Your Public Image

Your Public Image

Intro by Skip Cohen

Wandering through Sprouting Photographer, I came across this archived post by Robert Nowell. It’s so old school, and at the same time, it’s so EXACTLY the wakeup call, many photographers need to hear.

I taught several workshops at a conference a few months back where so many of the attendees looked like they’d been dumpster diving! Then on one of the wedding forums, I followed a thread where several young photographers criticized the way a few of the more seasoned photographers talked about how upscale they dress when working at a wedding. There was actually a heated discussion over dressing professionally.

And, here’s my point – people still judge a book by its cover. Sure, great images don’t require anything more than your skill set, but setting the stage for being service oriented is also about the impression you leave. You’re being judged by how you act and yes whether or not you look the part of a professional.

All the old standbys are still in play – a firm handshake, eye contact when talking to somebody, listening more than talking; not interrupting when somebody else is speaking, and yes, dressing professionally. The funniest part of this is that it’s everything most of our parents taught us as kids.

And one more from my good buddy Levi Sim: “Act as if your grandmother’s watching you!”


By Robert Nowell

Ever since I started shooting weddings I have always concluded that regardless of the weather conditions or my own personal comfort on a wedding day, I need to blend in with everyone else at the wedding. I should wear clothes to a wedding that I would wear if I were going as a guest. So for me, that means a suit and tie, shoes shined, clean shaven and hair groomed. Pretty obvious right?

Apparently not, as evidenced at a recent wedding I shot.

It was hot and humid as we often experience in the Niagara area. With the humidex reading, the temperature was around 38C or 100F it was obviously a very hot day. Still, I was amazed to see the videographer arrive wearing shorts, sandals and a golf shirt. His female assistant was wearing a very loose short sleeve shirt and shorts so short that I thought they could be considered inappropriate for most church ceremonies.

I’m sure they looked at me with equal incredulity because of my attire – suit and tie on such a hot day. My logic is simple, if the groom and groomsmen can handle it (they often have a vest on under the suit jacket) then surely I can handle it too.

I have lost track of how many times I have been complimented at weddings just because I show up in a suit. I find that the parents of the bride appreciate my professional demeanor and appearance. I make that effort for a good reason.

I believe I am a reflection of the people that hire me.

I want them to feel great about me as a vendor at their wedding. I want them to hear great things about me from their friends and family. That kind of validates their decision to hire me, especially when my services are at a premium price point.

I should point out that the example I just used does not necessarily represent all videographers. I am simply using this example to make a point.

While appearance is obviously important, so is our behavior and communication. On the wedding day, I do not talk about other weddings or brides for two reasons. One is I try to keep focused on the bride in front of me and keep all the attention on her day. The other reason is I don’t want my bride to wonder how I’ll be talking about her to other clients in the future.

OUR BEHAVIOR ALSO NEEDS TO BE EXEMPLARY.

I have heard over the years stories of wedding photographers who drink too much at the reception or help themselves to food at the bride’s home that was intended for the wedding party. I’m sure you’d agree that kind of behavior is unacceptable. As professionals, we should always be prepared on the wedding day with water, food, snacks, etc. so that we are hydrated and never distracted by hunger. We should never lose sight of the fact that we are working and even though I am often invited to partake in a toast or shots with the wedding party, or offered food during the day, I usually decline except in circumstances (especially for certain ethnic groups) where my declining may actually offend.

Being artists does not mean we need to look like a bohemian beatnik (yes I just used the word beatnik) but rather we should represent our industry well by exuding professionalism at every contact point.

I have always felt that it’s better to err, on the side of being overdressed rather than showing up somewhere underdressed. I don’t mean quantity of clothes, but the style of course.

Being neat and tidy expresses that you have your act together while looking disheveled or unkept automatically tags all sorts of negative (though, not necessarily true) traits to you.

Celebrity stylist Estee Stanley says, “Fashion is one of the most powerful tools to convey who you are and what you want the world to see you as…”

That doesn’t of course mean we all walk around in Burberry suits every day either. If I’m going to shoot a band, I’ll be in jeans and casual, so I can fit in with them, if I’m going to photograph business portraits in a corporate environment I’ll be in business casual, (dress pants, and button-down collar, long sleeves, possibly even a sports jacket). Weddings we’ve covered already. At networking events, I usually go for business casual. The point is to stand out in a good way, you may be blending into the environment but as a photographer, you will stand out since so many choose comfort and casual over style and class.

I am well aware that overall as a society we have all stepped back from being formal at work. Nurses no longer wear the white caps and crisp white uniforms from the 1960s, policemen have dropped the tie from daily uniforms, school teachers even come to school dressed informally and casual so we have all become accustomed to being less formal and focused on personal comfort and there is nothing wrong with that.

I’m only suggesting that we as photographers should endeavor to project an image that is as professional as possible and to be appropriately attired and groomed for every situation.

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This article was written by
Robert Nowell

Robert Nowell is a veteran full-time professional photographer. He has photographed over 650 weddings and has a sterling reputation as a portrait artist. Robert has taught thousands of photographers in the last three decades. He is currently an adjunct professor at Mohawk college In the Creative Photography program where he teaches business and marketing. Robert is co-founder and content creator at Sprouting Photographer and Vice President and co-founder at Sprout Studio.

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