Why Are Photographers so Scared of Their Own Portrait?

Today we are releasing the second video in our How to Make a Website series with Wix. After reflecting on the content in this new video, it made me wonder, "why are photographers so intimidated by photos of themselves?" Could your view on this question be dramatically affecting your business?

When the website design company Wix reached out to us asking if we would be interested in creating sponsored content for them, I thought it would be helpful to not just demo what Wix's platform is capable of building but also share what features and techniques photographers could actually use to help their own photography businesses. If you want to watch the previous video in this series or keep up with the entire series, you can watch the entire series on the How to Make a Website Youtube Playlist.

Obviously the video above tackles a lot of topics concerning what you should and should not include in your photography website. However, one of the most interesting conundrums I've found among photographers is that they feel 100% confident making other people feel good in front of their camera but so many of them do not feel comfortable with their own self image. I say this not because photographers tell me this (although many have) but because I see so few images of photographers on their websites and social media platforms. How is it that so many photographers are overlooking the most important marketing tool in their entire repertoire?

Why Marketing Yourself Is so Important

I can still clearly remember the specific moment that changed my photography career more than any other moment before it. I was at a wedding conference in Charlotte, North Carolina hosted by wedding superstar David Jay. If you don't know who David Jay is, he was an amazing wedding photographer, helped mentor Jasmine Star, launched several innovative pieces of wedding software, and went on to become a super successful entrepreneur. When I attended his wedding workshop, part of the underlying theme was the idea that your time is more valuable than anything else and therefore you shouldn't be spending more than a few hours culling and editing each of your weddings. This concept was insanely eye opening to a 24-year-old aspiring wedding photographer, but it was Jay's speech on why you should be marketing yourself as your brand that really helped me transition my career into the next gear.

The basic idea is that in any given market, there are probably dozens of photographers who can create photographs as good or better than your own. Heck, in most markets that number could be hundreds of photographers! The sad truth of the matter is your photographs and portfolio are actually not your strongest asset. In many cases, the best photographers in your own city aren't even making sustainable income off photography. They might be struggling artists or even more shockingly, the best photographers in your area might just do it for fun as a hobby. Having amazing photographs doesn't mean you will suddenly out book your competition, no matter how hard you try.

I know if you've ever seen the portfolios of other photographers making six or seven figure incomes a year, you've probably said to yourself, "geez, their work isn't even that good!" I know I've said that many times, and even today, I'm still shocked when I see some of the work super successful photographers produce or publish on their own websites. What is it that makes these photographers so much more successful than other equally talented photographers in their same market?

The harsh reality is the success of most photographers is not solely based on the work they produce but rather the personal brand they have built for themselves. There are many things that go into building a personal brand around yourself. Some of that includes upping the way you dress and the way you present yourself. For many of us, it also requires stepping out of our comfort zones and becoming extroverted and super personable. It probably means having a few social media accounts that aren't perfectly curated outlets showing only your best photography, but instead they also have personal stories, photos, and behind the scenes of you at work. Perhaps the most important part of making you and your personality the center point of your business is connecting with people. This means making phone calls, sending out mailers, talking to strangers when out in public, starting a YouTube channel, and opening yourself up to vulnerability.

All that being said, if you have not started branding your business around you and your personality, the easiest place to start is with a bio photo on your website.

My Challenge: Add a Biography Photo to Your Website

It's so interesting to me how many photographers there are out there who revel in how they put their subjects at ease and capture them in their best light, yet these same photographers are too scared to put a photo of themselves on their own website.

A few bio photos I've used over the years

One thing I learned quickly when shooting weddings was that brides want to know who they are hiring to shoot their wedding, not just what the photographs look like. In wedding photography, there is this fear couples have when booking their own wedding photographer. They want a great photographer but they don't want that creepy guy (or girl) who sits in the corner sniping off candid shots and then eats his vendor meal alone off to the side of the reception venue. Instead, most wedding clients want someone who is like them: funny, experienced in travel, outgoing, personable, and able to carry on a conversation about non work related topics. One of my previous clients told it best when she said to me, "Patrick I want you to be a guest at my wedding, not just another vendor." You see, vendors often get treated one way while guests are treated entirely differently. I never wanted to just be a vendor and I'm sure you don't either.

So if the goal is to sell yourself and help make future clients build a personally connection with you and your business, what sort of photo should you put on your website? I guess that depends on the type of work and clients you are trying to attract. If you are a wedding photographer, I would recommend using an image that is softer and more candid than something that is polished and grandiose. Wedding clients don't want to hire people with massive egos but it's still important to portray yourself as someone who would be fun to have a beer with or someone who has their own family and loves capturing memories. If you are a commercial photographer or a travel photographer, maybe your biography page should show you out in the field at some exotic location or hanging out in the studio space you would be shooting in if a client were to book you.

As my good friend Peter Hurley always says, the goal of a good portrait is to make you look both confident and approachable. I don't think the photo you put on your website necessarily needs to be a headshot but it should help make your clients feel comfortable reaching out to you not just through email but also by phone. As most photographers know, taking a great self portrait can be difficult so reach out to your friends and see if they can help you capture a great photo of yourself that helps sell yourself and your business.

If you really want to take my challenge to another level, add a few photos to your website and make your bio page all about you and your favorite pastimes. Don't be scared to deviate from the photography theme and instead show off some of your other hobbies, your friends, or even your family depending on the type of clients you are trying to attract. Check out Brian Rodgers Jr's website. He not only uses his love for guitar in his branding and business name, but he's also using a lot of video on his website to help sell himself. As you'll see in the next episode of How to Build a Website with Wix, I'm going to be using a lot of video in my own new website launch. Adding video to your website is the next tier of self branding so if you don't have a great library of video clips right now, it might be worth filming a little on each of your next photoshoots to use in the future.

Design Your Own Custom Website

If you want to test drive a website from Wix, head over to Wix.com/fstoppers and try out a site for free, and then save a little if you decide to upgrade to the full site. As mentioned above, we will soon be releasing episode three of "How to Build a Website" with Wix, where I reveal my own new website and show you some of the features I've used on my new site.

Post Your Own Bio Page Image

So does having a photo on your about page make a big difference in the success of your photography business? I want to hear your own stories and thoughts about this topic, and feel free to post your own profile photo in the comments below. I'll start by posting my own profile photo I'm going to use on my new Wix website, and I'd love to see your own!

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Rob Davis's picture

We ugly.

michaeljinphoto's picture


Patrick Hall's picture

This is a few years old now but I think it still works well with the website I'm about to launch. This was a self portrait Lee and I took of ourselves but I wound up cropping him out to use on my own website. Yes, we are still friends :)

Cherokee Lair's picture

You are very handsome and I would love to take your portrait but this one makes you look so angry, I'd be afraid hire you!

Deleted Account's picture

I’m not pretty. If I was I’d be in front of the thing earning more.

Robert Nurse's picture

"Interesting" trumps pretty any day of the week. Not all beautiful models are interesting.

Patrick Hall's picture

Rob, is that you in your avatar image? If so you look great!

Deleted Account's picture

You smooth talker, you.

JetCity Ninja's picture

because i'm objectively ugly. if i weren't, i would be the beautiful thing being photographed.

Eric Salas's picture

Look at the comment sections of these articles; most photographers are such assholes their insecurities shine through the ratings and comments they give others. It’s not hard to understand why most don’t take self-portraits or won’t show their faces.

I modeled for three years before going to the other side of the camera. It’s been eye opening to see how many introverted people use a camera to escape and end up shooting portraits while being deathly afraid to show their own faces.

We bash the hell out of each other all the time for our art so imagine if a photographer posted a self portrait and it got destroyed by their peers... actually there’s no need to imagine because it happens every day.

Most may not like this comment but it’s the truth.

Cherokee Lair's picture

I have never ever hired a photographer based on their self portrait. Ever.
But I have backed away from some photographers because their self portrait was so cheesy or so contrived, I was like WTF!

Patrick Hall's picture

I understand not hiring a photographer specifically because of their About Me photo, but I think for many people having a photo makes the experience more personal. Take the example Lee uses in the video. If you are looking to hire a dentist, and one website has a photo of the doctor and his staff and the other doesn't, you might actually find yourself trusting the one you can see a photo of while not being 100% comfortable with the one that doesn't have a photo. It's simply one way people weed out options.

Cherokee Lair's picture

I just perused the websites my 6 favorite photographers working in art and commercial photography and not one of them has a self-portrait on their website.
I kind of perceive photographers self-portraits like Realtors photos... Very rarely are they recent or business inducing.

Patrick Hall's picture

Some people do it and some don't. I just went to 7 of my favorite photographers' sites and all but one had a profile image. I still think it's a good idea unless you are uber famous like Annie Leibovitz. Vincent Peters was the only one without a profile and that's because, well, his website didn't load for me.

Jason Connel's picture

You are right. I met Peter at PhotoPlus this year. Super inspiring guy. I've always avoiding pictures of myself because I was over weight. I recently lost 70 pounds. I'm not done either. I had already decided to do self portraits this weekend as a personal challenge.

So, reading your article on this is that more motivating to get it done.

Bryce Milton's picture

Sometimes I do selfies to test lighting setups in advance of my less patient models (my daughters)

Patrick Hall's picture

There we go! Someone finally posted a photo of themselves! I like the light a lot in this. Might ditch the hoodie though if it were to go on your website. Thanks for posting

Bryce Milton's picture

It was about twenty degrees Fahrenheit that night ;-)