It's no secret that staff photos add a human element to any company. That's especially true for small businesses, which are more personality-driven than large corporations. In these days of social media, it's almost inconceivable to have some sort of profile picture somewhere in your marketing strategy. Thankfully, that's quite easy to rectify. But before you whip out your cell phone and take quick selfie, consider the psychology of how people view photos; you might just want to invest some real time and effort to ensure that your public image says what you want it to say.
First thing to know: there really is such a thing as a first impression. One Harvard Medical School study (Bar, Neta, and Linz. “Very First Impressions. Emotion, 2006.) demonstrated that the time needed to accurately form first impressions is a mere 39 milliseconds, much shorter than the blink of an eye. Moreover, slight variations in an individual's facial appearance can lead people to develop very different impressions of that individual (Todorov and Porter. “Misleading First Impressions: Different for Different Facial Images of the Same Person. Psychological Science, 2014.) In that study, observers were asked to view photographs of 123 people they had never met. The observers' judgments were compared with those of three people who knew the targets very well. When observers saw naturally-occurring behavior, such as smiling or an energetic stance, their judgments tended to be more accurate.
"What's striking about these findings is how many of the impressions have a kernel of truth to them, even on the basis of something as simple as a single photograph", said one of the researchers.
1. Decide on a theme. Are you trying to convey solidity and quiet confidence in your company? Or are you going for a more fun, playful impression? The important thing is to actually have a theme in mind; this helps unify your photos and strengthens your overall marketing strategy.
2. Match clothing and expression to the occasion. In the second study cited above, participants tended to favor certain poses for certain contexts. When told that the individual was auditioning for a movie, the observers preferred certain shots, but chose different images when told the photo was for an online dating site. In other words: don't user your Facebook photo as your corporate “face.”
3. Take good photos. This sounds so obvious, but … . Use something better than a cell phone. Sweat the details: watch for tree branches growing out of the subject's head, make sure there are no heavy shadows under the eyes. Be consistent: use similar background and lighting. High-quality images reinforce the perception of trust and confidence in your firm.
4. Keep it natural and authentic. Don't just show up in front of the camera for 5 minutes and expect a great result. Relax. Tell a story about your passion or hobby. Portrait photography is a two-way street; good photographers know how to get the best out of their subjects, but having fun and being positive always makes for a better session.
5. Don't forget the group shot. Why? Yet another study suggests that people in groups tend to be perceived as more attractive than when they're alone. (Walker and Vul. “Hierarchical Encoding Makes Individuals in a Group Seem More Attractive.” Psychological Science, 2013.)