Professional portrait photography is more than pointing a camera at someone and hitting the shutter release: It’s about how the sitter feels at the time of the shot – their preparedness; It’s about the relationship with the photographer – how relaxed the sitter is; it’s how the finished shot is going to be used – the context of that photographic portrait.
Do me a favour would you? grab your mobile, pull open your camera app and take a selfie. Now look at the photo with a critical eye. First you have to shut off that inner voice that hates yourself coz that’s not helpful. Now, think in analytical, objective terms. Not dispassionately because the first rule about portrait or head shot photography is that you are making an emotional connection with the image you are looking at.
Take a long hard look at yourself and try and think of that image as someone you don’t really know. Actually, that’s not far from the truth because other than photographic images, you see yourself backwards, Alice through the Looking Glass style; literally and figuratively. Literally because the camera image shows your hair parting as others see it, the wonky smile leering from the other side of your face, a nose stud flipped from left to right (or vice-versa) Figuratively because once you acknowledge those differences you can start to think if the face you are looking at is someone you would like to know better. What does it ‘say’? Leave aside your brand values for now, what can you glean from the shot? Your gender, race and age, obviously. What next? Your trustworthiness, likeability and approachability. Your professionalism. It has to stand in online for you and show what you personally believe in, stand for and practice; what does the analytical You think about that selfie now?
Why is this important? Let’s cover some statistics. A recent study in the US proved people were likely to guess your sexual orientation correctly looking at a photo for 50mS 62% of the time – 70% accuracy for 100ms. So what? For picking your next bed partner that may be important, but perhaps less so for business? You’ll find that that’s the second rule of portrait or head shot photography: You are going to be judged and in a time that is but a click of the fingers.
You need to stack the odds in your favour (by the way, you can ditch that selfie now or post it on Facebook if you really must) because, as the old adage goes; ‘you never get a second chance to make a good first impression.’ It’s more important that that however because a bad digital first impression can destroy your chances at a job, of a date or developing a business relationship.
Here are a few pointers to helping your online avatars build a rapport with your viewers in absentia.
Smile! not that smug, self aware half smile that anyone seeing it mentally goes; ‘FAKE!’ It’s got to be full, wide and reaching the eyes. And while we are on that area:
Eye to eye contact (thank you – Edwin Star) is how we ‘know’ the person we are looking at is trustworthy. If you believe it, then the eyes are the windows of the soul. There’s no doubt we are drawn particularly to the eyes in a portrait so if they’re hidden you will look shady. For that reason great head shots are ones where you are looking directly at the camera (because that creates the connection with the viewer). Also, those peepers must be clear, in focus and ideally with a ‘catch light’ in them.
Take it on the chin. A head shot with a strong jawline helps. It’s seen as attractive for both men and women plus shadows under the chin help hide loose or wrinkled skin.
The best profile pictures online are ones where only the head and shoulders are visible. That’s not to say that the upper torso can’t be part of the shot – particularly if you’re physically fit and work in related sectors such as running a gym or work as a personal fitness coach. Finally an uncluttered background helps because the less there is to distract your viewer from the key subjects, the better.
But what should I wear?
What do you wear when you meet clients? If it’s a suit and tie wear that and make sure your shirt fits and you do your top button and tie up. Smart vest top over a dark jacket? Perfect – just make sure it is clean and ‘defluffed’ A lint remover is a good idea for this. If you are more relaxed in your meetings, your avatar can reflect that too. Make the emotion your viewer feels ‘I’d like to know that person better’. That will get them making the next step to connect with you.
Here are a few things to avoid wearing though.
Hats and helmets – unless you are a knight. That would be cool. Generally though hats create shadows over the eyes so should be avoided.
Dark glasses – you can’t see the eyes similarly keep your hair out of your eyes unless you are rockin’ the Gabriel look (and it didn’t really work for her)
Dark, moody shots (those low-light black and white ones you love) are creative but the flipside is you look unapproachable and aloof.
Anything that obscures the face as it appears that you are hiding something. So ditch the fan, or the newspaper or this..
One last point. Ever seen a profile photo of someone with their friend or partner? Did you decide who was the most important person in the shot? Me neither. Same goes for posing with your dog, cat or budgie. It’s distracting as best and confusing at worst – I don’t know who it is that’s connecting with me.
In summary then, it’s all about the smile and the eyes in your social media portrait – get them right and it will be easier for your viewer to make that important emotional connection to you. Think about your style and the context for the shot – more formal for a business like look or a little more relaxed for the social networks. that means don’t use a shot of yourself posing with a half finished bottle of Bordeaux (and a red nose) on LinkedIn unless you are perhaps a publican.