Portraits made easy.

Mr. Bob Davis. Former CEO, USAA Insurance Company

I was thrilled when USAA's PR firm in Boston, MA called me and asked me to make a collection of portraits of their client's CEO. I've been a USAA member for years and always had warm and fuzzy feelings about their company. We did our pre production meetings on the web. We decided on formats, locations and styles as well as the overall schedule.

Like many CEO's his schedule was tight. We could get into his office suite around 9am and needed to be ready to shoot at 10 am. We needed to get four different shots around the offices in that amount of time. It was definitely a time to travel light but to come prepared.

I arrived with one assistant and a make up person at 8:30am, met with our contact and proceeded thru security. At exactly 9 am we went into the office suite, selected four areas that would make good backgrounds, and proceeded to light and test. We were told that Mr. Davis would need us to be out of the offices by 10:15 am so he could conduct a meeting. That would give us 15 minutes for make-up and forty five minutes to do four different set ups.

When Mr. Davis arrived I introduced myself and we found that we were the same age. We both went to high school in San Antonio and, in fact, remembered swimming against each other on our respective high school swim teams. (He was the better swimmer....). From that point on the shoot became more relaxed. All of a sudden the 10:15 deadline vanished. We were able to move with more care and try a few more gestures and poses.

I was shooting with a Rollei 6008i medium format film camera and a 150mm lens. If we were to do the same shoot today I wouldn't hesitate to use a Nikon D700 or even an Olympus E-30. Most of the images were subsequently used as quarter pagers in various USAA magazines and brochures.

The lighting was straightforward: Small and medium sized softboxes with monolights. Ocassionally I'd use a light with a grid spot to throw a little light on a back wall. We shipped off film to our client in Boston and they made their selections. We shot both negative and positive film. Once selections were made we got the film back and made the necessary scans and prints.

The key to success with these kinds of portraits is not so much the lighting or the technical skills but the rapport. Going forward that will be our most marketable differentiator in the corporate portrait market. The number one rule with CEO's is comfort and common ground. If you've got it you use it.

I love doing these kinds of portraits. And when I speak at photo expos. conventions and college classes these are the kinds of images I get the most questions about.

It's the portfolio that gets you the first job but it's the rapport that keeps you in the door for more. If I give advice to people starting out it's always to broaden your interests. Your brain is your best "equipment" investment!

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Anonymous said...

As usual, I love the image and I love the commentary even more. Can I come live on the floor of your studio and learn at your feet? I'll bring my own Slim Jims and instant coffee...

AG Photography said...

I agree with you Kirk, the rapport is extremely important because even with a great lighting setup, if the subject is unhappy or uncomfortable, it will come through in the session.

Nick_L said...

Who was your most memorable client? And, who was your worst client, and why? What do you find are your most sucessful techniques for quickly building a rapport?