Lifestyle: Business

photo by Jon Ragel


In our recent buyer survey, business was cited as one of the weakest
categories across all of stock – and the buyers we spoke to in person
seemed to agree.

Buyers told us that much of the available business stock is lifeless, homogeneous, dated, and overly-corporate. Most photographers don’t even consider shooting
in this category. Why is this?

If we look to the real world, we see rich source material: people of all shapes and
sizes are working on building their personal futures and the future of our society in every
industry and working environment imaginable. And we know that commercially speaking, high quality business imagery is one of the most in-demand and lucrative categories in stock photography.

Photographers, we’re giving business a bad rap — and missing out on huge sales potential. Let’s bring this diverse and energetic world alive for our buyers, and capture humanity at work!

“Only three entries showed up in the top 10 of Getty’s most popular
search terms from 2006-2008: business, people, and woman. (Woman
climbed from eighth to fifth to first, which {Getty} attributes to the
increasing global presence of women in the workplace and thus the
increasing global demand for photos and video depicting women in the
workplace.)” – Seth Stevenson, Slate Magazine Online, 7/14/08

The sky is the limit here – the definition of a business person is
really just someone who is performing a perceivable role in a
professional capacity of some type. People portrayed can range from
mid-20s to early 60s. The category includes concepts (teamwork, working
against a deadline) as well as literal situations like meetings and
working on a computer.

You should also consider a range of occupations and scenarios:

  • A local realtor outside with clients.
  • An edgier person working in a creative field.
  • A Baby Boomer providing advice in a suit from behind a desk.
  • A local shop keeper dealing with risk.
  • An IT worker or the concept of global connectivity.
  • The concept of problem solving.
  • The concept or demonstration of excellent customer service.
  • Blue collar workers are also generally needed – especially construction + builders.


Many thanks to our energetic experts who helped us understand the challenges and opportunities within this category!



photo by Jon Ragel


  • NOT POSED. The biggest, screaming pain point for buyers in this category is that everything looks posed. This means people staring at the camera in a “say cheese” fashion or using over-literal gestures and expressions. Create action in your shoots and capture the “un-moments” where people are at ease and acting naturally.

  • MODERN. The second biggest pain point is that everything out there looks dated or unrelated to how we humans really work. If 95% of the people you know earn income in some fashion, what % of those actually puts on a full suit and goes to a corporate office? The images need to be aspirational and high-end, but the styling and the environments can be more casual, creative, and contemporary.

  • DIVERSITY. Especially in business, this is a fundamental mandate – buyers need a broad demographic selection of races, genders and ages. If you are shooting a meeting, the people need to represent a mix on all fronts.

  • Use stylists; go for a high-end look. The look needs to be polished and tight. Hair, make-up and wardrobe are completely critical. Even if you are portraying a realtor in a business casual outfit, the look needs to be reality plus two degrees. Go higher end in your styling.

  • Do some shots with people using technology. A repeated, urgent need for buyers is of a variety of business people using the latest technology: cell phones/blackberries, laptops, Bluetooth devices, desktop computers and flat screens. Even if this means you re-shoot the same scenarios every year or two with the newest technology – it will be worth it. Also, in most cases buyers don’t want people staring at the camera and using technology – think of realistic interactions and settings and capture those. Be sure to get shots without the technology as well.

photo by Jon Ragel

“We always need pictures of people in meetings – board meetings, sales meetings, production meetings. Everything out there looks so posed – we want to see people discussing things, talking with their hands, being animated. Like you walked into the middle of a meeting and caught them off guard. Also, someone talking on the phone and taking notes or looking at the computer. And portraits of individual business people at their desks that don’t look fake.” – Michele Holcomb, Major Insurance Company

  • Show a variety of working environments. The majority of the need is for realistic office settings. Buyers tend to want the middle ground; not the boardroom, but not the advertising agency with prominent architectural elements. Find more casual conference rooms with whiteboards and modern shelving. Offices that are clean but not cold. Also, get some shots of people working outside the office – preparing for a meeting in a coffee shop, having a lunch meeting, or working in a home office.

  • Suits – not so much. The mainstream need here is for business casual – a guy with a suit but no tie, or khakis and a polo shirt, and a woman with a dress or business casual outfit versus a formal suit with matching jacket and skirt or pants. There is also some demand at the extremes – for the suits on the one hand, and the creative indie maverick on the other. Bring wardrobe changes and get the gamut.

  • Get model and property releases. Very rarely do we emphasize the need for property releases, but we are hearing more and more from buyers that in the case of business images, the property releases are needed. And we always emphasize the importance of model releases – but we’ll double-emphasize it for business. Because most of the usages are commercial, it’s almost not worth shooting business imagery without model releases.

  • Capture a variety of situations. When you are planning your shoots, make time to work with your models in various groupings. Show a meeting with four people, then just two people talking across a desk, one person presenting, one person on a computer, several people receiving training – etc. In general, there is less demand for larger groups. Shoot small groups and individuals.

Reach Higher, Fall ’06, Time, Dec. ’07

  • Use a variety of angles/shots. Buyers really emphasized the need for a variety of shots. More serious, emotional imagery should be tightly cropped to show the emotion. More action-oriented scenes can be wider and show more of the environment. Also shoot both horizontally and vertically.

  • Show energetic, friendly, approachable people. Your models should not be intimidating. Most of these buyers are portraying their businesses as accessible and caring, or are showing their own users or clients in a positive light.

  • Tell a story. A picture of someone posing or failing to relate an identifiable emotion or action is almost useless. Are you conveying success and confidence, consternation, teamwork, customer service, innovation, productivity? What is the specific setting – a sales pitch? An IT meeting? Figure out both your emotional concept and the specific action.

  • Make sure you have a focal point. It drives buyers crazy to see image after image that does not effectively make a point. Do you want the viewer to focus on the person, or on the clutter at their desk? If the image is about a person typing, then don’t add in a coffee cup, calculator, stock chart, wireless router, sunglasses, and family pictures. Use only the props that are necessary to tell the story and know what you are trying to take a picture of before you press go.

Time, Dec. ’07

“The business category is definitely the most lacking for us. We see the least creativity in business, and the most dated looking photos. Most of the images out there are too stilted. They need to be more spontaneous and less staged. We want to see more modern officesnot just corporate America. We’d also like to see more casual atmospheres, the types that people are actually working in now. Technology is also a major component – the more up-to-date, the better.” – Kellie Bingman, McKinney

  • Shoot a series. Capture the extent of the action so that buyers can use a series of images together in a brochure or other extended piece. If you are documenting a sales pitch, show the team preparing, the actual pitch, and the result.

  • Show various emotions. For the most part buyers want positive or thoughtful emotions, and never over-exaggerated: somebody concentrating on their work, two people meeting across a desk and they listener is really engaged and interested in what the speaker is saying; two people are excited because they have won a new account or finished a project. Buyers rarely need overly negative emotions.

  • Use body language. Buyers love to see a natural shot of a person in a meeting being animated and talking with their hands. This shouldn’t be over the top – but notice how someone acts when they are trying to explain their point, and recreate that behavior on camera.

  • Capture environmental details. Buyers love to have access to the environmental aspects of a shoot and use them in conjunction with people shots. This could include the notepad on the desk with the eyeglasses and pencil on top of it. Or the office equipment or just the conference rooms or cubes.

Wired, February ’08

  • Nothing risqué. Skirts should be conservative length, and shirts should be full-length (no belly shots) and not too low cut. Showing too much skin is a complete show-stopper for business images. Pay attention during the shoot to what the clothes are doing; if you’ve got even a hint of cleavage – your shot’s no good!

  • Include portraits. In addition to group or action shots, get a variety of portraits. There is an endless need for these images. Capture a variety of emotions, angles (looking at the camera and looking away; full body and cropped), and actions (a true portrait, but also an individual talking on the phone, at the computer, on a blackberry etc.).

  • No clutter. Study tear sheets from advertising campaigns and corporate brochures. Pay attention to the prop styling and copy it. Pursuant to having a focal point, don’t over-clutter your shots. If you are shooting in a real office environment, clean off the desk and start from scratch. Add in just what you need. Personal effects (family photos, awards, etc.) should never be in the shot. Make sure all props are clean, new and modern.


  • Avoid logos. Instead of putting a Coke can or Dunkin’ Donuts coffee cup on the table, use a generic water bottle or mug of coffee. Product logos on technology are often ok to have showing as long as they are not too prominent.

  • Shoot concepts. One of the most elusive categories for buyers, and one of the toughest to shoot, is ‘business concepts.’ If you are creatively inclined, this would be worth tackling with your imagination. Buyers are repeatedly trying to demonstrate the same concepts – problem solving, teamwork, global connectivity/modern technology, customer service and client satisfaction, business productivity, profits, risk, working against a deadline, success, confidence – if you can find new ways to show these conceptually (i.e., in shots without people) – you will be in a league of your own.

Thumbnail image for PSC001129887-comp.jpg


  • Make time for extensive prep work. Location scouting, casting, and styling are all key in business shoots. The production value needs to be clean, professional and high-end – so it can be very time consuming to arrange a shoot.

  • Direct the shoot to capture spontaneity. As Erica says, “I can’t rely on luck, I need to work to make it happen.” Give your models something to do – throw this hacky sack across the room – talk on the phone and tilt your head to the left – push these papers across the desk. Whatever it is, get them going and shoot until they relax and the images start looking natural.

  • Use consistent lighting. As you do your shots, even if you are using different lighting techniques, try to keep a consistency of tone so that they can be used in montages or collages – these are often how business images end up being used.

Wired, February ’07

  • Styling is critical. If your styling details are off, your shoot will be dead in the water. Suits, ties and shoes cannot look cheap. Hands need to be manicured. Clothes need to be attractive, clean, and pressed. Stay neutral and use clothing with clean lines. Use flat-front pants for men, and not too wide or thin of a tie. Some patterns might work but if you are not confident in your taste, then just stay neutral. Accessories should not stand out. No noticeable jewelry on women. Styling overall should be dapper and contemporary.

  • Think about colors. Blues and tans are safe in terms of versatility for buyers, and looking good on most people. Sometimes pinks can work well on men. Hold colors up to your models’ faces to see how they will play against skin tones and hair. Take test shots. Generally stay away from black. Don’t use red ties on men.

  • Bring creativity into the shoot. One of the biggest challenges with shooting business images is that the environment may not offer you any inspiration or creative cues; you are very often shooting against a white wall. You need to have an imagination to shoot successfully in this category. Bring in interesting details through the props and styling, and focus on getting the right emotions.


  • Cast real people. Authenticity is hard to capture with models. Work your personal network to find real people with great lifestyle looks.

“For styling, keep it fresh and a little bit beyond Banana Republic. Even the most conservative guys like to be noticed as fit and forward. Your models should look smart looking and ready to go. If you can, try using some patterns without being trendy – try gingham shirts with clean, modern ties. Anyone can shoot well on white seamless, but the taste factor can really differentiate you.” – Erica Freudenstein

  • Get a variety of shots. Similar to what buyers advised, get close crops as well as wider shots with environmental context.

  • Capture environmental details. Especially if you are in a real office, look for the details to help tell the story about who somebody is. If there is a little Eiffel Tower or trinket on the desk, shoot it.

  • Have fun! Business shots need to have a sense of energy and life. If you are loose and have fun on the shoot, it will probably translate effectively to the models and the images. Rise to the challenge of making fun business images – and capture personality in your work.

photo by Jon Ragel

Bear in mind some of the usual considerations:

  • Specifically describe your models: age range, ethnicity, gender, number of people in shot.
  • Use “diversity” as a keyword as well if it applies (in terms of ethnic diversity of models).
  • Specifically describe actions: sitting, standing, meeting, presenting, pitching, training etc.
  • Use ‘business’ as a keyword across all of your relevant images.
  • Include concepts: problem solving, customer service, satisfaction, winning, confidence etc.

Business Week, March ’08



  • Conference room meeting
  • People around a table, in various states: relaxed, negotiating, thinking, discussing, making progress
  • Business teams in action, not looking at camera
  • Brainstorming session
  • Someone doing a presentation
  • Someone in a meeting speaking animatedly – talking with their hands
  • Series of shots showing aspects of meeting: the whole group, shots with just two people, etc.
  • Someone getting/doing training
  • 2 people having a meeting across a desk – someone listening attentively to another person
  • Interacting at a cubicle
  • People hovering looking at something on a screen
  • Client meeting scenes – a sales/pitch meeting
  • Business people shaking hands/high fiving/fist bumping
  • Conference room working lunch
  • People on a break in a lounge area socializing
  • Team showing excitement – winning a sales pitch, finishing a project (without being over the top)
  • People providing customer support


  • Business people at computers – use interesting shots/lighting/angles – with up-to-date computers
  • Receptionist behind a desk, working, greeting someone
  • Business people in different fields: architect, advertising IT, sales rep, realtor, etc.
  • Someone working at desk (not looking at camera, and looking at camera)
  • Candids – someone looking up from desk or around shoulder as though you called their name.
  • Talking on phone (not looking at camera)
  • People using office equipment – scanners etc.
  • People wearing headsets
  • People texting on phones/blackberries/pda’s
  • People reading reports, papers, manuals
  • Home office/telecommuting shots
  • People drinking coffee/eating at their desks
  • Job interview
  • Young people looking energetic and ambitious – just starting on their careers/moving up
  • Business person looking over a cubicle
  • Business person welcoming you into their office
  • Women in professional business situations
  • Female executives
  • Busy business people
  • Person standing at drafting table looking over papers
  • Mail person coming through, delivering mail/shipping
  • Person standing in front of chart or whiteboard/presenting/participating in meeting

  • Varied emotions: success, stress, contemplation, confidence, looking to future
  • Varied environments – at desk, in boardroom, tight and wide crop
  • Styled with suits and more casually
  • Indie business people – advertising kid, people in hip industries
  • Small business owner environmental portraits
  • Portraits of workers: construction, factory etc. (looking proud, dignified, happy)
  • Workers on the job: mechanics, factory, construction, builder/construction management, firemen


  • Innovation
  • Connectivity – global communications – transmitting information across airwaves
  • Problem solving (like Rubik’s cube but something that isn’t trademarked)
  • Checking numbers twice, looking at things closely/diligence
  • Teamwork/group project
  • Making life easier


  • People doing business in a restaurant or coffee shop – alone or in group
  • Business dinners in cramped noodle shop/fancy restaurant/city cafe Prepping for meeting or having meeting in hotel lobby or restaurant
  • Using blackberry on the street – technology/doing deals on the go
  • Traveling – with suitcase, in airport on phone etc.
  • In car on way to airport (shoot some with cell phone/pda)
  • Home office – people using Skype/headset, with kids around, multi-tasking, working mom or dad
  • Video conferencing


  • Non corporate looking offices
  • Business interiors with designed offices
  • Impressive/big lobby of office or office building
  • Open glass architectural spaces
  • Factory Interiors – large spaces/workers
  • Small in frame: warehouses, production lines
  • Eyeglasses on a notepad
  • Calculator next to note pad with pencil
  • Still life/interior shots of conference room office + main objects
  • Office chair + desk
  • Computer
  • Keyboard
  • Pencils/Pens
  • Mousepad
  • Blackberry
  • Post-It Notes
  • Highlighter
  • Safe
  • Cubicle
  • Desk lamp
  • Computer server
  • Telephone
  • File cabinets
  • Paper clip
  • Stapler
  • Scissors
  • Tape dispenser
  • Stock market chart
  • Water cooler
  • Newspaper
  • Coffee Mug
  • Conference Room
  • Briefcase
  • Calculator
  • Photocopier
  • Fax Machine
  • Drafting Table
  • Business Card
  • Spreadsheet
  • Fountain Pen


  • Hotel industry-lobbies, key card door knobs, valet, concierge, room service, etc.
  • Working vans-plumbing, cable, electric, delivery, etc
  • Recent for sale signs in the residential market
  • Images illustrating inheriting the family business

Are you a buyer or photographer with extensive experience relevant to this category? We’d love to hear from you! Please email us with any additions to the Shotlist, Tips, or any other sections of this article.

We look forward to it!

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There are 6 comments for this article
  1. Derek Dysart at 10:35 am

    Wow, the is the most comprehensive write up on this I’ve seen. Thanks! I’m curious if you could elaborate on the property releases. Yes, I know what they are, but the statement, “we are hearing more and more from buyers that in the case of business images, the property releases are needed.” What are typical cases that you are hearing this? Is this more advice along the lines of, always get a property release from the owners of the location you are shooting at? Significant props/environmental elements? Just curious.

  2. Allen Murabayashi at 1:05 am

    Derek, According to a number of lawyers that have commented on the subject, there is no case law in the US that would support the necessity for a property release. So although it’s common to say that you need one when shooting on private property, the more likely issue is trademark infringement (e.g. the Hollywood sign).

  3. Morgana Creely at 8:11 pm

    “Don’t use red ties on men.” is just two paragraph above… you guessed it, a photograph of a business man in a red tie. Which basically destroyed the creditability of this otherwise useful article for me.

  4. TenOx at 9:03 pm

    The red ties discrepancy doesn’t destroy the credibility of the article, which is chock full of good info BTW. It shows varying viewpoints; there are few absolutes. The photos are examples of good work though, right? They seem like it.

  5. cybp at 10:52 pm

    I work with Erica, and I wanted to make the point about the business man with the coffee pot, it was shot for a business magazine with no budget. Sometimes in situations like that, you cannot control wardrobe. Not every CEO will be willing to let you style them. You have to be flexible and as they say, rules are made to be broken! Cybele

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