Has anyone told you that you look nothing like your pictures?  If you have, you’re going to want to read this!  Well… even if you haven’t… you’re still going to want to read this.

First impressions are permanent and have an impact on your future relationships

I’ve stopped looking at my future client’s profiles on LinkedIn before I meet them.

This is why.

Because first impressions are permanent and their effects are long lasting. This is good news if you make a good first impression. A study by UBC has found that a positive first impression predicted both initial and long term relationship development. Not so good, if the first impression you make is false or negative.

What I found is that more often than not, the first impression I had through my client’s profile pictures has been false, or worse… negative.

You see, I cannot “undo” this first impression, even if, after meeting them, I would often change my mind about their character… that first impression is etched in my brain. And because I want to create portraits based on real first impressions, I’ve stopped looking at their profile pictures.

But it’s just a picture… it can’t be that important… can it?

With the growing use of social media, our first impressions happen more and more through our online profile pictures, and recent studies by Nicolas Rule found that in less than a second of looking at our photo, the viewer will make a snap judgement about our trustworthiness, likability, competence, even sexual orientation, aggressiveness and leadership qualities.

And this first impression is just as real as an “in person” one.

A first impression from a photograph is just as real as an “in person” one.

If that isn’t scary enough, more research by Jeremy Biesanz has found that the first impression we get from a video or photograph will be more harshly, even negatively judged than a face-to-face first impression.

So what happens when your professional profile picture makes a bad or false first impression?

If this picture represents your professional personal brand, it might be the difference between someone picking up the phone to hire you… or not. When it comes to your personal profile, the implications might be less dire, but because all things being equal, we prefer doing business with friends, it might also be impacting your professional life without you knowing it.

You really don’t get a second chance to make a first impression… especially if it’s through your photograph because you it doesn’t allow you the opportunity to talk with that person and possibly change their mind.

What does that have to do with Body Language?

Most of the things we’re evaluating on a photograph are rooted in our ability to read a person’s body language.

Even though current research doesn’t agree on how much of our communication is nonverbal (the range goes from 60 – 92%), what they all do agree upon is that most of our communication is nonverbal. Words themselves only make up for very little of how we communicate.

We don’t need to speak with someone to already have a very good idea about how he is feeling.

When we talk about “body language”, it’s actually the part of communication that happens through our bodies and facial expressions.  You really don’t need to speak with someone to already have a very good idea about how he is feeling and what his intentions are. Think about someone with clenched fists, a tight jaw and squinting eyes.  What is he communicating?

And it’s these subtle nuances you are picking up on when you see someone’s picture.

Things like a slight tension in our face that make us look stressed or even aggressive. A side smile can make us appear disrespectful. Slouched shoulders make us look weak or depressed. And my pet peeve… arms folded across our body that make us look closed or defensive, not powerful. But the shooting angle makes a big difference too. If the picture is taken shooting down at you, you will appear weaker.

If you still aren’t convinced… think of how this is used very powerfully in the media. Editors will select photos showing body language cues that support their story.


In one instance, they will use a powerful image of a man to support a positive story about him, and a few months later, the same person will be shown with a guilty face and defeated body language when he is caught up in a scandal.

When your photographer understands all the subtle cues your body language is communicating about you, she can help you ease into a pose and expression that creates an honest and positive first impression of you. But if she gets it wrong, she will actually be hurting your personal brand, and even your career.


What can I do if my photographer doesn’t know about this?

1. Think more critically about your pictures.

I’ve had many discussions with clients who hadn’t really thought about their photos in that way. We all tend to be a little biased when it comes to our own image (me included), and sometimes get hung up on details that matter only to us. Things like “I look fat”, or “I don’t like my nose”, or “my hair”… when the people looking at your picture won’t give a damn about any of that.

But then they completely miss that they have a fake smile on their face, or that their arms are crossed tightly across their chest, or that they look irritated, or that the picture was shot down at them and they look really submissive!

If you’re finding yourself incapable of looking at your pictures critically, ask a trusted friend for help when choosing your image.

2. There is no right or wrong body language, but know your goal for the shoot and communicate it clearly to your photographer

Like with any language, Body Language is a way to convey information and emotion. When you write a text of law, or a beautiful poem, they can be equally “right” in their own context, but not necessarily appropriate if switched or used out of context.

What you want is that your body language is in line with your intention. Seductive body language might be what you want to achieve in a glamour portrait, but not in your business portrait. It doesn’t make seductive body language “wrong”, just not appropriate in the context.

Body language is simply used to convey a certain message. If crossed arms is the correct message, then that’s what we should be shooting. Even a fake smile can be the “right” choice if you’re shooting for an advertisement and want to have a fake feel to it!

Be sure your photographer understands your goals for the session, and don’t hesitate to tell him/her if the images you’re getting aren’t what you wanted to achieve. It’s a lot easier to correct them during the shoot, than have to quarrel over them afterwards!

3. Educate yourself!

The good news is that we are all born with the skills needed to read and interpret non-verbal cues. Why is this good news? Because it means that we all have this ability coded inside us, just like we have the ability to walk or run, and we can get better at it if we put in a little work and start paying attention.

In my book, a photographer’s guide to body language, I dive deep into all the body language cues and how they can impact your photos. If you’re going to be in front of a camera often, or depend highly on your profile pictures to build your personal brand, there is no other resource to my knowledge that covers all this in so much detail.

Otherwise, there is a lot of free information at the Science of People (where I’m certified as a Body Language trainer) and if you’re determined to improve your body language skills, you are going to love our online courses.


Voilà!  I hope you have found this useful, and if you have any questions or comments, I’d love to hear them. Shoot me an email at contact@deelee.photo and I’ll include the answers in a future post.