Making a great first impression is essential online. You have just seconds to get people’s attention before they move on. One of the most effective ways to stand out and get engagement is by having a set of professional images of you, on your website and social media.
Many business owners baulk at the cost of a professional brand photo-shoot (and yes they can be pricey) but there are a number of reasons why this is money extremely well spent.
Professional images send a strong message that you are serious about your business and what you offer. Your investment in yourself encourages others to invest in you.
A picture says a thousand words. It’s a cliché but still true. Your audience are overwhelmed with too much information. An image shows people who you are and what you stand for in the most effective, efficient way.
You may have the strongest message and the best services in the world but if your brand images are blurred and wonky (or taken at a family party) someone is very unlikely to look past that.
Content confidence booster
Having professional images will make you feel a lot more comfortable about creating content that features you in person. And people buy from people. Yes – sorry – another cliché. But it’s a cliché because it’s true.
People buy from you and to do this they need to see YOU, to make that personal connection that builds trust.
You don’t have to go pro
If a pro-photographer is out of your budget (which is totally understandable) do some digging and find a semi-professional or photography students who will do potentially a great job for a lot less.
This is what I did nearly three years ago. I was extremely lucky that my photographer (who is also a teacher) was every inch the pro and gave me the best brand asset I could have hoped for. I’ve been proudly using these images from day one of communicating for my business online.
Polished well composed images of you that you are proud to publish, can go a long way to helping conquer the ‘ick’ feeling around personal branding.
Get clear about what you want from your photo-shoot
Just because you’re investing in a photographer it’s not their job to know what you want and need to communicate your brand and your business. That’s your job. The more clearly you communicate what you’re after the more likely you are to get it.
Planning a photo-shoot might seem like a strange concept. But a successful personal brand shoot doesn’t just happen by happy accident. There’s a lot more to it than just booking a photographer, buying a few new clothes and slapping on a bit of make-up.
All professional photo shoots are planned down to the smallest detail, so get it right by following these ten straightforward steps.
Step 1 Look at others in your industry
If you are active on any social media, you’re probably already being bombarded with images of people in your industry. These will give you a good indication of what clients in your industry expect to see.
There’s nothing wrong with drawing on the work of those who have gone before you in terms of researching your messaging. Every time you see personal brand images that you like take a screen shot. Then dig a bit deeper.
Look specifically at what people are wearing. Where they are being photographed? What are they are doing in those photographs, working, posing, doing some kind of other activity?
Really observe what’s going on in the brand images of others in your industry.
Then go to the websites and social media of the people you discovered and see how they use their images in different places. Do they have a different style of image in different places? Or is it consistent everywhere? Take more screen shots.
Compile a collection of the types of looks you like. Send these to your photographer with your brief (the document your photographer will ask you to complete when you book your photo-shoot, covered in more detail below).
Assess how people in your industry are presenting themselves in their brand photos and ask yourself; do I want to follow the crowd?
For example, if people are having their head-shots taken in front of brick walls, or rustic buildings do you want this? Will this reflect who you are and speak to your potential clients and their expectations? Or are chic cafes more your style? Are others in your industry having their photo-shoot done in their own home? (Or an Airbnb they hired to create that ‘at home’ look – yes people do this!) Is this right for you and your client’s perspective?
Give plenty of time to reflect on this. Don’t skip this part in your planning.
If you ultimately decide you don’t want to follow the crowd you’ll need to do some more research into what kind of images you do want. If you already have a photographer in mind they may be able to make suggestions. But the ultimate decision still rests with you.
Step 2 Define your personal brand
Creating a personal brand can be massively confronting for some people. I know because I was one of them! The best way to make decisions about how you want to represent yourself, which is what a ‘personal brand’ is, is to try and take the emotion out of it.
Think over your working life and identify the roles where you felt most ‘yourself’.
This could be paid work or volunteering. What was it about these positions that made you feel fulfilled and confident? How were they an expression of your values and your strengths? How can you represent this in the way you represent yourself in your personal brand?
For me, my favourite roles were as a Teacher (an English teacher for international students) and as a PA (a Personal Assistant for Directors). I loved these roles because they were both autonomous whilst supporting and serving others. So I went for a personal brand look that was ‘Teacher-meets-PA’ with a classic retro feel in the clothes I chose.
This type of autonomous yet still service driven role is key to my business. So choosing a look that reflected these experiences and values was appropriate to what I want to convey about me and my business.
Although my images are nearly three years old now, being very clear about this, means they are still totally right for me and my business.
Step 3 Research your photographer
It’s really important to look at previous work done by your photographer.
Photographers have a certain ‘style’. If you’re not in the habit of looking at photographs in a way that focuses on the style of the image you probably still have a sense of what you like and what you don’t like.
Both professionals and semi-professional should be able to supply you with lots of examples of their work. This may be in the form of a portfolio or a wider selection online on their social media. If they only give you a very few photos to look this doesn’t demonstrate consistency, and it’s probably best to go elsewhere.
I researched my photographer and chose her as I really liked the way she created harmony between her subjects and their surroundings. As an understated blend-in kind of person this was just what I was looking for.
Step 4 Choose a location
I’ve already mentioned looking where others in your industry are having their photos taken so this is your starting point for choosing your location.
Choose somewhere that reflects your personality, your approach to your business, and the kind of first impressions you want people to have of you as a service provider.
You brand image is your shop-window. You want it to be really clear in what it says about you to your potential client. You want your brand image to make people feel confident about working with you. And keen to do so.
I chose a heritage house that was understated (i.e. not ‘showy’) and inviting. I wanted to convey to people that although I operate mainly online, my business is like a physical home and they are warmly welcome. And I liked the feeling of stability and consistency a heritage building gives. Also part of what I wanted to communicate about me.
If you are in preliminary discussions with a photographer it’s likely they know good locations you are not familiar with. They could suggest something absolutely perfect for you, or something you’re not sure about. Whatever they suggest, check it out beforehand.
Don’t be persuaded into something you don’t feel comfortable with just because it’s one of your photographer’s ‘fave spots’.
Step 5 Communicate your ‘brief’ to your chosen photographer and get a contract
A ‘brief’ is the description of what you are commissioning your photographer to do. It is usually something like a questionnaire with short to long form answer. Its purpose is to make sure everyone is clear on exactly what will be undertaken, and what the images will be used for.
Give it careful consideration and be as specific as you possibly can. This will cover any possible misunderstandings or if the results don’t live up to the brief you have something to go back to for reference.
If your photographer is not in the habit of giving a brief ask them to create one. Templates will be easily available to them online.
You should receive some kind of formal contract before the photoshoot. This will cover use of your images and copyright (which is generally retained by the photographer). It will also outline how and when the images will be paid for, and what you will get at the end i.e. how many images, and in what size or format.
Don’t enter into any financial exchange without a contract.
You are likely to be asked to pay a percentage such as half, for your photo-shoot upfront, maybe even all of it. So, even if you feel embarrassed to ask for it. Get a contract!
Step 6 Choose your clothes carefully
Thinking about what to wear is a major step in planning your personal brand photo-shoot. As with location, research others in your industry. What are they wearing? How would you describe their style?
Take the time to gather examples. This will give you some points of reference, and some idea of what you like and don’t like. It will also give an indicator of how others are communicating to potential clients through their choice of clothing and appearance.
Having your own personal style is important but their are certain conventions that you are likely to see cropping up. Give some careful thought about what it would mean to go with the ‘norm’ or to go against it.
Once you’ve identified and refined the look you want for your brand, it’s time to shop! Just with choosing a photographer you can spend a lot on this. Or go for a more budget options. I wore vintage blouses that I bought in Op shops. They were exactly what I wanted and I probably wouldn’t have even found them in the high street. But I certainly didn’t splash out a lot there!
Have more than one outfit to wear for some variety. Or at least some different tops or jackets that you can change easily in public (or in a rest room if you know there will be one). This will give you more scope when using your images in your content creation and marketing.
The colour of your clothes
It is very common for people to wear their brand colours for their brand photo-shoot, but I would caution on this for two reasons.
Firstly, you want your photos to serve you for about five years, maybe more if they are great ones. You may find you want to change your main brand colour in this period, especially if you are a new business.
Secondly, your business brand colours may not be your colours i.e. you don’t wear them, they don’t suit you, and therefore they don’t really express you.
If you go for neutral colours that coordinate with your brand colours, such as grey, black, white, cream, you give yourself a lot more flexibility. You can insert these images in designs with your brand colours, and still have the option to change your brand colours if you need to.
If you are absolutely 110% sure your brand colour won’t change, obviously, go for it! Wear your brand colours if they look good on you. This makes for very strong branding and a very strong presence.
If you go with wearing neutral colours, as I did, you can still make a really strong brand statement with your headshot. A great trick is to remove the background from a really strong image and add your brand colour as a background like this:
Step 7 Plan your hair and makeup
This one is a bit personal, and almost entirely a comment for women (though there are plenty of males on TV getting their faces powdered every day of the week!).
Some people wear makeup every single day and never leave the house without it. Some of us are just not make-up people. I virtually never wear makeup. But for a photo-shoot with images you want to use for some time my personal view is – wear makeup. I don’t wear it on a daily basis but I certainly look better with it in my photos.
If you are confident you can do your make-up well then do it yourself. If you are unsure ask a friend who you know to be confident in applying make-up, or consider getting it done professionally.
A tip for photo-shoots is to apply your make-up more ‘heavily’ than everyday wear. Something you may want to practice. And leave yourself plenty of time to do it before your photo-shoot to avoid last minute mishaps.
It’s amazing what a difference a change of haircut can make to how we look. For your photoshoot avoid a very distinct haircut (or hair colour) because if you change it you may confuse people. If you change it a lot, you may need a whole new photo-shoot! I put my hair up because this looks the same whatever length I have. I also pinned my fringe back (as it comes and goes) as I can always recreate this appearance if I want to.
Also avoid wispy hair-dos, because this makes it very tricky to remove the background from your image, which is a great technique to have in your content creation bag of tricks.
Step 8 Get a full length mirror to check your clothes
This this was a mistake I made. Not being overly hung-up with personal appearance I don’t own a full length mirror. So I didn’t make key decisions in advance, like whether to tuck my blouses in or leave them out (I had two). By good luck it all worked out fine but it might have ended up differently. And I’d have been unhappy with it.
You really need to see how your outfit works at a full length view and at different angles. So if you don’t own a full length mirror – borrow one.
Before you go out for your shoot also check that buttons or ties are done up correctly. It’s not your photographer’s job to tell you if you got yourself dressed right. So don’t rely on them to spot it!
Step 9 Manage your time carefully on the day
Nerves can play havoc with your time management. And you may be surprised just how nervous a photo-shoot can/will make you. I felt sick with nerves.
Assume that you may get the jitters and make a schedule in advance that over-compensates for any slips in time management.
Allow much more time than you think you need for make-up, getting dressed, travelling to your location (which preferably you have already visited before so you know how to get there).
You want to arrive as calm as collected as can be (without your face flushed, your makeup running down your face and your hair all over the place!). Ready for step ten.
Step 10 Enjoy it!
You are supposed to enjoy getting your photos done. With all the logistics and things to remember this might not be obvious! For the best outcome and the best images you need to look composed and comfortable. (That rabbit in the headlights look isn’t going to help you get more clients).
People aren’t always comfortable getting their photographs taken and an experienced photographers will know how to put you at ease. My photographer Elise had the gift of making me feel comfortable the second we met on ‘location’. Given how overwhelmed with nerves I was I don’t know how she did it. But I am eternally grateful.
For fear of stating the obvious: remember to smile! And remember to look straight into the camera for that really connected feel.
And one last reminder.