Manage Your Image

Say the Boston Globe wants to interview you for a segment called The Hot Seat. How nice! You accept. They’re going to send over a photographer to take a photo of you sitting on … a hot seat! Get it?

Professor Suzanne Berger recently did just this for photographer Joshua Reynolds.
It was his job to get a good photo and her job to answer questions. They both did their job.

But there’s another job you have when you have this sort of opportunity for public ministry, and that is to work with the photographer to manage your visual image as carefully as you consider the interview questions being asked of you.

In this case, Professor Berger looks friendly, relaxed and approachable. She’s wearing a nice suit and she looks perfectly appropriate.

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However, the photographer has positioned himself so that he is almost shooting up her skirt. Do you see how the angle is all wrong? The emphasis in the frame is on the professor’s bare legs. It invites the gaze to travel to her lap rather than to her face. When you work with a photographer, you need to frame the shot with them to make sure that this doesn’t happen. Staff photogs are busy and don’t have a lot of time to spend on each assignment. This is not an art project for them: they’re there to shoot you, get the photo for the paper and leave. They need to get a good quality photo but they’re not going to be thinking about your image and where the eye of the viewer is going. That’s your responsibility. The photographer will be attentive to light and clarity and framing, and somewhat to personality and capturing a mood. You cannot assume that the mood they’re going for is the mood or look that you wish to have conveyed to the public. Make sure you collaborate with the photographer about how to manage the shoot. You are not a passive object for him or her to capture on film, you are a public leader who must know and be able to clearly communicate your expectations about the shoot and the outcome that you desire for it.

In this case, there is no choice but to be photographed in a seated position. The feature is called “The Hot Seat,” so you’re going to be on the hot seat! That chair is a stage set, and you must understand how you want to use it. Do you want to wind up looking like a little girl who has been called to the principal’s office? Or do you want to look like a leader? Know your angles. If the photographer shoots you from too far above, you’ll look diminished. If he or she shoots you from below, you risk looking jowly. Ask the photographer to take a few test shots so you can work on the best angle together.
The classic “female head tilt” here works fine for an obviously qualified woman academic, making her look like she’s having fun, but I would caution against it for most women in leadership. How many men do you see with this kind of cute head tilt?

If you must be photographed in a seated position, make sure you manage the angle. Make sure you manage the inevitable slumpy posture potential and accompanying wrinkled torso. Work with your photographer to make sure you look like the leader you are.

4 Replies to “Manage Your Image”

  1. This is great advice, and I would not have thought to take on the task of managing my image in this way, with a journalist photographer. You’re absolutely right that she looks very warm and approachable. As I took a little time with the photo, one thing I notice is that the chair is too high for her, her heels don’t touch the floor, something I often find for myself. I think it brings a bit of ‘little girl sitting in an adult seat’ to the photo. So I take that to mean that it’s also
    important to make sure the props fit your size.

    Thank you so much for all your thoughtful posts, and best wishes as you settle in to your new community.

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