Your picture can be worth so much more than a thousand words. In fact, it has the potential to be worth thousands or even millions of dollars in contacts and contracts.
That's all due to the nature of doing business these days. While deals used to be sealed with a handshake, they're now often worked out from start to finish via email, text and phone. In fact, it's fairly common never to have any face-to-face contact with some of the people you do business with. The only way you know what these business contacts look like—and vice versa—may be the photo they've uploaded to their website, LinkedIn page or Facebook profile.
So what kind of image are you projecting? It's human nature for people to want to work with others who come across as intelligent, pleasant or attractive.
If your photos are less than stellar, or you haven't replaced your headshot since 1997, it's probably time you updated your digital image. Here are suggestions from photographers, both professional and hobbyists, that'll help you be picture perfect.
Face the Camera Properly
We usually recognize when we've taking an unflattering photo, but we don't always know why. Constaintin Opris is a professional photographer for the global stock photo site Dreamstime.com. His first suggestion? Have the person taking the photo hold the camera slightly above you. According to Opris, "This way you'll avoid having an extra chin visible."
The direction your eyes are looking is also an important consideration, Opris says. Looking straight ahead is a safe way to go—any other direction, and people may be confused about what you're trying to convey. Look up, and you may come across as confident and proud—or maybe you weren't ready for your photo. And if you look down, you may come off as either sad or thoughtful. While there are no hard and fast rules, your best bet is probably to look straight at the camera.
Consider Using Makeup
It doesn't matter what gender you are—if you have a blemish or dark circles under your eyes, a little concealer couldn't hurt. "A professional makeup artist can be a miracle worker," says Tim Llewellyn, an in-demand commercial photographer. If it's in your budget, he adds, consider hiring one and build some time into your photo session for them to work their magic. According to Llewellyn, "A half-hour should work well."
Think Beyond Your Hair and Smile
If you're taking a headshot, you probably aren't thinking much about your shoes, and for good reason—they're most likely not going to show up in your photos. But don't ignore the rest of your wardrobe—the photographer is going to be shooting more than just a close-up of your face.
"It's hard to retouch a shirt full of wrinkles, and it's even harder to try to correct for ill-fitting clothes," Llewellyn notes. "Flattering, well-presented wardrobes really shine through."
"Choose colors that complement your skin tone and hair color," suggests Lauren Natalie, owner of Lauren Natalie Photography. And choose clothes you're comfortable in that make you feel good, she adds. As she points out, "Your comfort level and confidence will be reflected in the image."
Natalie also suggests thinking about the message your clothes are sending. "Do you want to be known as a fun, energetic real estate agent? Or a knowledgeable business banker?" she asks. If you're using a professional photographer, Natalie suggests telling the photographer what vibe you want to send. They'll be able to style the photos accordingly.
Consider the Lighting
If you're having a friend take your photo, there are things you can do to make your picture as professional looking as possible. Peggy Farren, who photographs everything from weddings to corporate events, also owns Understand Photography, a training center that offers photography lessons.
"The main light should light most of your face with a lesser light used to light up the smaller side of your face," Farren advises. But don't overdo it. "For business photos," she suggests, "the lighting shouldn't be dramatic. The shadow side of the face should just be a bit darker but not extremely darker."
If wrinkles are a concern, it's important to use lights that don't cast a lot of shadows. "The right light fills in wrinkles," Farren says, "and we like that."
If you're thinking you'd like to opt for natural light, Farren suggests shooting either early or late in the day. "Otherwise," she says, "you'll get dark circles in the eye sockets from the overhead light."
Pose for Other Photos
Your headshot is important, but are there other photos you could use for your website or marketing materials? "You know you need a casual headshot for your website, but do you also need something more formal for a press release?" Llewellyn asks. "Or working shots around the conference table for online content?"
In our multimedia world, one photo is almost never enough for your needs. For instance, if you're ever profiled in your weekly paper, it's likely you'll end up having to supply your own photo rather than having a photographer from the publication drop by. Editors are notorious for disliking headshots, which look great in a LinkedIn profile but can appear boring in an article.
If you can't afford to take hundreds of shots for every possible photo scenario you might encounter, take at least three different photos, suggests David Reeve, owner of marketing firm EIM Marketing and Public Relations. Reeve also volunteers for Pablove Shutterbugs, a company that teaches children with cancer how to express themselves through photography.
"One vertical shot, one horizontal shot and one candid shot should do it," Reeve says. "With these three, you'll be ready for any request you get from a journalist, Web designer or brochure designer trying to fill a specific-sized space."
As if that's easy to do after thinking about all this advice and stressing yourself out. In fact, by now, you may well be curled up in a fetal position, thinking, "I just wanted to take a photo ..."
But in the end, remember, it really is just a photo. And it isn't as if you're going to have one shot at getting this right.
"You can take a great photo of somebody with an iPhone. The lighting and all the other stuff is technical and important, but a technically perfect photo doesn't always make it a good image," says Mark Steines, a TV personality who co-hosts the Hallmark Channel's Home & Family talk show and is an avid photographer and former TV photojournalist.
"Beauty doesn't have to be pretty," Steines adds. When it comes to photography, if you stop worrying about what people will think about your photo and just let your authenticity and genuineness shine through, you can get the good picture you're looking for.
Because of that, Steines offers one last tip that he advises photographers when taking a picture of a subject: "Never tell them to smile. Make them smile."
And that's good advice. Because then you can avoid looking into the camera and saying the word everyone dreads: "Cheese."
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This article was originally published on October 29, 2014.