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A picture’s worth: The return on investment in professional photos

Professional photographers share their top tips on how to capture your best self (spoiler alert: it's not a selfie)



If someone asked you for a photo of yourself, would you be able to provide one that you like and that truly reflects how you look today? Ok, maybe not today, but pre-COVID-19 when regular trips to the salon or barber took place? Scrolling through your phone, you may find a selfie from your last vacation that makes you smile, but is it suitable for use in a business context online or in print?

The answer is likely no, so perhaps it’s time to think about calling a photographer and investing in a professional photo shoot so you can have pictures on hand that are suitable for a variety of needs – all of which will help promote you and the services you provide. With networking moving online for at least the near future, a photo is an essential digital asset that can be a solid go-to tool for marketing yourself.

A dated photo serves the ego, not your business

Time flies, and we often think we still look like the last professional photo we had taken. Even if you benefit from good genes, it’s a safe bet the clothing, eyeglasses or hairstyle you had at the time your last photo was taken will signal an older picture. You don’t want to age out of your current photo, advises Toronto photographer Sandra Strangemore who has photographed lawyers and other professionals for many years. If it’s on a website or LinkedIn profile, that image of you is what people will have in mind when they meet you in person.

“Sometimes, your photo is the first impression a client will have of you. Who knows how much face-to-face contact is going to go on post-COVID. A poor quality selfie lacks the credibility required to build confidence and trust,” says Strangemore.

There are numerous places to use a photo of yourself, including your law firm website, as well as LinkedIn and other social media profiles. Perhaps you are looking to boost your presence in the media, or contribute an opinion piece to a publication — if so, you will be asked for a photo of yourself to use with the content.

Hiring a pro

Allocate some time to choosing a photographer who has the right experience and a style you’re comfortable with, and the result will pay dividends.

Create a checklist and take the time to ask the right questions, says Toronto photographer John Hryniuk, a frequent photographer of GTA lawyers. He offers this advice:

• Always try and find a photographer based on a referral. Ask for three quotes from professionals in your area. Rates are typically based on half or full days.

• Ask if they photograph live to a computer laptop so you can approve the images immediately, which saves time and ensures you like what is being shot.

• Visit the photographer’s website. Do they have portraiture skills? Is it a fulltime or part-time gig for them? Ask for samples of their work.

• Once you have your quotes compare the pricing to see if the amounts vary widely. If you’re going with the lowest quote, what are you not getting that the other higher-priced photographers offered?

Now, what (not) to wear?

Trudie Lee of HarderLee Photography in Calgary has photographed some top law firms in that city. She says for young professionals, investing in a good suit jacket and shirt can go a long way to looking sharp in a photo.

While you can’t underestimate the power and advantage of a well-tailored suit, Lee says that doesn’t mean you have to go corporate, especially if it isn’t your personal brand. Lee encourages people to celebrate their individual style but suggests bringing options to the photoshoot and thinking about accessories to help make your look pop.

“There are no rules on attire anymore. It’s about marrying the image people have of themselves, to the actual photo being taken. We suggest bringing an assortment of items if they want to test such as shirt/tie combos or play with the look of accessories/ jewellery,” says Lee.

While styles today are more casual and people often want to appear more candid, Lee says make no mistake, nothing is candid about arriving at the finished product. It is a carefully planned process with considerations to the lighting, backgrounds, and the overall tone of the portrait. And you don’t have to settle on just one image. In fact, it would be best if you had a variety that shows a serious and smiling, more relaxed look.

“New applications are being used on websites, such as rollovers that use a couple of images that help to show more personality, so people are not hemmed into just one straight-on business portrait,” Lee explains.

Make good clothing choices

Hryniuk also encourages bringing outfit options to a shoot but suggests keeping it simple. Neutral colours are best. Solid colours work best. For women, medium to darker blues, reds and even yellows work well depending on the environment and use of the photo. For men, avoid suits and ties with heavy or repeated patterns like broad or too fine lines.

“Stick to a solid neutral dark or light blue or grey suit with a flattering matching tie. Wider to medium lines are ok for a tie; I prefer red or blue,” he says.

• Splashes of colour are encouraged. You can wear bright colours, especially shirts, ties and blouses.

• Simple garments and solid colours look best.

• Grey is the new black! Light, dark, mid-grey all look good.

While many of us gravitate to black outfits, Strangemore says the colour can sometimes end up looking like a block of colour that isn’t always flattering. She favours grey.

Looks to avoid:

• Textured fabrics such as tweeds and patterns are distracting, as are high-shine material in suiting or shirts.

• Make sure your clothes fit well. Can you comfortably button that jacket? If not, go up a size. Is the blouse too big for you? Loose-fitting clothing can make you look bigger.

“Sometimes, women bring outfits that are too large — they want to hide in them, so bring an assortment. Hiding behind floaty loose-fitting clothes just makes you look bigger,” says Lee.

• Sleeveless versus long-sleeves. Consider having one shot with a jacket and one sleeveless. You want a look that can transcend seasons.

Makeup:

• Keep make-up light and natural. Choose a lipstick that works for your colouring. Don’t wear makeup? Ask a friend or visit a makeup counter. Make sure it goes with your outfit.

• Bring your hairbrush or comb to the photoshoot. Don’t get a brand new cut the day before. You want to live with it for a few days, make sure you can style it, or arrange to see your stylist on the day of the shoot.

• Retouching will often include removing a stray hair, blemishes, reducing smile/age lines and skin smoothing, but make sure you get a good sleep the night before. Photographers can only work so many miracles.

To this point, Hryniuk is specific about getting ready for your close up and has this final advice:

“The camera sees everything,” says Hryniuk. “With men especially, please trim your nose hair and ear hair. Getting just a haircut isn’t enough. Personal grooming is essential for your photo. Keep in mind that this photo may be used for years to come.”

For ladies, you may not wear makeup day-to-day, but you also don’t get a professional photo taken every day, so consider some lipstick. Ask the photographer if they work with a makeup artist – this is an additional cost but can be very helpful on the day of the shoot. Be sure to ask if they have palettes in your skin tone..

Once you have your photos

Make sure you have your photos saved to a designated folder on your computer or phone where you can easily retrieve them. It’s also important to have them in a digital format that is easily used. For the web, that means a file size not larger than 72 dpi (dots per inch) and 300 dpi for print.

Remember to name the image with your last name and first name so that whoever you send it to has the correct spelling of your name. Use only letters, numbers and underscores or hyphens.

It may seem overwhelming and a lot to consider for “just a photo,” but once you have your photos in hand the effort will pay off. Have fun with it. Smile, and enjoy the day that is about you capturing your best self!

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