WorkScene interview with Michael Simon

Michael Simon Photography is a commercial photography studio based in Richmond, Virginia specializing in corporate documentary imagery and portraiture.  He helps corporations across the US tell stories with pictures while building an image archive of their company culture and people. 


WorkScene: Your clients include photography on websites and other content used to introduce the company to potential employees.  What are the visual clues you look for that help to tell that employer story?

MS: There are several categories of content that job seekers like to see, and one of them is also frequently the highest priority for my clients – they want to see diversity.  Seeing people who look different from each other, a variety of ages and backgrounds all working together tells a compelling story. For example, showing company executives working with new hires or interns can be a great way to impart the collaborative nature of team.  At the end of the day potential employees want to see themselves.


WorkScene: Speak more about that.

MS: I think people want to be able to look at images and feel like that’s me in that work location.  They might say “I would be comfortable in this environment with these people as coworkers.” They want to imagine themselves doing their work in this environment with these people.


WorkScene: What are good ways to show people working together in pictures?

MS: Some of the best images about workplace collaboration happen when I’m hanging around an office and just see the right opportunity.  It takes being in the environment to see when the right situation for a good photo occurs. It’s possible to stage a photo, but it helps if it’s natural.  If you do set it up, it might help to ask some questions to spur discussions for people to be more engaged. For example, there are times when I’ve gotten senior staff and not so senior staff together in a room and I’ll ask them questions about their work or their summer vacations – whatever it takes to get people moving around and asking each other questions.


WorkScene: Is there anything special to look for regarding locations within the work place?

MS: I love places in an office or work location where people naturally come together.  It’s difficult sometimes because lots of people in offices just go to their desks and plug in and do their work individually.  And that’s not always great for imagery. Instead of showing people buried in their computer screen I often head to the snack area or lunchroom.  These become the hangout spots, especially if the company provides lunch once a week or so for everyone to eat together. Remember to be careful with people eating and drinking as they can be sensitive to how they look, but in general lunchrooms and conference rooms are great locations to capture images.


WorkScene: Any other locations?

MS: There are often places within companies that just look like a great background for photos.  Long hallways where people stop for a moment to discuss something can make for gripping photos.  In fact, long hallways make a great visuals in general! Images of quick collaborative moments with two people looking at a computer screen or looking up or down at each other can convey that people are taken seriously regarding their work.  If I hear people chatting or giggling I might try to find them and capture those candid shots.


WorkScene: Do you have any general rules for the days when you want to take photos? 

MS: Generally, I look for good clean lines and clean areas within a work location.  Removing clutter and stacks of boxes is often the best way to set up for good pictures along with concealing the trash cans. I also ask folks to remove jackets and sweaters from the backs of chairs.  Everything matters in photos. The human eye is so good and the brain so quick that everything in the frame of a photograph is important, so I try to remove everything that might distract from the viewer seeing the essence of what it’s like to work for the company I’m photographing.


WorkScene: What about pictures from outside the work location? – how does that add to the overall sense of what it’s like to work for a company?

MS: It’s critical if people are naturally gathering outside the walls of the work location.  Having pictures of places where employees go for lunch can be very powerful. And if they are heading to a coffee shop every day at 3:00pm then I definitely want to take pictures in that environment.  Don’t forget the after work locations where people get together too.


WorkScene: As long as we’re outside how about getting to and from work?

MS: Absolutely.  For one client we looked at two people in very different roles and retraced parts of their commuting route.  In Boston we took pictures of the walk from the local subway stop to the office, and for a different client we captured how a commuter takes his bike up the steps into to his office in the morning.  Every company is different so I’d suggest asking a few employees where they spend time with coworkers as the best starting point for getting great images.


WorkScene:  Thank you again, Michael.  We’ll look forward to learning more from your experience in future interviews.


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Photo Credit: Michael Simon Photography.