Chris Parkes, Photographer
It isn’t an exaggeration to say that smartphones have revolutionised how we present ourselves to the world. What would previously be considered narcissistic is an everyday act for an entire generation, sharing their experiences by pointing these powerful and compact cameras (and accompanying apps) at themselves and their friends. But for me there’s a line between a photograph that works for you in your personal life and one that works for you professionally.
A picture of you on your professional profile needs to do several things in a split second, to make its point and its message a gateway to further reading, possible introductions and the ongoing conversation that is the digital-social world we live in at the moment.
The first thing we tend to do as humans beings is focus on our physical appearance, which is completely normal, but what I want to put across what is even more essential to a portrait is what it projects about who you are.
While we tend to assume that people are judging us the same way we judge ourselves, the truth is that people respond to very different stimuli when they look at your photo: your warmth, your personality, your best innate qualities. So when the time comes for that moment when you have to face the same awkwardness we all share in front of the lens, think about what you want to say to your audience. A few questions that might help your cause:
- What professional and human qualities do you want to project? E.g. are you relaxed? Authoritative? Knowledgeable? Helpful? Open? Warm? Disciplined?
- Who are your clients, your audience?
- Which job are you pitching for?
- Who are your colleagues?
- What qualities do they need to be assured of? Where is your company based?
- Which country are you speaking to, and are there cultural colloqualisms you have to observe that will help?
There are endless iterations on this, but pick the questions that apply to you, write them down and the consult with the person taking your photograph so they can direct you to that end result.
To help you get the best results from the shot itself, consider the following:
Reward Gateway is unusual in that they have their own in-house photographer, but for most of you reading this, it will be a matter of finding your photographer. When you’re pushed for time, it can be easy to pick someone with a good portfolio off a Google search, or take an easy referral from a friend, but if ultimately you don’t connect with the person taking your photo on some level, it will show in the photos, so take time to meet before you commit. Whoever is taking your photograph, make sure you feel comfortable with them or that they can make you feel comfortable. If you’re overhauling the entire staff’s library (like we did), make sure they get not just you but the feel of the company culture, and that their visual style is compatible with the brand. Brief them well and take the time to get it right.
I can’t emphasise enough the importance of good lighting both in photography and in video. If paying a professional isn’t in your remit, a really good start is getting away from artificial light; it tends to be overhead and yellow in temperature which is fine if you’re lighting a horror movie but not if we want to engage the viewer. Find a shaded place facing a window or the sun, and you’re already upping your game, with bright and even lighting that is both flattering and eye catching.
Remember to try and strip away your vanity — the most painful but liberating lesson you can realise about your photo is that isn’t about you, it’s for the world. No one is judging you as harshly as yourself, and focusing on confidently communicating your professional personality rather than just looks, your headshot will connect much more effectively.
There's going to be a difference (most of the time) between a leadership photo shoot and, say, client-facing managers. Your photos should convey the tone that you need, whether that's authority, sometimes shown in stance, dress or even expression, or something a bit more fun-loving, which can use props or brighter colours if that's appropriate for your business.
Remember, each photographic style and result will be different depending on the person, setting and company. The last piece of advice for you is to think about where these photos will be displayed, whether on LinkedIn, where it’s a very small space to fill, or on a larger photo display in a new office. Use all of these decisions to showcase you (on a professional level) or to showcase your company culture in the best light.