Getting the angle right, your personal brand photo

I was thinking about pictures the other day, pictures of scones to be precise and wondering how I wanted to set the scene for them. What props would work, what lighting would be good, how would I convey quality? It struck me that I was more worried about how the food would look than most people are about the pictures of themselves they post. They weren’t even my scones.

I’m even worst when it comes to people. I will spend ages thinking about how I want board members, senior management or the CEO viewed. I have destroyed images of senior management I thought were in poor taste or inconsistent with the corporate brand. I’ve also used funny pictures of the CEO to convey warmth and humour to staff. The point is, some thought should go into each photo and how it’s used.  What is the objective, what message is being conveyed, what audience are you talking to?

I have watched with some curiosity and a little dismay as coquettish, slightly boudoir, images have shown up on LinkedIn. I have a sense of humour, so while I often find them funny they also make me a touch uncomfortable because they really don’t belong on LinkedIn. I can’t help but wonder what the person is trying to convey in a business setting. Here are some tips for what to avoid.

The Boudoir Photo: If there is a feather boa in the image, then don’t use the image for your professional shot. It’s not that I have anything against feather boas but what they call to mind are things like, the Rocky Horror Picture Show and exotic dancers. Unless you are selling costumes or polls for dancing, lose the feathers.

The Angry Woman: Do you know what happens when you hold your phone in your hand and look down on it in concentration as you take a selfie? You get the Angry Man/Woman photo.  It’s a photo of your nostrils, always attractive, while you look down your nose at the viewer. How appealing.  If you are smiling then it can look creepy or patronizing. If you’re not smiling, you have the perfect Angry Man. If you’re going to use a selfie, lift your hand to head level or slightly higher.

The Location Shot: I’ve seen quite a few “professional” shots of young men at the beach lately. The attire is what you might expect for a beach photo, shorts, and shades. In some really interesting branding choices, the person is not wearing a shirt. The individual is often trying to give me advice. I think they are trying to say, “Look at me, I’m so successful I now live the good life.”

What I see is a guy too inexperienced to know what’s appropriate. Here’s my advice, if it’s good enough for a restaurant, then it’s good enough for your professional photo. No shirt, no shoes, no service. Extend the thought to include that there should be no shorts or shades in a professional photo.

Where’s Waldo: The Where’s Waldo photo comes in many forms. It’s can be anything from a family photo or a corporate shot. What they have in common is that there’s more than one person visible. So now the viewer gets to choose.  Is it the guy on the left or right?  Where is the subject? If it’s a man and woman in the photo, the poster’s name might give you a clue, providing their name isn’t gender neutral like Kelly, Beverly or Pat. Even if the name does make it clear, why is the other person in the photo? What is the unstated message?

Eye Spy:  These are among my personal favourites. It’s really about not wanting to include a photo of yourself so you use one where you are so small that the viewer can’t quite see you. It’s the photo of the Grand Canyon and you’re off to the side like a perspective reference. This is a useless shot and tells the viewer you don’t really get the point of including a photo.

I could go on, the photo with plunging neckline for men or women is a no go, as is the open mouth speech shot. The point is, decide what you are trying to convey about your personal brand with a photo. Do you want to earn trust, their time or just their attention?

I get that people don’t want to be sheep.  I appreciate wanting to do something a little different, you can do that without becoming goofy. Above all else, a professional photo is supposed to make you look like a professional, or at least it shouldn’t make you look like a felon.

Some quick tips for good shots. 

  • Use natural lighting. This does not mean squinting into the sun, but it does mean avoiding unnecessary shadows or that shiny-face look that can happen in night shots. Not to mention the red eyed demon that comes with poor lighting.
  • Focus on the chest up or just head and shoulders. This means you will be the central focus of the image.
  • Think about how you want to be seen by a client, not your buddies.
  • Use a professional photographer.  When chosen well, they are worth every penny.  Consider it an investment in yourself.

How did you choose your photo and why? Do you think your photo matters to your brand? Have you ever seen a photo and thought…what were they thinking? Have you ever seen a photo and thought, brilliant!

Image courtesy of stockimages/




0 responses to “Getting the angle right, your personal brand photo

  • This blog really made me smile Debra. I loved the part with the scones!! But I have to say I agreed with everything you said about your headshot for your gravitas, or professional phot. Good tip about the nostrils!! I’ve been struggling with mine , as I don’t really want to spend the money on a photographer, and the other prob. Is my glasses are photosensitive so I cnat do outdoor shots or it looks like I’m wearing shades. Hopefully I’ll come up with an answer before I get an agent!

  • Eleanor Bell says:
    September 26, 2014 @ 06:02 am

    Good practical advice 🙂

  • So,true how some people just don’t think when they post pics of themselves. I know a young man who is extremely intelligent and has a great job. But he obvious drinks and likely does drugs on wkends and posts the most insane pics of his escapades. One day he’ll wake up and have a lot of cleaning up to do.

    • Ugh. Cleaning up is so much harder than not posting silly pics in the first place. Social media is NOT a personal album and the memory of the internet is something close to infinity.

  • First off, you used the phrase “jaunty tilt to the side,” this gives you huge bonus points. And then I am trying to figure out the thing about the feather boa. I mean seriously, who does that?

    I swear sometimes people amaze me. Much of it comes back to accountability for their actions and appearance to the world around them.

    I have two promo shots I tend to use (probably still need to be updated anyway). One which shows up here is a shot from a beer fest. As a beer writer it makes perfect sense. Personally, I find it odd when someone writes about beer and wine and they don’t have pictures of themselves enjoying a tipple.

    The other shot is just a head shot. This one goes to more professional places because I still need to maintain a semi professional image at times. Granted it is an older one and probably needs to be redone but it at least conveys a decent image.

    I think much of this goes back to the image of the self. Many people don’t seem to understand the need to have two separate personas between their personal lives and their professional lives. Frankly, most businesses don’t give a flying rip about your hobbies. Except for that rare occasion when you are approaching a group directly related to said hobbies.

    A good example goes back to some of your examples. Shots with a boa and stripper pole would be great as part of the package of shots with your resume to a strip club. But even then you would want a professional loooking headshot (or maybe not…).

  • I’ve stuck with my current photo for a little over a year now, my hair may not have any highlights in it right now, but I think it’s pretty good for a selfie with a few effects added 😉 Granted, it took me probably 50 tries to get a decent picture. I’ve actually hidden a few former students from my Facebook stream because all they post are kissy-face selfies 10 times a day.

  • ballnchainz says:
    September 10, 2014 @ 07:37 pm

    I really hate taking pictures and though I have nothing to hide I still really really hate taking them and usually will hide from the camera once they are pulled out. Great Post (as long as there is not picture of me floating around LOL)


  • As they say a picture is worth a thousand words. It sad but true that we judge a book by its cover and the if the picture has other things going on we make a decision of what that person is like. I would say a lot of us do not like what we look like in a photograph. We think we look one way and then when we are photographed we think to ourselves, Boy do I look like that. To me the best photograph is one with a smile.

  • I can’t afford a professional photographer right now. I don’t even like putting my face in front of a camera. I’m one of those who truly isn’t photogenic.

    • Gynis, you don’t need to use a professional photographer, it’s a nice to have not a need to have. I do encourage the use of a professional looking picture for professional sites.

      As for being photogenic, I move between taking nice pictures and taking images that I can’t recognize as myself (or don’t want recognize). It’s about mood, the lighting and the angle of the shot.

  • This was funny, but appropriate and timely, Debra. Particularly the feather boa…i think I have actually seen a few of those on LinkedIn, or the shots where the females are trying to look all sultry and sexy. Makes you wonder if you went to the wrong website by mistake. It’s a business site people….come on. 🙂

    • I’ve seen all the ones I described on LinkedIn, from more than one person. It’s almost as if someone did the first image and a bunch of people thought, hey, I can do that if he can do that. 🙂

  • Agree with you, Debra. But the worst are people who don’t use a picture of themselves but a rose, or whatever on social media. If on top of it they don’t use their real name but a company name or the name of their blog I get the feeling they have something to hide. And some of them do.

  • I hope a goodly number of people read this post. There are certainly a lot of unprofessional pictures being used on professional sites. The same could be said for attire at work. Dress down Fridays seems to have spread to cover the week.
    While makeup may not be a concern for most males, females should pay attention to theirs. A gentle touch is best. Using party makeup may not be the look you want either.

    • It’s funny, for the longest time there were very professional photos or no photos at all, then in the last year there was a surge of unusual ones.I found myself anticipating my forays into social media because the pictures were so funny… yes, I’m a bad person.

  • Great post, Debra – i don’t think i have been guilty of what you describe but i hate being taken pictures of. Naturally, most of the time i am smirking at my photos, which isn’t good. (I think even the photo on my site and LI profile is a smirking one, sigh). I have several good photos where i am smiling and all happy and trustworthy – but then again, i am with my sunglasses. Not good either, i suppose.

    A question – which is better: a somewhat smirking photo or a nice photo with my sunglasses on? This is an fight i have had with myself for a loong time regarding my photo. No way you can drag me in front of a professional photographer to take my headshot. no-no. it ain’t that important (yet).

  • Deb…I can’t think of more timely post, in this era of the selfie. I have often wondered myself…who vetted these??? I love the shirt, no shoes, no service!! Very applicable. I clearly do not get the “cute” factor from some of these. Why would I hire an editor, or a web designer who clearly takes everything so lightly??? In particular, themselves!! But I’m margially sad that I have to put my boa away…damn…………..

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