Picture yourself. You have to. It is part of branding, media relations, social netting, and more. It is the visual representation of what you do and who you are while you’re doing it. We’re not talking about supplemental images you might use online, or in advertising. We’re talking about your primary professional photo.

Images are just as weighty (maybe a little more so) than words. People make the decision to read or watch something based on headline and picture. You could have copy as grand as the Magna Carta, but if the photo sucks, you’ll lose audience.

By suck, I don’t mean “well, you’re not exactly a model” suck. You know those sites like Awkward Family Photos and Buzzfeed lists of hilariously stupid band shots? That kind of suck. There are shades of awfulness leading up to an iconic bad, and they all diminish the possibilities an excellent photo affords.

 A picture paints a thousand (give or take) words; don’t let “WTF?!” be three of them.

Invest in a highly-recommended photographer. Look at his/her portfolio. Ask questions. Understand what they deliver, and when to expect delivery. While the photographer should be in total control of the details of the photo, paying attention to stray hairs, awkward hands, lights and shades, you should never step foot into a shoot without having a mutually-understood and accepted plan.

Please, for the love of eyes, include these 5 items in that plan:

1. SETTING : The photo background should be supportive of its subject (you), not distracting and most importantly, not confusing. If you’re a doctor, your headshot should not have the Santa Monica Pier in the background (true thing). Watch for other brands in the back – signs, stickers, graffiti, ads, buses, etc. Make sure the stray human or squirrel isn’t p- bombing you. If you’re on a set, avoid the glamor shot look. If you have a cool office or workplace with equipment or gadgetry (like a jet pack or piano or ancient tapestry), work it! A basic rule is if you do your thing inside, have an indoor session. If you’re an outdoor business, or have more creative flexibility, take it outside but BE THOUGHTFUL.

2. WHAT’S ON YA : Best to have a hair and makeup person take care of you right. Lighting can be a revealing beast, showing every line, mascara clump, and flyaway. Color shows differently than in your selfie. Yes, you can retouch, but the better money is spent in solid foundation (pun intended). If you can’t afford a pro, Google or YouTube tutorials. I will always suggest a legit hair job, as it’s the biggest complaint people have about their own appearance. Wear what represents you in your brand. These are NOT personal IG pics. They are branding tools. If you wear a uniform for work, wear a uniform. If you’re a therapist, neutral colored semi-casual or suit (depending on your desired clientele). To shade or not to shade: only a few can pull off sunglasses effectively in a primary pic. I’m not a fan unless you’re an established entity or part of your branding is exclusivity. Eyes are connective. If you’re in a group pic, not all of you should wear them unless you’re a Sunglass Hut staff. BE THOUGHTFUL.


(blend is your friend)

3. WHAT’S IN YA : To hammer this home, this shoot is a BRANDING process so whatever look is on your face or however you’re striking a pose should be in support of what you deliver in your work. Unless you rep Lip Smackers, no duck mouth. (You know what, no ducks period. Ugh.) If you’re in a metal band, try the snarl and flash horns. If you’re a scientist, project wise. It’s definitely a head game. Get clear and confident, and play around with how it feels.


(um..none of this)

4. WHAT AM I DOING? : Is a pro shot a staged or action shot? We’re talking about your primary branding photo, and almost always that is a staged, static shot. You’re not in action on the job, you’re not walking, skipping, holding babies. If you’re a pilot, you’re not in the plane. We see your whole face, some or all of your bod, and not movement.

5. THE AFTER-MAGIC : Absolutely have your photo cropped, color-corrected, and ever-so-gently Photoshopped. No logos, watermarks, filters, fancy art techniques. Standard headshot post-work.

The primary branding photo is the hardest to conceive, direct, and achieve. You’ve got to be clear on your identity and communicate it clearly to a photographer who can get you there. Once you have one, you’re good for a while. If you’re an academic, you’re good for at least 15 years.

In the next blog, I’ll address the other types of photos necessary for continued branding and marketing, including the best for social networking, advertising, and media features. Until then, if you have any questions or concerns about photo shoots, be in touch. Glad to help!