Do You Need A Professional Portrait?

This guest post was written by a pro photographer who shoots portraits for a living. Though this is a tool more often used by CEOs than bloggers, your photo can give you a competitive edge. Marisha Pessl’s Special Topics In Calamity Physics made the New York Times’ list of best books in 2006. Her publicist at the time told Jessa Crispin that “I know that there was quite a bidding war for Marisha’s book, but that made sense to me because (on the marketing side) she is young and gorgeous, and the book is a detailed thriller with an engaging narrator and an unexpectedly sinister twist.” Notice the “gorgeous” came before the quality of her work…we’re just sayin’.

And while we’re not advocating spending hundreds or thousands of dollars on one piece of your self-marketing strategy if you’re in a shaky position, job-wise, if you’ve got the cash, having that great, approachable-looking picture of your mug on your web site might just land you that writing gig, speaking arrangement, or (gasp!) book deal. Remember, nobody wants to see a picture that looks like it was taken in a Sunday school classroom under fluorescent lights.

Self-branding is one of those buzz terms that is very fashionable today. Our Web sites, LinkedIn profiles, business cards and good, old-fashioned face-time all help to establish our personal brands. A professionally done business portrait is one more piece to this puzzle, and for those serious about creating a reputation of sophistication, absolutely critical to get right.

If you are doing business, any business at all, and want to appear successful, confident and trust-inspiring, you need a professional portrait. Why? The idea that we need to make an excellent first impression is not a new one. First impressions these days are being made more and more on the Web. Our credentials are critical, but if our business portrait looks cheap or like a mug shot from Sing-Sing, we will be sending our potential clients a message; “Don’t even bother.” Harsh but true. This is where a professional photographer is crucial to your success. Many media professionals who want to establish a personal brand rely on viral marketing, don’t believe a photo is important for their business goals or don’t want to spend the money. You can differentiate yourself.

An excellent portrait photographer will know how to pose you so that your best qualities are emphasized and any “flaws” are minimized or hidden all together. One example of this is photographing someone with a double chin from a high angle. Having them look up at the camera elongates the neck giving an elegant, graceful line to their profile. Another example is dropping the camera below the shoulder line of shorter individuals and photographing slightly upward. This creates portraits that convey a feeling of power and authority.

Beautiful portraits are created using the same lighting combinations perfected by the master painters of Western art including Da Vinci, Rembrandt and Sargent. If the face is very round, for example, leaving half of it in shadow will make it appear longer and thinner. Less shadow for thinner faces is best. This foundation in classical portrait lighting will make all the difference in the finished product.

“How much will this cost?” is always a crucial question. The simple answer is: it depends. Simply having a professional photographer come to you will range between $500 on the very low-end to between $2000 and $3000 or more. The real question is how will the photograph be used? Is it only for the Web? Do you want to use it for additional marketing? Do you want to give it to Mom for Mother’s Day? The more you use the photograph, the more expensive it will be. Most photographers license the right to use their work. The more you profit from its usage, the more they will want to profit.

Do you want a simple headshot, professionally lit on a backdrop, or a uniquely crafted, environmental portrait? The first one is easier to do and cheaper, but has less impact.

Every photographer has his/her own creative style. Find a photographer whose style fits the image you are trying to convey and don’t be shy in sharing your creative ideas with the person you hire.

Most portrait sessions take between twenty and forty-five minutes to complete depending on the complexity. Everything is digital these days so being able to choose your favorite image immediately has become pretty standard.

The Web has a long memory. Any photograph that you upload has the potential of living forever in cyberspace. Make sure that your portrait is something that will enhance your business now and in the future.

Rick Steele is the owner of VisualSteele (, a video and photographic production house in Arlington, VA.