Smiles for All Seasons

Last week, I had professional photos taken. This was after several situations came up in the past few months where I was asked to provide a professional, high resolution photo of myself to go with my bio. I found that I had plenty of selfies, goofy, and off guard pictures, but none that represented me professionally. After reaching out to my young, retired photographer friend and writing buddy I had a photo shoot. It was much less painful than expected and she sent me sixteen decent photos among three backgrounds to choose from. I narrowed the poses down to the top six choices from myself and family, but still wasn't sure which picture would encapsulate my personality and professionalism at the same time. So, I took my photos to Facebook to poll friends, family, and followers.

Top four photos chosen in Facebook poll. Photography Credit: Bethany Neal.
I labeled each of the six poses A through F and asked people to choose one of the options. What happened next was completely unexpected. Instead of receiving feedback from 20 to 30 people, as I had anticipated---I received hundreds of responses within hours!

Over 400 people interacted with the photos, including 270 that picked a favorite pose. Photo C came in with the most "votes" at 65, followed by Photo A (my personal favorite) with 60 votes. My only successful pose without a full smile, Photo D,  came in with 49 votes and Photo E, an outdoor shot, received 43 votes.  The other two photos (not shown in the infographic above) received 28 and 25 votes each. What was equally as helpful as the numbers, were the detailed explanations of why people made their choice. During this process I learned a few things that might be helpful for your next photo shoot.

1. You can have more than one professional photo

I was focused on finding the perfect one photo. A few commenters mentioned how I could use more than one photo, depending on the intended usage. Immediately I felt relieved. I have decided to use the top four choices in different ways. For instance, the top photo choice fits the description of what LinkedIn researchers say make the best LinkedIn profile photo. I have already changed my LinkedIn photo. Meanwhile, I plan to use the pose with the beautiful fall leaves in the background to go along with my poetry and writing bio.

2. Know your audience and platform

The poll received responses from a wide variety of people who all know me from different facets of my life. I have been researching the best practices for professional photos for the past month and there doesn't seem to be one standard anymore. Many photographers prefer a closed-mouth smile to convey seriousness and approachability at the same time. This is different from the plain background with an open smile and slightly squinted eyes, which are popular on LinkedIn.

3. The same smile can convey different messages 

With very subtle changes, the entire dialogue changed. Authenticity, approachability, confidence and professionalism can all be skewed with background, a slight tilt of the head, or hand placement.

This whole process has been eye-opening, fun, and educational. I'm grateful to those who participated in this poll and hope you all find this experiment helpful.


Please comment or Tweet Me at @lesgo4it