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How to take a great employee snapshot

Whether you need an ID badge or want to share an employee’s achievements, it’s a good idea to have a high-resolution, color photograph available for every employee at your business. But you don’t need to hire a professional to get a great shot. With a little practice, anyone can take a decent portrait photo.

The first step is evaluating your camera. Dust off the manual and check out how to adjust your size and resolution settings. Photo editing software can easily make a photo of almost any resolution smaller, but it’s nearly impossible to make a low-resolution photo bigger. Settings like “large” and “fine” will give you a higher-quality photo, and settings like “small” or “VGA” will give you a lower-quality photo.

To choose the best resolution setting, ask yourself what you want to do with the photo. If you will put it on your company’s website so clients can recognize your employee, a smaller photo will work fine. But if you want to print a small photo, either in promotional materials or to share with a publication if your employee makes a noteworthy achievement, you will want a photo sized one megapixel or larger. To print out a large photo, you will need an even higher resolution.

If you are planning on using images to create promotional or other print materials for your company, remember: Bigger is better.

Don’t think you need a fancy, expensive camera to take a good photograph. A point-and-shoot camera capable of shooting photos at least three megapixels in size will certainly meet your needs in shooting employee portraits. Find a camera that is easy to use; that will be far more useful in helping you take good photos than a complicated device with infinite settings.

The second step is choosing a location to shoot your subject. It’s best to have a solid or plain background for your employee to stand in front of. If you don’t have a completely solid background, look for something muted and subtle. Brick works OK, but a brightly painted mural does not.

Lighting is also essential. Your photos will look best if you can take a picture on the shady side of a building on a sunny day (the shade must be full, as from another building – no dappling as from tree shade) or anywhere on an overcast but bright day. You want the light to be bright, but indirect.

You can take photos indoors, but photos taken outdoors under natural light will look better for the inexperienced photographer. If you don’t need the photo immediately, wait for a day with good natural lighting.

Once you’ve found a suitable “studio” for shooting your photo, practice taking photos so you know the color looks normal and you can hold the camera with a steady hand. One of the most common problems for inexperienced photographers is out-of-focus photos, and even the most advanced photo editing software can do little to improve a blurry image. A tripod can eliminate most wobbling, but even without a tripod, there are ways to get a shot without the blur.

First, keep your arms close to your body. This will help you keep your limbs under control as you snap the photo. Second, be mindful of your breathing. Take slow, even breaths when snapping photos. Third, don’t jab at the shutter button when you take the photo. Rest your finger on the button while you line up the shot, and gently squeeze the button until the camera takes the photo.

After you have practiced taking a few photos, it’s time to add your employee to the shot. Have your employee stand with his back to the wall a few inches away from the wall with his hands at his sides. Ask your employee to turn his feet and shoulders about 30 degrees to the left or right, but turn his head to face the camera directly. The employee needs to stand up straight, allowing the shoulders to relax. The head should not be tilted up, down or sideways.

A good way for your subject to achieve the proper posture is to imagine there’s a thread running along his spine and out the top of his head, and that he is being pulled up by that thread. Once the proper posture is attained, make sure hair and clothing are not mussed or rumpled, and ask the employee to make adjustments if a necklace or tie is crooked, or a piece of hair is sitting oddly.

Zoom in so the portrait fills your camera’s frame. You don’t want your subject’s head to take up the entire frame, but you don’t really need your employee’s entire torso in the shot, either. The top of the frame should be a few inches above your employee’s head, and the bottom of the frame should be somewhere between the elbows and the lower part of the collarbone (the bottom of a tie’s knot is a good upper limit).

Take a few photos, and let the employee choose which one he likes best. Save the pictures in an easy-to-remember location with an easy-to-remember filename (I recommend creating an “Employee Photos” folder and using employees’ first and last names in consistent order). You can then delete the original images from your camera to make room for new photos.


Cady McGovern is Focus editor for the Idaho Business Review. She briefly worked as a portrait photographer in a past life.

About Cady McGovern