Unusual Assignment: Inside a Global Shoot of 2,100 Portraits

December 8, 2015

By David Walker


Photographers set up identical studios at law offices around the world according to exacting specifications. 

For creative services agency and production company Goodrich Visions, an assignment to produce portraits of more than 2,000 attorneys for a global law firm was a logistical tour de force. “It was the biggest project our little firm has taken on, and it could have come apart at the seams any time,” says principal Matthew Goodrich.

The law firm was re-branding, and wanted to update its website with clean, visually consistent portraits of all its partners and associates. Goodrich had previously worked with the firm’s global director of creative services. “When it came down to the comparison between multiple vendors I felt confident to go with the team I already knew and trusted,” she says.

The Logistics
The brief called for black-and-white portraits set against a background of the city where each attorney works. (The firm has offices in 39 countries.) Goodrich, who was the executive producer of the project, says it took months to work out details, estimate the costs, and nail down a contract. “It came down to how we would handle the production process in each city.” The plan was to use local photographers—they ultimately hired 34 of them around the world?—so getting a consistent look across so many sets and subjects remained a big challenge.

Goodrich’s wife, Tami Goodrich, served as the project’s creative director. With more than 20 years of experience as a photo art director for fashion and outdoor lifestyle retailers, she oversaw all the art direction and styling. The third member of the team was Robert Staley, a Los Angeles-based commercial lifestyle and catalogue photographer.

Originally, they planned to scout locations near the firm’s offices and shoot outdoors. Figuring out the logistics for that plan took three months. But when the firm learned that its attorneys would be away from their desks for 45 minutes each, plans to shoot outdoors were scrapped because the loss of billable hours revenue was too steep.

So Goodrich Visions figured out how to set up studios inside the firm’s offices, and rely on a retoucher to make the portraits look like they had been shot outside. Besides being able to move attorneys through indoor sets twice as fast, Goodrich Visions didn’t have to worry about variables such as unpredictable light and weather.

“We needed to simulate an outdoor shoot, so we created a lighting diagram for all the photographers to follow with a rim light off to the side, to make it seem like the sun was shining over [the subject’s] shoulder,” Goodrich explains.

They did a test run at the Los Angeles office of the firm. “We worked through some of the kinks, and figured out efficiencies that could be put in place,” Goodrich says. For instance, they figured out exactly how much time the photographer needed with each subject (20 to 30 minutes) and the minimum crew—photographer, photo assistant and groomer—required to make the set run smoothly. The pilot shoot also included a post-production test for three different companies bidding for the retouching work.

Ensuring Consistency
On the basis of the LA shoot, Goodrich Visions came up with a detailed styling and technical guide that ran more than 20 pages. It served as template that other photographers hired for the job had to follow. It included an equipment list, a lighting schematic, and instructions on where to place the tripod and camera for the proper scaling. It included directions for styling and posing subjects, and included sample photographs with the words “I want this” or “I do not want this” written next to them, Tami Goodrich says.

“Some photographers wanted to put their spin on it, but I didn’t want them to put their spin on it. I wanted them to follow [the guidelines] to the letter,” she says.

Goodrich Visions also used the LA shoot as the basis for an estimate for the entire job. The contract for the job ran 20 pages, and took a month to hammer out.

Staley and Tami Goodrich worked as a team to shoot the portraits in all the U.S. offices of the firm. In New York City, they had two sets going simultaneously, and shot 40 attorneys per day. With photographers hired to shoot portraits at offices outside the U.S., they had pre-production Skype calls to make sure everyone understood the details. They scheduled the first overseas shoots in smaller offices of the firm in order to further test and tweak the production procedures.

The hired photographers were required to scout the offices before the shoot day. “We had follow-up calls once they did the scout,” to head off potential problems, Matthew Goodrich says. Photographers were also required to send test shots of their assistants before they started photographing the attorneys, to make sure the lighting and camera positioning were correct.

Goodrich says he and his team were on call 24/7 throughout production, in order to check the work while photographers were still on set, and to trouble shoot on the fly. “By the time we were half way through, we had it dialed. We learned a ton.”

In all, there were 130 shoot days over a period of six months. Working with project managers in each of the firm’s offices, Goodrich managed all the shoot day scheduling. For that task, he used Sales Force, a project management platform. “At any time, I knew where each [attorney] was in the process. I could track everything through post production and delivery,” he says.

The photographers shot a total of 59,000 images, or 25 to 30 frames per subject. By contract stipulation, each attorney had final approval over his or her portrait. Goodrich says that stipulation added another two months to the project.

Tami Goodrich edited the frames of each subject down to seven frames. “We used a star system to rate the selections,” and help subjects make the final image selection, she explains. Once subjects made their selection, it went to the retoucher to be recomposed as if it had been shot outside, rather than in a conference room.

The firm’s director of creative services praises Goodrich Visions for being “organized, trustworthy and low maintenance. Issues were handled before I even knew they existed, which is the best type of vendor to partner with.”

Now that the job is finished, “it will be much easier for us to deconstruct [similar] projects, and streamline operations” for other global firms, Goodrich says. “If we were approached by another corporation with 10, 15 or 20 offices, we would have no trouble stacking [the shoots] to minimize delivery time.” The company has no such assignments pending, but Goodrich says he’s pursuing several leads.