Top Tips For That Awkward Photoshoot

Learn how to ace that awkward photoshoot with these top tips from professional photographer Tim Gander on how to pose with confidence.

Paul Mills
20 Oct
October 20, 2023
 min video
20 Oct

An Interview With Professional Photographer Tim Gander.

Whether it’s for your LinkedIn profile, the team section of your company website, or even a security badge, the corporate portrait has become an essential formality for many employers and colleagues in business today.

Head shots, portraits, profile photos; whatever you want to call them, they’re often the first impression a potential client gets about you. Yet so many businesses and individuals dismiss the photoshoot as an interruption to a busy schedule, or an awkward few minutes in front of a camera with colleagues watching. Most people still have bad memories of their school photo with gappy teeth and mad hair!

However, a well-executed profile photo is not only powerful in the tiny circle LinkedIn provides, it’ll also humanise your website, pitch documents, CV and presentations. So Paul Mills interviewed Tim Gander - of the aptly named Tim Gander Photography – to get his expert tips on how you can get the most out of your next photoshoot sitting.

Tim, many people get a bit anxious before the photoshoot. How would you encourage someone to prepare mentally?

Mental preparation is often overlooked. Before you even step in front of the camera, it's essential to be in the right mindset. Remember, this is your professional profile photo - it’s not a school photo destined for the mantlepiece or to make grandma happy. It’s for people who have no idea who you are, so you need to make sure they feel confident in you just through that photo. So spend a little time working on your confidence, just as you would for delivering a pitch to a prospective new client.

When it comes to looking your best for the photoshoot, what can people do in advance?

I always suggest getting a haircut or trim a few days before the shoot to ensure your hair is looking its best. If you colour your hair, consider a touch-up to eliminate any visible roots or those dreaded greys! Doing these things a few days beforehand gives your hair time to settle down and for you to feel more confident about that slightly different look.

And what about things like skincare? What can people do to make sure their complexion is looking at its best?

Good skincare is crucial, and this applies regardless of gender or identity! Start a skincare routine at least a week before the photoshoot to ensure your skin is in the best possible condition. This includes cleansing, moisturising, and drinking plenty of water to stay hydrated.

For men who shave, use fresh blades and a good quality shave cream. For those with beards, consider a light trim and use beard conditioner ahead of the shoot. But the thing I recommend the most – and for some people this is the hardest part - try to get into a good sleep routine in the week leading up to your photoshoot.

Copyright Tim Gander Photography

Sometimes the timing of the photoshoot is after a team night out or a late networking event. In this instance, what should someone do to look fresh for the shoot?

The thing to remember is that alcohol before bed disrupts sleep. It also dehydrates, so it’ll un-do all the good you did getting hydrated in the days leading up to the photo session. If you can, try to avoid drinking alcohol in the few days before your session, and certainly don’t go on a mad bender the night before!

What are the common mistakes to avoid when sitting for a corporate photoshoot?

One of the most common mistakes is overthinking. On the day it’s easy to get yourself wound up about having your photo taken. The majority of people in your office will say they hate having their photo taken, so you’re not alone! But you can rest assured that your photographer will help you relax.

Many people struggle to give a natural smile on request. How should people smile for the camera?

A forced smile can look unnatural. When the photographer asks you to smile, think of something that genuinely makes you smile, and the result will be a more authentic and pleasant expression. You never know, the photographer might even have a joke or two up their sleeve.

Another thing to consider is that nervousness and tension can show in your body language. If you’ve just walked into the photo session after a difficult journey, or a stressful Teams call, allow yourself time to breath. Have a casual chat with the photographer and try to let the stress go. Relax your shoulders and don’t be embarrassed to rotate your arms and shoulders to relax those muscles.

Some people struggle to know what clothing should be worn for the photoshoot. How should this be approached?

In general, simple and solid-coloured clothing is a great choice as it doesn't distract from your face. Neutral tones like white, black, grey, and earthy colours are timeless options. Black is popular, but try not to go all-black as it can look like you’re off to a funeral. White can cause problems if the brief is for a photo against a white backdrop - you don’t want to look like a floating head!

I always recommend against wearing anything with busy patterns or stripes as these can be distracting and may not look good in photos. If you prefer patterns, choose subtle ones that won't overwhelm the image.

Copyright Tim Gander Photography

Is it best to dress up smart or casual?

My advice is to always dress for the occasion. Think about the context in which the photos will be used and who will see them. You want to look professional and smart, but don’t go too formal if you don’t normally get ‘suited and booted’ for the office. The trick here is to reflect your corporate culture, and also reflect the culture of your ideal client. If you normally dress smart/casual, reflect that in your dress code so clients can relate to you more easily.

Should someone buy new clothes especially for the photoshoot?

This one could easily come under common mistakes to avoid, but it’s important to make sure you choose clothing which is clean, fresh, ironed (if needed) and at least relatively new. Your favourite cardigan might be comfortable, but is it bobbly? Covered in pet hair? Or is your jacket shiny from seatbelts or crumped from carrying heavy shoulder bags?

While your photographer will clean up any obvious stray hair or flecks, remember that however your clothes look in real life, any flaws, faults or fluff will be amplified in a photo. Spend a little time in front of a mirror checking over your clothing for stray threads, hair or glitter from your kid’s birthday weekend before stepping in front of the camera.

For people that wear glasses or accessories like jewellery, are they best left on or off?

When it comes to accessories you want to be yourself, but it might be a good idea to keep necklaces, earrings and other jewellery simple. They can cause unexpected reflections, or might be distracting if they’re especially chunky, shiny or colourful.

If you’re known for wearing glasses, wear them for your portrait sitting too. The key here is to make sure they’re the ones with anti-reflective coatings and that they’re clean. Cheap “easy-readers” from Superdrug or glasses with greasy lenses will reflect back the studio lighting and the end result isn’t flattering.

Copyright Tim Gander Photography

What are your tips for finding the pose that works best for the camera?

This is where your photographer should help as it’s their job is to make you look the best you can be, so they should give you some guidance on posing from the start. They might make some test shots before posing you, but the main shots shouldn’t begin until you’re ready and correctly posed. Here are six tips to achieving the perfect pose:

1. The Slight Turn

Gently turn one shoulder towards the camera. Not too far, but the photographer will guide you at this point.

2. Support Yourself

Whether sitting or standing, make sure that while you’re turned, you’re also supported. If you’ve put your left shoulder forward, make sure your left leg is supporting your upper body. Point the foot in the same direction for greater stability and you shouldn’t go too far wrong. If all you do is twist at the waist, you’ll feel uncomfortable and it’ll show in the photos.

3. Turn The Cheek

Here’s a personal trick not many photographers use, but it makes you look more confident and engaged with the viewer; whichever shoulder you turn to camera, turn your head slightly more towards that shoulder than feels normal. In other words, if your left shoulder is turned towards the camera, make sure your nose is pointing just to the left of the camera lens (vice verse for the other shoulder). This stops you looking as though you’re shying away from the camera. It brings both ears into the image and that signals you’re ready to listen and do business with the client.

4. Chin Up

It’s easy to let your head droop, but a slight lift of the chin will make you look more confident and will reduce the appearance of any supplementary chins. Don’t over-cook this one, no one needs to see up your nose!

5. Shoulders Back

Slumped at a desk all day can play havoc with your posture, but try to keep your shoulders and back straight. Again, it’s all about looking (and feeling) confident and ready for business.

6. The Slight Dip

Ok, you’re not a contortionist, but with all of the above in mind, try to imagine a line going across your shoulders which dips towards the camera, so your leading shoulder is slightly lower than your back shoulder. This is a really subtle dip, but makes you look less defensive against the camera’s glassy stare.

There’s a lot to remember here and you won’t remember all these tricks in the heat of the moment, but also remember the photographer should be guiding you too. So the most important thing for you to do is relax and remember to breathe. However uncomfortable you are in front of the camera, it’s always less painful than root canal surgery!

Copyright Tim Gander Photography

What advice can you give to those people who simply hate having their photo taken?

You may not enjoy having your photo taken, but if you can face the camera with confidence you’ll enjoy the experience more than you think. Much of this will be down to the photographer’s approach and demeanour, but being prepared will help you settle into your session much more quickly.

Most people think pictures of themselves are ghastly, yet believe all their colleagues look fantastic in front of the camera. This is normal! It’s because we’re used to seeing our faces in mirrors, but when we look at a photo of ourselves everything is flipped horizontally and this can be disconcerting. It’s like hearing your own voice on a recording - it’s not how we normally hear ourselves, so it can seem a bit weird. Remember, everyone else feels exactly the same insecurities as you, and everyone will think you photograph better than they do.

There’s always a lot of camera equipment which can feel intimidating, how should people best deal with this?

Wherever the photographer has been set up – whether its a meeting/board room or open space - you might be surprised at the amount of kit deployed. Again, this is normal. It’s all there to light you in the most flattering way possible and the photographer will almost certainly make adjustments to suit your height, shape, skin tone etc. Try to ignore all the kit and imagine your favourite client is just the other side of that camera - smile for them, and the photographer will do the rest.

Copyright Tim Gander Photography

Any last pieces of advice to settle the nerves?

Most people aren’t keen on having their corporate portrait taken, but a good photographer will be able to take the edge off your nerves if not calm you completely. Another trick is to promise yourself a favourite treat after your session - an extra nice coffee and cake, or a posher lunch than you’d normally have. Just something to look forward to after the event.

It’s also important to remember that this photo isn’t for the mantlepiece. It’s for people who in all likelihood have never met you (or may never meet you) and yet it will add a human touch to the emails and phone calls you make. It will put your clients, prospects and remote colleagues at ease, knowing they’re dealing with a smart, confident professional who is willing and ready to work alongside them. You might even check out their headshot. If you do, ask yourself if they’ve done as good a job as you posing for the camera.

That’s been really insightful Tim, thank you for sharing you top tips. Before we close, any classic photographer jokes?

I’m rubbish at telling jokes as they’re either too rude or I forget the punchline! But in a pinch there’s always the classic, "What did Snow White say when her photos didn't arrive? Some day my prints will come."

Tim Gander - Copyright Tim Gander Photography

Tim Gander.

With 30 years’ photographic experience and a background in news photography, Tim is a freelance corporate communications photographer producing creative portrait, public relations (PR), editorial, event and conference photography for businesses in Bristol, Bath, and Swindon, encompassing Somerset, Wiltshire, Dorset and the wider UK.

Visit Tim’s website

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