Thinking About Photography


Executive Portraiture for Advertising and Commercial Uses and How They Come About

When we photographers go into commercial or advertising photography, it’s usually with the understanding that very few people will associate our name with the work we produce.  Even though it’s often widely circulated, it’s not signed or identified in the usual ways. The point is to make sure the ad agencies and art directors know. Thus, we have agents or reps to keep our name out there while we plan, produce and eventually shoot the assignments they generate.

There’s often a great deal of time and effort that goes into this work as well.  Some of it dangerous, most of it interesting – some of it very interesting.

For about  a dozen years, I’ve been producing the advertising campaign photos for a well known attorney.  The art director usually has a pretty precise idea of what he wishes to accomplish, as I’ll describe below.

Anatomy of a Shoot.  They don’t just “happen”.

For this project, we were asked to create new billboard images for Attorney Dallas W. Hartman.  We’ve been creating different images for Mr. Hartman’s still photo ads for quite a few years now, and they are always shot to an exacting standard.  Since these were specifically designed for use in a 2:1 aspect ratio, that was part of the planning, too.

Following a phone call from Dave Dobish of PeterDavid Communications asking us to plan for a new shoot, we received a mock up of the concept and were asked to meet for a discussion about applying it to Mr. Hartman.  During this discussion we talked most about a location involving a library as background, as well as our suggestions that we reverse which leg would be crossed, and the use of a semi-wide angle lens to replicate the exaggerated foreground elements seen in the mock up.  The purpose behind reversing the leg was two-fold: it would read better as a compositional element, and it would enhance the comfort level for our subject.

Below is the art director’s rendering provided as a compositional guide.

Hartman sketch

As we considered locations, it occurred to me that an acquaintance was retired from his law practice, and if memory served properly, had a large library in his lobby if the new tenants hadn’t removed it.  Once it was established that it still existed and we could use it, we had to determine whether the space would be sufficient to create the set necessary.  To that end, we visited the location and determined that it was large enough and available to us on the day we required in order to meet the publications deadlines for the billboards.  This involved the making of scouting photographs for planning.

scout 1

Once the location had been scouted and evaluations of the space taken place, we had to deal with the unexpected fact that there were cabinets we wished to de-emphasize, as they created a distracting compositional element.  It was determined that a riser of sorts would be necessary.  It’s use would enhance the slightly upward view of a seated man that’s evident in the mock up, and raising the chair as high as was safe (who wants to create an opportunity for an attorney to take a fall, right?) would diminish the cabinets under the books.

We had obtained permission from the tenants of the building to commandeer their lobby for an extra day in order to deliver and construct the riser, since the time available to us on the day of the shoot was limited by the client.  Lighting the set would have to take place early in the morning out of safety concerns for the lobby’s users.

Two days before the shoot we discovered that the chair for the set had become an issue, so began a mad dash for a suitable replacement.  We looked in several furniture stores in our Pennsylvania/Ohio border vicinity without success.  The only chair remotely under consideration was in a local store whose owner was out of state until the day before we needed it, and a certain amount of desperation was creeping in.


In a moment of divine intervention, it suddenly occurred to me that I knew a private individual who owned an exact duplicate of the chair needed (left, above).  The chair was graciously made available to us, as was the Mission Style (right, above), from Haney’s Comfort Living in New Castle, PA.

By 4:30 PM of the day before the shoot, we’d commandeered enough of the lobby in set-ups that I felt badly for Packer-Thomas, our gracious accounting firm hosts, but they remained more interested than upset.


Kelin Bannon, model and assistant, who would be assisting me on the day of the shoot, had already been over in detail our schematic of the lighting set up.  We met at the studio early the morning of the shoot, loaded the gear into the Suburban and headed for the location.

Once we arrived and got everything arranged, we began testing, knowing that Attorney Hartman would arrive at or about 10:30 AM, and we would have a brief time with him before he would have to leave for his next appointment.  Therefore, all details were attended to before his arrival.  We had determined that the chair would need to be raised about 12-15 inches for the perspective needed, thus the plywood risers you see here.


You may also note that there are some odds and ends books at the lower left, which we removed.  We debated over moving books into the blank shelf that remained, but decided that many of them were very old, and somewhat fragile.  Damaging a valuable law library wasn’t in our plans, so I decided I would correct that later in post processing.  Once we had made several tests, we previewed them on my Macintosh laptop for details.  We found a few changes and added a gobo to further darken the bookshelves.


When Mr. Hartman arrived, he brought with him several shirts as options for the suit we’d decided upon.  Since it is Dallas Hartman’s custom to where only dark suits, usually with a white shirt, the medium gray suit we had requested in order to separate him from the background had taken some convincing.  As recently as the night before, his personal assistant as not certain that he would be comfortable enough to trust us with this portion of his image.  Thankfully, he did, although the suit itself is actually a very neutral medium brown that almost looks gray.

First up was the white shirt, which most closely resembled the original plans.

Set D1

Cropped as planned, with the gaps in the bookshelf filled in post production, it looks like this…

Set D2

Once we’d shot quite a few of these, Mr. Hartman took off the jacket, shooting just in shirtsleeves for another dozen or so in the white shirt, which we agreed was too stark.  These were followed by the jacket-less series in a blue shirt that started the thread…
…and then a series with the blue shirt and jacket.  The consensus was the blue shirt without jacket would be the final selection, due to body language, separation from the chair and background created by the shirt and general involvement and interest as communicated in his face.
Always fun, creating an image.

Set F1

Jeff Behm Photography offers a full service, professional photographic service, located in Frederick, MD.  Photographic assignments have taken Jeff Behm all around the western hemisphere,  as well as serving Frederick, Washington, Montgomery, Prince George’s, Howard and Baltimore counties.  Services provided include advertising, aerial, food, executive portraiture and commercial photography at the highest levels.   We also have photographers specializing in fashion, wedding and portrait photography.  Call 724-730-8513 to speak with us.

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