The guy-in-a-tie photographed sitting at his desk (...cause he's a "business" man, “Get it? Get it? *elbow nudge*") The lawyer in front of... (I'll just tell you, because you'll never guess:) a shelf full of law books! The business woman behind the desk in her office or how 'bout this for breaking out of the box: sitting on the desk, arms crossed, of course! (Cause apparently, that's what 'business people' do, they cross their arms...) And the realtor in front of, yes, a house...
If you’re laughing with recognition as you’re reading this, it’s because, you see these visual cliches in one business portrait after another. They're everywhere. Once you start to see it, you can't stop. And it is hilarious, or at least it would be, if not for the poor unenviable victims of this rampant photographic "fail".
"Indicating" is when photographers use a prop to ‘point’ at what someone does through the trappings of their profession (the suit, the desk, the briefcase, the law books, etc...) instead of discovering and communicating the personal + professional characteristics that provides value in their profession.
I believe that headshots shoudn't 'point'. Shooting the ‘prop’ instead of the person, is lazy at best, cynical at worst and is always ineffective.
Because visual cliches, just like verbal or written cliche, reach for a pre-fabricated idea, rather than an original one. Cliches, we sense intuitively, have no real meaning, so they are distancing rather than engaging. This is WHY we see most business portraits and have one thought: "boring." Cliches are the most boring thing in the world.
People, however, are NOT boring. If your photo is boring it's because someone is not shooting the person, they were shooting the cliche...and YOU got lost in the cross-fire. The lazy, bored photographer, sees a suit walk in the door, not a person. Don't settle for this.
A visual cliche is a little bit like a racial stereotype, both represent a refusal to look beyond the surface and encounter the real person. Genuine interest on the photographer's part is square one toward creating a final image that causes the the viewer to say, “I think I’d like to get to know that person.”
No matter who my client is or what they do professionally, my first priority is to be interested in who they are. I ask, "Who do they impact in their work? What change do they bring when they walk into the room?" And then I shoot THAT.
My corporate clients are not the suit they are wearing, the desk they sit behind, or the tools they use in their profession. Even though some of them wear suits, they should never be reduced to that. Their impact on the world goes way beyond the trappings of their profession. And even if their title on their business card doesn’t scream ‘rock star’, they are rocking someone’s world as they bring unique value in their business relationships.
So, unless you are eight and being photographed for your school's band picture with your clarinet, you should leave the 'props' behind. And if you are a photographer entrusted with the job of creating a headshot for your client, please understand that shooting the cliche, misses the point of a professional headshot. A headshot should not be just a picture of a head ( or of a suit for that matter…) Just as each professional helps their clients and colleagues in unique and dynamic ways, headshots should be personable and unique. They should reach beyond cliches and convey real meaning.