Your Expression Matters

Should I smile?

This is one of our most frequently asked questions when it comes to business head shot portraits. The subject has already wrestled with what to wear by the time he or she arrives to face our camera. Concerns about expression, however, don’t generally surface until the last minute. That concern is, specifically, whether it's okay to smile.

Some subjects come into the set smiling, and it’s clear we couldn’t ask this person not to smile. But not everybody wants to smile. Some subjects are self-conscious about teeth, or dimples, or eyes that close up when they smile. Some feel it’s fine for Facebook but undignified for work. Some are self-conscious because they have been told by friends or loved ones that they look goofy when they smile “for the camera.”

On occasion, a subject will arrive announcing that he or she wants to look fierce. As in "I want to look like a tough and intimidating lawyer."

Our Answer

I tell subjects “Yes, most of your colleagues do smile, but I haven’t been told it’s mandatory. Consider who is going to be looking at these images. Most of the time it will be a potential client or customer, not your business or courtroom adversary. You want to look like someone I’d consider spending a day in a conference room with.”

Smiles of course vary in degree, and yes there is a difference between a social and a professional expression. Some adjectives we hear over and over from our marketing and practice development contacts are warm, approachable, and friendly.

Expressions are fleeting. The differences between one image the subject likes a lot and another one he or she doesn’t care for at all are subtle and nuanced. The perfect image is spontaneous and unrepeatable – a happy accident actually. That’s why we take more than one, and that’s why we encourage the subject to review images on our computer as we go. For the few minutes we have to spend with the subject, we’re collaborators. We truly want all of our subjects to leave the portrait session feeling good about the outcome and about themselves.

Your Portrait Has Multiple Uses

A business portrait is an important asset for both individuals and companies.

Your photo will very likely show up in multiple places in addition to your firm’s website. It might show up in a company newsletter or Annual Report. You might be a speaker at a conference, or write an article for an industry publication. You might choose to use the portrait for your Twitter or LinkedIn profile.

For each of these uses (unless you are delivering really bad news), the goal is to project a professional yet simultaneously warm and friendly appearance. The emphasis on the word “professional” in the preceding sentence is important though, and that is one of the criteria by which we evaluate images as we review them with the subject.

Bottom Line Advice for the Portrait Subject

If a smile comes naturally to you, we suggest you smile.

If not, we’ll do our best to elicit an authentic, “from within” smile by distracting you from your concerns and by showing you photos as we go along. You might prefer a closed-lip smile, or one with your teeth showing. We can try both ways.

If that’s not working, or if a smiling portrait is not what you have in mind for your official business avatar, then share a little warmth by smiling with your eyes (which admittedly is more easily said than done). Within the constraints of time allotment we’ll keep taking pictures until we’ve got it.

During the photo session, keep thinking about who is likely to be viewing your bio image, and what you want to communicate to that person.

It’s Going to be All Right

Having your official business portrait taken can be unnerving but it’s going to turn out okay. We’re on your side. We’re your partners in success, and we’ve done this before!

More information about how we approach a business portrait is available on this website. Please get in touch if you still have questions or if you would like to set up a portrait session for yourself or for your department.