You may have heard the phrase, “personal branding photography” whispered between marketers, publicists, or influencers lately. Or maybe you’ve seen photos on Instagram or company websites and thought, “how do they get so many great, magazine-worthy shots for their social media pages? That was so NOT taken with an iPhone.” Welcome to the newest photography trend: Personal Branding Photography.
What is Personal Branding Photography?
Simply put: Personal Branding shots are lifestyle images, creative portraiture, and in-action shots of you looking awesome. A Personal Branding Photography shoot is for professionals utilizing photography to create and build their brand. We all know that having images to support your online presence is a key factor in your business’s growth: don’t just tell potential clients who you are and what you do, show them. Personal Branding Photos depict you in your element. If you’re a personal stylist, you need photos of you wearing the latest fashion and looking fabulous, action shots of you shopping for your clients, or images of you consulting with a client on their own style. A great Personal Branding Photo tells the story of your strengths and sells a potential client on why they need you, better than a thousand words ever could.
Why is Personal Branding Photography so hot right now?
With so much content online and in print today, we are all looking for images that perfectly reflect and summarize our message and grab attention quickly, and it’s now easier, more fun, and gaining in popularity to use custom professional photos to do so. And everyone is getting much less humble in how they depict themselves in images. With so many people competing for space and attention, you have to be less humble: you have to flaunt who you are and your pride in what you do in order for others to share that same excitement. If you see two listings in Google for personal trainers, and one is a standard headshot, while the other is a photo of Buff McBuffCakes flexing his muscles while spotting Strong McFlexHot while she deadlifts 250lbs, which listing are you likely to click on?
How can a marketer apply Personal Branding Photography to their company?
Personal Branding Photography, for good reason, has been starting its reign of popularity among entrepreneurs and small business owners, because they are usually the face of their business and need to sell themselves as the product. Realtors, consultants, financial advisers, lifestyle bloggers, artists, event planners, writers, interior designers, life coaches, and so forth.
But a larger business often must showcase its people to show the world who they are too. After all, your staff and your leadership are the backbone of your organization and the real value you bring to clients. How often does the CFO perform speaking engagements representing your company and she’s scrambling for a photo to send to the organizers the day before the event? How often do you need action shots of the CEO for internal newsletters, marketing materials, or something more interesting to hand a journalist when they ask for some photos to accompany a story about your company?
Or worse yet, how many times has a story run in a magazine and the CEO absolutely HATES their cover photo the publication-sent journalism student has taken? A Personal Branding Photography shoot is an important investment in the marketing materials you use every day. Having a stockpile of great photos of your important people on hand for publications, social media, your website, internal communications, and reports not only saves a lot of headache when you’re on a deadline, but gives you great creative control over your company’s brand.
Where do I go for Personal Branding Photography?
Personal Branding Photos are a growing trend in the photography industry, so make sure you find a professional photographer with experience in marketing and branding photography, as well as portraiture. Make sure their portfolio reflects skill not only in their subjects looking their best (everyone’s hair looks good, posing is flattering, and smiles are natural), but that they demonstrate an understanding of capturing images that tell a story.
Work with your photographer to organize a shoot that meets your needs. Tell him or her what kind of images you need and share ideas with them on how to get those photos. A good Personal Branding Photographer will be able to take a list of must-have photos and/or a brain dump of the uses you need the photos for and a description of your company and design a shoot that captures what you need.
If you’ve taken a look at our headshot tips page, you’ve read a lot of great information on what to wear for your photos and how to prepare for your headshot session. To supplement those tips, here are some visuals to help you see what works for headshots and what doesn’t work, and why.
There’s nothing that keeps a person away from a photo studio better than a past photo that didn’t turn out so well. Such was the case with our friend, Jon. His partner was a past client of ours for his (dare we say awesome) professional headshots, and every month like clockwork they would have some iteration of this conversation:
“You need a headshot!”
“I have a headshot.”
“Where is it? You don’t have it on LinkedIn or anywhere!”
“Well I don’t like it.”
He finally dragged him to our studio to take an updated headshot and Jon showed us the photo he had taken in the past:
“I don’t like this photo for two main reasons,” he said, “it was taken from below, which makes me look like a towering, tall giant, and I feel like it looks like I have about a thousand extra chins. It’s just not flattering.”
One of our favorite things to do is to beat old headshots with better ones. And the best way to do that is to identify what it is about the old photos that aren’t up to snuff, and then do the opposite. For Jon, that meant two things: 1. Don’t take the photo from below (easy), and 2. Make sure you can see his jawline in the photo (also easy). Then we did what we always do: coach our subject into several different poses, smiles, and angles so there are plenty of options to choose from.
Here’s the result:
We crafted the lighting to form some strategic shadows that did a better job of hugging the features of his face to form some shape, without making it look like he’s hiding behind any shadows. We also posed him into more relaxed poses, to get rid of that “welcome to the DMV” straight-forward effect of the old photo, which helped bring out more of his personality.
If you’ve got an old headshot you don’t like, don’t let it scare you into running away from all professional photographers! Book a headshot session with a photographer who has a strong portfolio of natural-looking headshots you like, and bring your crummy photo to the session. Talk to the photographer about what you don’t like about it, what you’re looking for in a new headshot, and work together to take new photos you can be proud of.
To continue with our Q&A series, we recently chatted with Hanna Stotland, a highly sought-after admissions counselor and founder of her own consulting business, on how to earn an A+ on the grad school headshot. Hanna has been an admission trendsetter since 1997, when she was admitted to Harvard College with a G.E.D. After graduating with a Harvard law degree and practicing for many years, she followed her passion and became a full-time career and educational counselor in 2008. She is based in Chicago, but works with client families nationwide. Read her full story here.
Q: What kind of role does a headshot play in the admissions process?
Headshots may be required in the admissions process to medical school and MBA programs. Law schools and most other grad program applications do not require headshots and more importantly, do not want headshots. An important tip to remember when applying for grad school and crafting your application is to follow the rules. Admissions departments want to know that their applicants are creative, but still able to color within the lines.
Q: Why do Med/MBA programs want a headshot?
There are a few reasons med school and MBA programs require a headshot and they are as follows:
Some programs (all MD/DO programs) require in-person interviews. They want to be able to recognize you when you walk into the interview room and ensure your headshot and you are a match.
Admissions use headshots as part of their “gatekeeping” process. They look at headshots to ensure applicants fit the part. Part of their job is to determine if applicants can follow rules and will be hirable after graduation.
In addition, admissions counselors are recruiters. They view headshots as a way to get to know their applicants and recruit them into their program more effectively.
Q: You mentioned “fitting the part;” What headshot tips do you give to your grad school clients to ensure they make a good impression?
There is a certain level of inherent human bias that happens when admissions departments review headshots. This is just human nature, and we are all guilty of it. However, you can combat this by taking your headshot as seriously as you would all other parts of the application. My tips include:
If you can afford it, invest in a professional headshot. It will signal to admissions that you mean business and are serious about your application.
As I already mentioned “coloring within the lines,” you must do this with your headshot. That means selecting a wardrobe that matches the program you are applying for. For example, the business and medical fields are both very regimented. So dress the part by selecting pieces that make you look polished, put together and planned. You want your headshot to say, “I will one day be highly employable.”
It is also not a bad idea to take a few different headshot looks that can be used for different purposes and/or organizations. For example, have a headshot taken with a business professional look, a business casual look and a headshot that shows your personality/creative side. I am involved with singing and performing, so when I had my headshot taken I did a business professional shot and a performance shot. They each will be used for different purposes, but both communicate that I “fit the part” for the role I am executing.
Q: What do you advise clients not to wear for their headshots?
The things I tell my clients NOT to wear include: athletic wear, anything with writing on it even if it is your alma mater, t-shirts, or sweats,. Basically, anything you would wear to work out in or clean out your garage in is off-limits. I also encourage my clients to research the culture of the colleges/universities that they are applying to make sure their headshot and clothing choices fit that particular institution
Q: Can you share any funny admissions headshots stories with us?
Let’s just say that your job is to stand out for the right reasons. The right reasons will be your qualifications, not your hilarious headshot.
Q: Do you have any last pieces of advice you’d like to share with us?
Think about the admissions and application process as a sales pitch where you are the product. You want to communicate that you are going to make an institution proud when you graduate. Of course, this can be done through your essays, grades, and undergraduate work, but the headshot is an important piece of the packet that should not be overlooked.
If you’re ready to book your headshot session for school applications, do it here!
In another way to help answer the question, “should I add a hair and makeup artist to my headshot session?” we’ve put together some comparison images. Our hair and makeup artists are trained specifically in makeup for photography, and this will demonstrate how professional makeup looks on camera when compared to how we apply our everyday makeup. Pro makeup for photography is designed to look natural, while enhancing our natural features and pulling focus away from blemishes and irregularities in our skin tone.
In these photos we had two brave volunteers (thank you again, ladies!) start with no makeup, then makeup they applied themselves as they usually do and placed their hair how they normally wear it every day; and then finally, a professional makeup artist applied their makeup and styled their hair for camera. There was no retouching done on these images: