Build your personal brand with a good photo

A good picture of yourself is essential if you want to build your brand online. It really is worth a thousand words.

A few years ago, I hired a professional photographer to take my picture. It didn’t cost much (£200, I think) but I think it was the best marketing investment I have made. It puts a human face on all my interactions online.

(I’m no model so this is making the best of a bad job!. I have more books and less hair now.)

Here are some tips for getting and using a good photo:

  • Find a photographer you like. The most important thing is to be relaxed and happy while you’re doing it. Most people dislike posing for photos so you’ll need moral and practical support while you do it. I talked to three or four different photographers. I found a couple online and the others were recommended to me. Back then, I was writing for business magazines and the chap I used (Graham Fudger) took a lot of portraits for them. This is a good thing. Anyone who can make a man in a suit look semi-interesting is a good photographer.
  • DIY if you have to. A professional photographer is best but even a DIY picture or the services of a patient and artistic friend with a tripod and nice camera will do if you can’t afford to pay. Just don’t use grainy snaps from a phone camera.
  • Choose a natural location. I tried a studio photograph and it was just too formal. I took my picture at my club but any well-lit location that you like will work. The focus should be on you, of course, but a matching setting helps. Guy Kawasaki uses an outdoor location very well in his picture:
    Guy Kawasaki
  • Be yourself. Avoid joke pictures. Don’t dress up too much or be too casual. Choose the clothes you would normally wear if you were trying to make a good impression. Take a selection of different items and take advice from the photographer.
  • Colour balance for onscreen use. A photographer can tweak a picture in Photoshop so it works better onscreen. Get a print version as well, just in case.
  • Crop out the boring bits. Focus in on the expressive bits of your face – eyes, mouth, forehead, cheeks. The rest of it is irrelevant, especially if you only have a 32×32 pixel icon to play with. If you look at the image I use on this blog, it’s just my face cropped out of the picture in this post. Seth Godin is, of course, an exception but his picture uses his eyes very expressively:
    image
  • Use the same image everywhere. Using the same image on different sites will reinforce your brand. Like a logo, you want it to be the same everywhere.
  • Get a mix of shots. Some smiley, some serious, some that show your teeth and some that don’t etc. Try to relax during the photo shoot so that the images feel more human. My photographer took perhaps 150 different photos and only four or five were usable and one or two stood out.
  • Ask a friend. Ask your friends to pick their favourite shots. Make a note of their opinions but don’t tell them which images you like until they’ve shared their comments. Remember, you’re not the one who’s going to be looking at these pictures. The photo that jumps out at the most people is a good guide. Remember – we are all a bad judge of our own appearance. You need to pick a picture you can live with for a year or two.
  • Get feedback.Ask them what they liked about your pictures. How do they make you appear?
  • Have a trial run. Get a friend to take some indoor and outdoor shots to help you decide what suits you best. The same with makeup and hair, if these things matter to you.
  • Prepare like a model. Before the shoot eat well and drink gallons of water and get a good night’s sleep the night before. If you wake up with a huge spot on your chin, reschedule.

How to use your picture:

  • On your blog’s about page and author information
  • Social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter, Xing, LinkedIn etc.
  • Social bookmarking sites: Technorati, Digg etc.
  • Instant messaging and VOIP: Skype, AIM etc.
  • Google Profile: This is a free way to link your blog and online presences with your profile and picture on Google. It’s very useful for SEO – ‘Hey, Google! All these sites belong to me!’
  • Gravatar: this will associate your email address(es) with your picture so that your comments on other people’s blogs will show your picture. This is very cool and very easy and free. It’s a no-brainer.
  • I’m sure you can think of a million others but it’s so easy to do this stuff when you have the right picture that’s pointless not to

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14 Responses to Build your personal brand with a good photo

  1. Anil September 9, 2009 at 10:20 am #

    A good photo also helps connect with the reader. Yes, investing in a professional to help present your best face is a wise decision. Good Tips, Matthew.

    Best
    Anil Atluri, freelance content provider

  2. Ed Lee September 9, 2009 at 11:39 am #

    great points as always matthew – although i’ve long suspected seth’s picture is actually john malkovich…

    • Matthew Stibbe September 9, 2009 at 11:41 am #

      There is a surprising resemblance, isn’t there?!

  3. Seth Godin September 9, 2009 at 11:52 am #

    actually, John Malkovich is actually me.

    One last thought: get a release giving you all rights. The photographer owns the copyright, not you, unless you get it agreed upon.

    • Matthew Stibbe September 9, 2009 at 12:18 pm #

      I wondered why I never saw the two of you in the same room at the same time.

      (Actually, I haven’t seen either you or John Malkovich in a room on your own either! :) )

      The rights release is a very good point. Thanks!

      Matthew

  4. Sue Bailey September 24, 2009 at 1:09 am #

    This is really good advice – I absolutely HATE having my photo taken, but the one I had done a couple of years ago by a professional photographer was painless, and has turned out to be the only photograph of myself I’ve ever felt able to publish.

    (The bad news for me is I lost a bunch of weight and it doesn’t look like me any more, but I guess that’s a problem I can cope with!)

    • Matthew Stibbe September 24, 2009 at 8:00 am #

      Sue – it’s a very nice picture too! :) I hate having my picture taken too and my photographer had his work cut out to help me relax into it. His advice and experience really helped.

  5. Adrien Bisson September 24, 2009 at 1:20 am #

    Great article! But DIY…I am biased, I admit, but a DIY headshot is a little like cutting your own hair ;-)
    Adrien

    • Matthew Stibbe September 24, 2009 at 8:01 am #

      Adrien – I agree completely. I guess I was just worried that some readers might think it’s a bit too much money to spend. Even if you cut your own hair, it makes sense to learn how to do it properly and pick the right style, doesn’t it? :)

  6. marvin November 15, 2009 at 9:41 pm #

    re: One last thought: get a release giving you all rights. The photographer owns the copyright, not you, unless you get it agreed upon.

    Typically, the cost for all rights / exclusivity for a photo increases too. The type of Usage for a photograph is just one of many considerations a photographer makes when pricing photography.

  7. Colin in Hawaii May 10, 2012 at 5:43 pm #

    “…a DIY headshot is a little like cutting your own hair…” Love it!

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