Your Photo Tells Potential Clients a Lot. Here's How to Make It Say Exactly the Right Things.
Two Princeton psychologists say it takes one-tenth of a second to judge a person's character, even in a photo. So, use that time well.
Success starts with projecting a successful image to others. It’s that simple. We all know the idiom that says, "A picture is worth 1,000 words." And research shows that communication is predominantly nonverbal.
A good conclusion to draw from this is that your image, and by extension, your profile photo on your business website, can make a huge difference in the way potential clients or customers perceive you. So, let’s get to the point: A bad photo can be a deal-breaker for potential clients.
Here’s why: Princeton psychologists Janine Willis and Alexander Todorov have said that it only takes one-tenth of a second to judge a person’s character, even from a photograph. That is, it takes the average person less than a second to make a "snap judgment" the first time he or she sees someone. This research suggests we all have innate mechanisms that help us create these first impressions.
For instance, we associate some facial features with specific personality traits. Certain facial types deem a person as "trustworthy" and "competent" while other types make us seem "incompetent" and "untrustworthy."
And that’s just your face. Your clothes and posture also play an important role in how people see you. This is the reason why it’s important to make a good first impression. Particularly in today’s fast-paced visual world, your picture is part of your business strategy and brand-building.
It’s all about "impression management."
Because first impressions have a tremendous impact on potential clients and employers, it’s wise to assess yourself. With the right techniques and strategies, you can control people's sense of you through your photos.
If you’re your own boss and aiming to get hired by high-level clients, you must emphasize the mental aspects of how you are perceived rather than just your attractiveness. Beware of “babyfaceness,” for example. This means large eyes; thinner, higher eyebrows; ample foreheads; and small chins on a rounded face; these are traits of baby-faced people.
In some ways, these traits are good because baby-faceness makes us think a person is trustworthy. But the down side is that people are more likely to see this person as less competent than his or her mature-faced counterparts -- whom people perceive as less trustworthy but more competent.
Trustworthiness and competence -- or the lack thereof -- are the two major qualities we attribute to a person when we first meet them.
In general, a baby face can be good for social interactions. But if you've got one, you’ll have to compensate for the loss in "competence" perception by coming across as extra knowledgeable and savvy in your field of expertise. If instead you have more mature facial features, you’ll have to compensate in the areas of niceness and kindness.
How to meet the camera's eye -- tips
Make sure you look at the camera. It’s well known that for the formation of that important first impression, people who make eye contact have a greater chance of being seen as more intelligent. The same can be said about pictures. As intimidating as looking right into a camera might be, it’ll make your photo a lot more powerful. So, don’t forget to make "eye contact" with the lens.
Put your glasses on. A pair of glasses will make you look more intelligent. Especially, if they’re thick.
Don’t overdo makeup. This is a tricky one if you’re a woman. A little makeup makes you look well-groomed. But too much makes people take you less seriously. There’s no way around this. It's just the way things are.
Dress the part, because it’s no secret that clothes have an effect on the way people see us. Take these two suggestions:
- Women dressed in masculine-style clothes do better at job interviews.
- Men dressed in tailored suits look more successful.
But, what should you wear? As a long-time fashion stylist, I can say that your headshot is your equivalent of a magazine cover -- something that lures people to want to know what's on the inside. So, consider these tips:
Keep things simple so the focal point of the photo is you, not your outfit. Women, use easy styling hacks like unbuttoning a cuff, flipping a collar, adding an undone scarf under your jacket or wearing several light-weight layers to add interest to the photo.
Men, be careful about the fit of your suit jacket across your shoulders. And, if you're going for a more casual look, be wary of T-shirts that pull and look sloppy. Consider a sport shirt in a beautiful color and pick up a copy of GQ, or Google your favorite well-dressed celebrity for inspiration.
How to make great photos -- tips
This is the juiciest part. As the founder of FocusOnStyle.com, I was scared to put myself in front of the camera, even though I'd been a stylist on top photo shoots for 15 years. Eventually, I figured out how to be the face of my brand rather than hide behind the business. Here's what I learned:
You don't need any fancy equipment or photo setup to get a professional-looking result. Your phone, your computer or other camera you have on hand will do the trick. If you want to polish your photos, you can lightly retouch them with one of the many apps out there such as PicMonkey or hire a retoucher on UpWork.
Figure out your photo's composition. Nothing’s worse than an otherwise great photo with someone’s head chopped off, or a household mess visible in the background. Details like those are distracting and make photos look unbalanced.
Take the time to edit your pictures so you're the focus of the photo, without that house plant growing out of the top of your head. Think about taking a photo with a shallow depth of field (make your aperture settings as large as possible; a smaller f-stop means a larger aperture). Position your subject close to the camera (you'll see the background become soft and blurred). This sharpens the focus. The new iPhones have fantastic portrait settings, by the way.
Take sides. According to research, people prefer photos of the left side of the face. So, don't be afraid to show off your "good side." Hold your camera up just a bit above your eyes to avoid the dreaded "double chin" effect.
Choose beautiful lighting. Lighting sets up a mood and helps you tell your story. It can even help disguise wrinkles and other imperfections! Lighting tips? There are three:
The most common arrangement for photographers is the three-point lighting setup. This consists of three lights -- one main one on the subject, one at 45 degrees to the subject to fill in any shadows created by the main light and one light behind the subject to separate him or her from the background
Note that you don't need a professional setup to achieve the advantages three-point lighting presents. You can, for instance, shoot your photos in a spot facing a window and use household lamps to light your sides.
Daylight can be your best friend. Just be aware that direct sunlight can be harsh, exaggerating wrinkles and the hollows of the face. So, wait for your setting's "golden hour," a photography term that refers to the time between sunrise and sunset when the light is at its most soft and inviting.
Ensure you have amazing surroundings.The setting and all the things around you will complete the story of your visual message. Aim for a natural, yet styled setting. Avoid fake portrait studio vibes at all costs.
For a realistic background, use your office; or if you work from home, sit at your desk. And don't underestimate the value of books behind you; they're decorative and present you as a well-read educated individual. Also, style your background so it's not cluttered and suggests the right feel about who you are.
Hopefully, these tips will help you get that great, professional-looking photo you've been hoping for to send your business skyrocketing. For more tips, take a look at my free ebook, How To Look Great in Photos. And then . . . say cheese!
Sharon Haver is the founder of FocusonStyle.com online, a personal brand success strategist, speaker, former syndicated newspaper columnist and 15-year veteran as a New York fashion photography stylist. She hosts the 7 Days to Amazing podcast, wrote StyleWORD: Fashion Quotes for Real Style and created the curriculum creator for the C’est Chic Crash Course and Simply Amazing Headshots. Her "How to Look Great in Photos" is available for free, here.