Conveying the right message in your profile photo

Conveying the right message in your profile photo

By Tim Vandergriend

Whether you need a portrait photo for your social media profile, company website, or the annual report, it's important to know exactly how you are representing yourself through the medium of photography. Images are a powerful tool in communication, and it is important to understand that we derive meaning as much from visuals as we do from the words we speak or write. Below are some insights to help better understand how you should frame your next photo shoot. A good photographer will help guide you understand all the subtleties of portrait photography, however, it always help if you come prepared with a good brief.

Engaging your target audience

A well known principle of influence is that people buy from people they identify with and like. How you choose to represent yourself is therefore as much a question of knowing who you target, but in the below example, the style is one of friendliness and approachability. Soft backgrounds means the focus is very much on the person/individual, and her personality is clearly very engaging. This is a good style for companies that need to embrace their stakeholders and engage for mutual benefit.


Engaging your target audience through your profile photo


Convey your personal identity

The other important element to consider is the overall style of the photo. When presenting yourself in context of your profession, you also need to communicate the culture, values, and other attributes that reflect the business that you are representing. The environment and the pose you strike can be used to good effect in attempting to achieve this. For example in the below photo, we can interpret a lot of meaning from the position of the person within the shot, as well as the colour, light, and movement of the subject. We might associate qualities such as contemporary, style, or maybe even assuredness, which might be associated with the arts, or an exclusive professional firm.


Conveying a professional identity through your social media profile photo


Contextual Meaning

As alluded to in the above photograph, we derive as much meaning from the subject as we do the environment in which the subject is situated. A more literal approach would be to actually place yourself within your work environment as pictured below. In the below photograph there is a direct connection between the person and the organisation he belongs to. This goes beyond the actual placement of a brand name within the photo, to actually showing the tools of the trade, within the environment in which they are operated. We can derive a lot of meanings from this photo such as expertise, technology, modern, approachable, fast, dynamic, etc. Whatever the values and culture is of your organisation, the context of the environment can be a powerful communication tool.


Professional context in your social media profile photo


Prestige and Authority

There's been a number of studies around body language and photography. Take a look at the below photograph and try to describe what you see. Most people would say that the photograph is of a successful business leader, maybe the head of a company. But why is that? Let's break down the individual components on this photograph and understand why. Firstly, there is a strong association of dark tones with attributes of exclusivity and premium qualities. Black and white photography is a useful tool to create these types of dark tones. Secondly the posture of the man is very specifically designed to convey confidence and authority. If you look closely, every part of his body is engineered precisely to convey this. He is leaning back away from the camera, with shoulders and arms retracted to expose the torso, and legs apart. He is very much playing the part of the bold confident leader. And lastly, a more subtle element of the subject which is not well known, is that the subject is looking away from the camera. In tests it has been shown that persons not looking directly at the camera appear to have more authority and expertise than those who are looking directly at the camera.


Creating prestige and authority through your social media profile photo

What works for you?

Each of the above social media profile photos highlight different and somewhat contrasting styles. What you choose to communicate through your portrait photograph depends entirely on who the audience is. Understand who your most important target audience is and try to understand what they value in either yourself or the firm you are working for. Once you understand the psychology of your audience, you'll have a better understanding of how to approach your professional profile photograph.