Last updated: Jan 28, 2022

Staff Photography on a Small Business Budget

Staff photos or company head shots may not be the first thing that you think of when it comes to branding, but they can play an active role in how your business is represented. There are plenty of potential benefits to investing the time in taking them, but hiring a professional photographer can be expensive, especially for a smaller business. Let’s examine some pros and cons of doing it yourself and walk through 5 considerations for creating professional-looking staff photography on a small budget.  

There are Plenty of Good Reasons to Take Photos of Your Staff 

  • Branding Materials and Consistency – Having company photos that you can use for your website, social media and print materials helps to create consistency for your brand image. 
  • Cultivating Relationships and Reliability – Putting a face to a name or a company that you want to work with helps to humanize it. People seem to have a little more empathy when they have someone to identify with, as opposed to a company as a whole. Authenticity is a major factor in what brands consumers tend to lean towards as well. According to Stackla, 86% of consumers say that it’s a key component in deciding what brands they like or support. (Stackla, 2019) Professional-looking photos of your staff can help to foster better relationships and build trust with potential clients. 
  • Professionalism and Credibility – Having consistent branding and photography helps to lend credibility to your individual staff members, as well as your company as a whole. Taking the time to take photos and keeping them updated, shows dedication to keeping things fresh as a brand. 81% of buyers say that they need to be able to trust a brand to buy from them. (Edelman, 2019) 
  • Culture – Staff photos are a great way to show that your brand is about the people who make it happen. Your employees can use these for business cards and other client-focused materials, which creates recognition for your business as well. They can also be a great way to showcase the culture of the brand in a creative way. 
Behind the scenes photos give potential clients a glimpse into your business atmosphere.

A Few Additional Considerations

  • Consent – If you ever intend to use someone’s likeness or photo for your brand you need permission. A consent form should be created to match your business’s needs and should state your intended use, timeline, etc. You can find a good breakdown of the key ingredients that you’ll need here.  
  • Matching – Your photos should be planned well and match the feel of your business. Consider the places these photos will be going, if they don’t have a similar vibe to the photos themselves then you risk things looking out of place, messy or unprofessional. 
  • Updating – Some employee turnover is normal for any business. So plan to keep these photos updated. Be consistent about adding new hires and removing past employees from your website and social media platforms. Even if there’s no turnover, photos should ideally be refreshed every 2 to 5 years to maintain accuracy and authenticity. 

    Once you’ve decided to take the staff photography challenge, how do you create professional-looking photos on a budget? Here are 5 steps to get you rolling. 

1. Plan Ahead and Think It Through

The place to start is to decide on the message that you want your photos to convey. When trying to decipher the brand culture or feel of the business, start with the core values the business was founded on. Be sure to ask your team for their perspective.

Plan your photography session based on your brand and enlist the people on your team for some ideas.

Try some of these to get you started: 
  • Consider the atmosphere of the business – is it serious or professional? More light-hearted and fun? Clearly a lawyer’s office will have a different answer than a daycare, but it can help to write down a few synonyms. 
  • Ask yourself how would you like potential clients to perceive your brand and how you might convey those things visually. 
  • Write down words associated with the product or service that you sell.
  • Think about the brand color schemes and the webpage or materials that these photos will be used on. 
  • Have your employees do this (anonymity can help get honest answers) for answers you may not have thought of. 

Set a Realistic Budget Goal by Weighing the Options

What’s your price point for this project? Can you afford a professional photographer? The cost varies based on area and photographer’s rates themselves, but here’s a general idea of how it works. On average, commercial photography will run you a few hundred dollars per hour when you add in editing and licensing the images from the photographer. However, this usually is accompanied by a contract and guarantees of their work which offers peace of mind and convenience. You could consider opting for local photo students from colleges, but there are no guarantees there.  

In other words, if you’re not a photographer and you’re looking to take on this project on your own, be prepared to spend the extra time to make it look like it has a matching price tag. If you have a staff member who is fluent in Photoshop, things may be easier. There are also plenty of sites that you can send your own photos and have them retouched for a substantially lower cost, but more on that later.

Decide What Types of Staff Photography You’d Like to Include

Are you going for staff head shots? Working “behind the scenes” type photos? Group photos? All of the above? Just remember, you’re going to have to be the one in charge of directing them – so if you’re not comfortable arranging a large group then it’s probably best to stick to single, small group or working photos. You can showcase your team in a variety of different ways, to match the feel of the business.

Prep Your Team 

Have a discussion or information session where you inform your team of the idea and give them a run-down of your expectations. How will this work during the day? Will it be after hours? What do you need from them? It’s also probably a good idea to pick someone to help you on the day of the shoot, in case you need to get creative with lighting.  

One thing to highlight would be what they can do to help make sure their photos turn out great. Mainly, have them consider what they will wear – this often depends on the business itself and the feeling you want to convey, but think solids and jewel tones as they tend to be flattering. Comfort is also very important. Tell them to get a good night’s sleep and drink plenty of water leading up to the event. This step will help to ensure that they look their best and represent the brand well.

Finally, Make a Supply Checklist 

No matter your equipment (camera, phone, tablet) you should definitely have a tri-pod. You can find them on Amazon with a ring light attached for about $20 for smartphones, which can save some dealing with lighting issues.  You should have a couple sheets of white foam board and some aluminum foil on hand in case you need to direct light, or eliminate harsh shadows as well.

As an option, you may want to include some personal grooming items such as a can of hair spray, combs, cotton pads with powder to eliminate shiny skin, and glasses wipes (you’d be surprised what shows up on camera!)

2. Scout Your Location(s)

Environment is a major consideration for staff photography. Take some time to consider each department, will everyone have the same background? Or will you opt for different ones for different positions? Do you prefer a plain background, outdoors, or one with an active working environment? It’s not a bad idea to choose a few possibilities. Just remember to plan for factors such as weather when using an outdoor space, or client traffic if it’s during the normal work day. Try to avoid having excess traffic and clutter when trying to get a more professional-looking result. The photo on the left is very busy, whereas the photo on the right better showcases the staff and offers a more dramatic effect.

General Tips

  • Generally, solid color backgrounds are a good idea but you may want to avoid plain white as it can wash some subjects out. Stick to a plain, neutral color if you decide to try this route. Or if you want a more dramatic effect, try a darker background.
  • Natural light is always best, but in a pinch you can add your own or reflect light with white poster board from below the subject to avoid harsh shadows.
  • Natural backgrounds can offer a more laid-back feeling, while offering plenty of natural light. Just be sure to have a back up if you get rained out.
  • Make sure the area is comfortable for your subject, if they have to stand for long periods of time or hold an awkward pose, you will see it in their picture.
  • Avoid high-traffic and high-clutter areas. A well-placed wall or relevant business prop can add visual interest without being too overpowering.
  • Consider the brand as a whole when you choose where to shoot. A law firm may want solid neutral backgrounds to convey a more serious tone. Whereas a travel or natural product company might utilize a natural setting to add a splash of who they are as a brand to the photo.
  • Choose a few good spots and stick to them. Even if they vary by department, consistency is key and if it’s a working background that changes slightly it should be in the same area for each person.

Different backgrounds and angles can change the feel of your staff photos to match your branding.

3. Take Your Time with Your Subjects

Scheduling blocks of time per person is a good idea to make sure you stay within your intended timeline. Every person is unique, and you should tailor your sessions to fit their individual attributes or personalities. Be sure to have several photos of each person to pick from, this will help to eliminate having to do any re-takes because someone blinked at the last minute.

General Tips

  • Try to always position a person in natural light (near a window or outside), but keep it to the front or side of your subject. Bright light from behind will distort the image.
  • Consider height, weight, pregnancy etc. If a subject is shorter or stockier in build, you might consider a full length shot to make them appear taller and slimmer. If a subject is pregnant and these photos will be used for longer than the duration of the pregnancy, consider having them sit at a desk or table to increase the longevity of its use.
  • Try to avoid having only the subject, in the center of the photo. You can utilize office appropriate props or furniture to make it more aesthetically appealing. A good consideration is the rule of thirds- divide the photo area into 3 sections and place your subjects and objects within or near those intersections.
The rule of thirds divides a photo into 3 parts and places objects at or near those intersections
The rule of thirds divides a photo into 3 parts and places objects at or near those intersections

  • Avoid having subjects leaning against walls. Instead position them just in front of it, a few inches or more away.
  • Get creative with your angles, but avoid shooting from below for fear of the dreaded double-chin or boar nostrils. Try a few test shots from side to side and facing down from above to see what will offer optimum light. This will change based on the subject as well. 
  • Try to keep the subject as the main focus, and keep the poses natural. Position them closer to the camera and let the background images blur if you’re using a working environment background.
Don’t Forget to Provide Encouragement!

People can be anxious about having their photo taken. Ask them to tell you a funny story or tell a joke to get them to relax. If your subject feels comfortable, you will get a more authentic photo. The photographer affects the image just as much as the person in it, as Canon illustrates in the video below:

How much of a difference does the photographer really make?

4. Review and Edit

Once you’ve completed your sessions, it’s a good idea to do a little editing to make sure the photos look consistent and neat. Photoshop is a common tool but some people don’t know how to use it or don’t want to pay for a monthly membership. If there’s no one in your office that’s fluent in editing then you have other options as well, but it might be beneficial to your business in the long run to train someone in the basics. Companies like Coursera offer great tools for beginners to get started for free.

  • Free tutorials and smartphone apps are everywhere. Depending on your equipment of choice, a simple search can provide hundreds of options for easy filters and plenty more. Plus reviews can help you gain insight into specific tools and what might be worth it for your needs.
  • For desktop computer users, companies like Fotor and Canva can be great resources for editing photos and creating business materials with them. Both have free and paid options.
  • You can always hire a professional to edit and retouch the photos for you. There are plenty of options ranging from $2.50 and up per photo depending on how many and the level of retouching or correction that you seek. Some well-known options include Pixelz, Photo Retouching Up, Fix The Photo, and Smart Photo Editors.

5. Stay on Top of Updates

As we mentioned earlier, it’s important to stay on top of updates after you wrap up your staff photography. It’s a good idea to have someone assigned to this if you aren’t directly keeping track of it yourself. When you hire someone, or someone leaves the company be sure to update the staff page to stay current.

If there’s very little or no turnover expected, it’s still advisable to update these pages and photos every few years as you would with any web or marketing assets. Evaluate key factors such as changes in the business, staff, and how long it’s been since your last update. It’s a good habit to get into anyways because SEO (how easily your site can be found in searches online) can be negatively affected if you don’t keep your site updated. You can read more about SEO and how updating your content can help you here. A good rule of thumb is to update your images every 2-5 years so that they don’t become inaccurate or out of date.

There You Have It

Accomplishing professional-looking photos on a budget can be time-consuming at first but is absolutely worth it for your brand as a whole. Aside from helping to build trust and credibility, it helps to humanize and make your brand more relatable to potential clients. Following these simple steps can add value to your brand without breaking the bank:

  • planning ahead
  • scouting your location
  • taking time with your subjects
  • reviewing and editing
  • staying on top of updates

And remember, not only is staff photography beneficial for your small business, but the process can be a fun and creative one for you and your team. Make sure to take the time to smile and enjoy it!