which helps make the photo more candid and look different from the standard.

“Take the photo as they’re lining up for the grip-and-grin, or take a photo of them after they think the ‘official’ photo has been taken,” the communicator says. “I’ve never had someone demand that I replace a flattering candid shot that includes some personality with a stiff g-&-g shot. It takes patience and practice, and you end up taking a bunch of photos, but the results are definitely worth it.”

As the lone photographer at Dana-Farber, Ogden doesn’t have a lot of time, but he takes a few minutes to talk with each subject and make them more comfortable with him and the photo. That, he says, makes them look more natural on camera.

“Talk to people and get them comfortable,” Ogden says. “A digital camera helps because you can show them what you’re doing, and they can say, ‘Oh, I like that.’ If you can get them to say they like it, you’ve got it.”


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