Personal Branding: The Professional Photo

A professional brand photo is one of your most obvious branding tools. In our increasingly public, digitally-connected world, you need at least one professionally-appropriate (and hopefully attractive) portrait. Whether it’s your LinkedIn or Twitter account, personal website or company profile, it’s very likely that employers, clients and anyone else you meet in your professional life, will judge you based on the avatar you’ve chosen. 

For my website and social media accounts I’ve always just cut and paste my face out of a group shot, or used a decent candid photo. After being frustrated for the millionth time that I don’t have a straight-up head shot though, I decided it was time for a personal branding photo shoot (apparently the only time I take pictures by myself is when I’m posing with food..). I commissioned a talented friend to take the pictures, but then had to strategically determine what kind of photos I should get, poses, setting, what to wear, even how to do my hair. While I was at it, I figured I’d share some things to consider when getting personal branding photos done, and reasons for the choices I made: 

1. Location, Location, Location 

Studio photos are the first thing you think of when taking professional shots. You know.. the head-and-shoulders, suit-jacket-wearing, perfectly-coifed-hair, professional-half-smile photo with a neutral backdrop. These studio photos are certainly appropriate, particularly if you work in the corporate world. But sometimes, in my opinion, they can also be kind of dull. Apparently corporate types are starting to think so too.
On one of my many afternoons working in a cafe, I met a fantastic portrait photographer, Georgia Esporlas, who told me her corporate clients are getting out of the boardroom en masse and doing lifestyle-like professional photo shoots. It’s not enough now to simply represent yourself as a professional online, there’s too much competition for people’s attention. For example, there are over 200 million members on LinkedIn today. Your personal branding goal should not only be to showcase your professional authenticity, but to stand out from the crowd.
Profile/online photos may not be where you want to mix things up, but as a freelancer, I want to visually present myself as both creative and professional. In reality, there are many different kinds of professionals. My particular version as a communications specialist/writer is business-like, but comfortable in my own skin and any environment, with a creative and engaging personality. So, I chose to have my photos taken around my neighbourhood, in places where I’m comfortable and would regularly frequent/work.

2. Say “Cheese”

My photographer friend, Nicole, and I decided to start at the park, so for posing we used the props available there: park benches, trees, public steps, and the lovely Trinity Bellwoods Park gateway. This meant we got sitting, leaning, standing and even walking shots. From there we moved along West Queen West and found ever-trendy brick wall backgrounds and a bright red garage door to lean up against. We ended with some seated/working poses at a couple of the independent cafe’s I regularly visit.
The park offered colourful autumn foliage and a sense of comfortability – there’s hardly a more egalitarian and relatable space. The brick/bright backgrounds were bold and contrasted well with my neutral clothing (read: creative, fun, kinda-hipster) and the cafe pictures represented an authentic workspace for me. Also, it’s more attractive than me wearing sweats on the couch, my other workspace. 

3. What (Not) To Wear

I have pretty good style (I think?), but sometimes I have to call in my significantly more stylish, artist sister for fashion advice. This usually includes me trying on 5 outfits and sending her selfie’s to critique. Turns out it’s a good thing I do. I love bold colours like red and yellow and was going to wear a bright, floral dress with a trim jacket over-top or a fuchsia silk blouse with a contrasting blazer. My goal was to look fresh and bold with a hint of business-casual. My sister vetoed all these outfits, saying that any personal photo shoot requires comfortable, fitted (but not too tight), neutral clothing that won’t clash or detract attention from your face and surroundings. Considering that we grew up with photographer uncles, I should have known that myself. Go sis. 

4. Where to Use, Which Photo?

Once the photo’s were taken I had to choose which one(s) to use for my many social media/online profiles. At first I thought I’d use one main photo as my avatar everywhere, keeping my personal brand simple and cohesive. But when I tried that, I realized the photo I chose didn’t suit every situation. Since I didn’t go with a traditional, ubiquitous head shot, I needed to pick a few different options. For instance, the “About” section on my website now features me in a more casual, printed top/blazer combo standing in front of a bright background. In contrast, for my LinkedIn profile photo, I’m wearing a more business-casual outfit: jeans, a white, buttoned-up blouse and dark blazer.

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So that’s my take on presenting my visual personal brand. Everyone needs to figure out their own, based on their industry, personal style and business setting/culture. I’d love to hear what your perspective is on professional photos and any critique you have of mine! 

2 Comments

  1. Terri says:

    Yes, we have said this for years – a profile photo shot by a professional is an investment. It can be expensive (as good quality clothing is over poor quality) but one would hardly want to present themselves in the poorest quality clothes they have when approaching a potential client… the same is true with personal marketing/branding collateral. Put your best out there. Any creative professional/marketer etc is going to recognize a poorly composed, exposed, or incompletely-thought-through photo and it will look as if one has not invested in one’s own marketing. If the individual in the photo has cut corners on selling him/herSELF it says very little for the quality of work or investment that they will put into the potential client’s work/marketing/promotion.

    Most time a profile photo taken by an amateur photographer will actually look like ‘half a job’ or a test shot that never should have made it out of the camera – almost right, but not quite. A professional will know what to look for in a subject and fix problems before the photo is even taken.

    We (of course) believe that it is a worthwhile investment – but for some reason it is a very hard sell… obviously to me a poor photo screams out it’s errors, and that isn’t so with everyone – but compare a photo taken by a professional to one of the same person taken by an amateur and the difference should be clear to anyone.

    I wish more people gave this the thought that you did when considering your branding. 🙂

  2. abigailgamble says:

    So true! I think that more and more people are realizing that creating a personal brand is not just a nice value-add, it’s a necessity. When I hired people, it would take me a few seconds to make a judgement call on whether or not they presented themselves professionally, let alone offered something unique – and I’ve read many articles that say most employers do the same.
    Your online photos are the first thing many people are going to see and evaluate you on. Probably even more so than anything you write or say about yourself, because everyone notices a photo.
    Light Monkey takes amazing portrait photos, I’m sure you’re going to find many more individuals looking for personal branding shots in the future!

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