Surviving Professional Picture Day

You’re an adult. You probably have grown-up stuff like life insurance and a 403B. The men wearing Baby Bjorns at the supermarket seem to be becoming mysteriously more and more attractive to you. You’d think that now that you’ve graduated into adulthood and are well-vested in the trappings of the working world that you’d be immune from the most dreaded indignities of your school experience.

Well, think again — because here comes picture day, work edition. Only this time, you’re not getting helpful pointers like “hold still” and “stop making that face.” And there’s absolutely no complimentary, black plastic comb. What’s a person to do?

Now, I don’t know about you, but I like looking at photos of myself about as much as I like squashing live caterpillars with my bare hands. There are few activities less pleasant than picking through a short stack of poor, outdated professional photos of yourself to send away to represent you in a conference brochure, at LinkedIn, or on your organization’s website.

Fortunately there are people like Jeffrey Fortson, Minneapolitan and experienced creative and corporate portrait photographer, to share with us tips for surviving picture day at work. Read through the highlights from Jeff’s interview and use them to get the best possible set of pictures to select from for the next time that Facebook profile photo taken at your friend’s wedding just isn’t going to cut it (e.g., always).

Tip 1: What Not to Wear

“Your photos need to stand the test of time,” Jeffrey first informed me. These shots have a shelf life of up to four years, and they may be displayed in both black and white and color, so it’s important that you keep the following tips in mind.

  • Avoid the Trendy Stuff. Steer clear of patterns and au courant colors that will date your photo in a year or two.
  • Choose Your Colors Carefully. Over its life cycle, your pic is likely going to be used in both black and white and color. Avoid light colors and pastels. Do not wear red, especially if you’re white or Asian, as the tones don’t translate well into shades and the color will reflect on your face — making your skin appear ruddier. Do elect for dark, bold colors such as navy, black, charcoal gray, or rich browns. Women may also opt for a deep purple.
  • Don’t Shine On, You Crazy Diamond (Sorry, Syd). Avoid accessories that are big and distracting (see funky turnip-like earrings in Exhibit A), or are reflective like watches or metallic jewelry. These are often items that photographers may not notice and they may cause glare and unwanted shadows. If you wear glasses, the photographer may ask you to take them off to avoid glare. However, it’s important for your professional portrait to reflect what you actually look like. So if you wear those glasses every day, you may want to recommend to the photographer that he or she should take some photos with and without your glasses.

Tip 2: Stand Up Straight!

This old school rule still applies, folks. Jeffrey says this is the most important thing you should be aware of. You want to project a sense of authority in a professional photo, so having too much of an S-curve in your back is a no-no. Sit or stand with your shoulders back, that stomach firm (do the best you can), and your arms in a relaxed position.

Tip 3: Everybody Has a Good Side (Including You)

It’s really helpful going into a shoot knowing what angles and positions make you look your best, and being willing to communicate them to the photographer.

The straight-on, mug shot should always be avoided (this tip holds true for pics you snap of your coworkers for your organization's website as well!). Position your self looking slightly from the right or left according to which side you think is most flattering. If you’re more full figured or stout with fullness in your chin and neck, taking shots from slightly above often makes for a better photo.

My own tip: If you’re not a toothy smiler, tell your photographer this straight out. This will avoid having a series of photographs of you smirking in annoyance at the poor guy trying to get you to grin. Also, getting a trim is a great idea, but don’t opt for an entirely new ‘do. Again, see exhibit A above.

If you follow Jeffrey’s tips,  your end result will hopefully be a photo that will work for you time and again to represent you across a variety of channels — both online and in print.

A Little Bit About Jeffrey

Jeffrey Fortson has been doing professional portrait photography in the Twin Cities for the past five years. He specializes in unique and creative shots and prefers to work on-location or in imaginative outdoor settings. He’s done a variety of work for musicians, performers and for corporate clients as well. You can contact him on twitter @JeffreyFortson or review some of his latest creative work on his flickr.

What tips do you have for the professional mug shot?


Photo from the author's personal collection of bad professional pictures

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