Corporate Confidential: "Why Do I Always Look Weird in Work Pictures?"

My clients ask me this (and a bunch of other questions) at the start of every photo shoot, as if I'm a camera-whisperer, a man who can talk the camera into cooperating and giving this person a nice portrait for once. (I'm....kind of joking). 

"Why do I look weird in work pictures?" Well, let's look at a few possibilities:  

  • You're in a Different Situation : When you usually pose for pictures, they're at family events and holidays, weddings, graduations - you know, times when it's perfectly appropriate to have a big smile on your face. But if you're a perceptive person, you understand that this portrait will be different. This portrait is for your job, which is (depending on your team) very serious, and perhaps a big grin feels inappropriate. The result is often a questioning smile that comes off neither confident nor relaxed. 
  • You Haven't Done This Before : It's amazing, but so many corporate professionals I photograph tell me they've either never posed for pictures, or it's been since their high school graduation. 
  • You're Distracted : When you step into your spot in front of my camera and (sometimes) as many as 5 big lights, it can feel daunting and intimidating. Plus, you're still thinking about that call coming up in a half-hour, the things you need to do before picking up your kid at practice, and - oh, good: those guys from down the hall have decided it's really funny to photobomb you and put bunny ears behind your head. 
   Typical Picture Day at Work

Typical Picture Day at Work

As I've mentioned in previous posts, I've photographed corporate professionals all over the country for many, many years. And in that time, I've learned - and developed a few of my own - ways to make my clients (you!) feel completely at ease, and give me that confident, determined, understanding expression that, I'm flattered to say, makes some of them effuse, "This is the BEST photo I've ever had taken of me!" 

  1. You Need Coaching - and if the photographer doesn't think or know how to give it to you, ask for it. I can't tell you how many clients have fallen over themselves to thank me for asking them to do something as simple as say, "I'll take care of it" or "No problem" into the camera. Those little phrases are things we say in conversation, and naturally give us a can-do, confident smile that doesn't appear cheesy or over-exuberant. It's cool, collected, and appropriate.
  2. Look at the Monitor Mid-way through Your Session - The great Hollywood photographer George Hurrell told how irritated he was that Marlene Dietrich would insist upon having a mirror perched beside his camera, so she could look at herself and subtly change her expressions. Though he complained at first, he later admitted that they were some of the best portraits he'd ever taken. So take a cue from Marlene: when you can see yourself through the camera's perspective, you become conscious of little things you do that bother you in most finished pictures. Talking to the photographer, and asking him to catch you if he sees those things - maybe it's pursing your lips, maybe it's squinting your eyes - will help you work together to make a great portrait. 
  3. Let Go of Your Distracting Thoughts - I know, I know, easier said than done (and believe me, I need to take my own advice). But when you're distracted, it really, really shows in your pictures. Hesitation, awkward smiles - all of that spells doom for the corporate portrait. Your new portrait is often your marketing piece - your advertisement of your services. Would you hire a financial advisor, a lawyer, or an operations manager who looked hesitant? 

What About You? It's always great to hear about others' experiences. Share yours below, and feel free to share this with your colleagues and corporate friends who might find it interesting, on LinkedIn.

About the Author: Brian Briggs is a nationwide photographer who has photographed more than seventy Merrill Lynch teams and thousands of corporate professionals. His work has been featured in Barron's, Forbes, Crain's, The Wall Street Journal, and the Chicago Tribune. Briggs is available for projects nationwide. Please see contact information for more details. © 2016 Brian Briggs, NuVenue Media.