Contributor Photo

- - Working

Why do photographers have such bad photographs of themselves? I mean, it seems like, as a photographer at some point in your career you should have a great picture taken by your assistant or another photographer you know and respect but I’m here to tell you, universally, photographers don’t have good contributor photos. I’m not immune from this phenomena either as I struggled to find photos of myself without a hat and sunglasses when my time came to appear on the contributor page so I’m offering this criticism more as a public service announcement.

“Photographers get decent portraits taken of yourselves.” I’ve had to remove dozens of photographers from the contributor page of the magazine over the years because the photos sucked. The two biggest violations are obscured face and a camera unnaturally placed in the frame somewhere.

I suggest that you have two options ready. Something from the field of you working and more of a formal portrait shot so the magazine has options. Also, some of you who are attempting to stop the aging process by submitting the same image from 20 years ago should update your picture.

Details magazine gave up several years ago and they now unnaturally crop and convert to B&W all their contributor images. Vanity Fair on the other hand treats all their contributors like mini profiles in the magazine and assigns appropriate photography (and styling) to each.

Do yourself a favor and make it easy for magazines to put you on the contributor page. You may think people land there all the time because of their status in the industry and that’s part of it but they also land there because they have a great contributor photo.

There Are 42 Comments On This Article.

  1. scott Rex Ely

    Well who has presented in your mind a notable example? David Lachapelle’s shot from the inside of a private jet, looking like he had just a second to look up for the camera says tre cool to me.
    I do wonder though about photographers putting the © symbol on their images of themselves, has there been a rash of infringements that one would need to protect against?

  2. I know we’re rubbish! I’ve no pix myself I’d be happy to show! It reminds me of graphic designers I know who don’t have an I.D. or business card! They, like us, are too picky and not objective when it comes to our own craft!

  3. I usually prefer to have a stick figure drawing of myself.
    Not to downplay my smashingly handsome good looks too much, but there’s a reason I’m a photographer and not a model.

  4. dude nailed it. There’s a reason we’re behind the lens & not in front of it, at least that’s always my excuse. Good point–as usual–though. I at least do have a handful of the working-in-the-field shots.

  5. this is a great point. i normally take the time to look at the contributor’s page to read up on the photographers etc, especially if it’s someone i am not too familiar with. and the lack of a clear picture is a bit off putting.

  6. I much prefer a fun, casual, even silly picture of a photographer to an uptight “professional” portrait. There are too many photographers who take themselves way too seriously on the contributor page. I say, be sure to list your accomplishments/clients but telling us your goal is to “capture the essence of your subject” is cliche beyond belief. Make a little joke and I’m much more likely to remember you. But I’m shooting fashion not changing the world. . .

  7. ha ha, I was just thinking this to myself as well! also in photography/ lab services’ ads in photo magazines, in profiles about photographers in PDN, and on and on. Though I think the overly cheesy/ serious/ over the top “artistic” photo can be just as bad!
    I used to work for a lifestyle photographer in the Bay Area who had me take a ton of polaroids of her for a magazine’s contributor page – trying for the right combination of carefreeness, quirkiness, youth, professionalism, beauty, and so on… and she still ended up using a 5 year old shot AND making me give it a “facelift” and getting rid of her crow’s feet… this was before she deigned to learn Photoshop.
    I’m probably just as bad, though…

  8. It’s a tough thing — I know of a lot of my photographer friends who feel uncomfortable saying, “Hey look at me, Mr Suave Photographer”. Maybe it’s just a shyness thing. Another friend of mine did a funny picture, where he did the classic pose with the 501 Hasselblad up under his chin, and then he did that classic “earnest expression”, but he took scotch tape and taped his face in place, holding that earnest expression. Sounds stupid, but it was pretty damn funny, and summed up his personality. I’d hire him on his headshot alone.

    But on the flipside, read back thru Rob’s archives here, and read about the hundreds of photographers wanting to “get discovered” but they don’t live in LA or NYC. Imagine Rob having a job in their part of the country; don’t you KNOW he’d be a little nervous hiring someone he’d never met before? I think the picture can show that you’re not a dork, or a loser, or a crackhead, or a RocksAndRoots guy. Every little bit helps, especially if you don’t live in a major city. You do whatever you can to eliminate doubt, and build confidence that you could be hired sight-unseen.

  9. I am guilty of not having any contributor worthy photos of myself. When I’m on the other side of the camera, I can’t help but to make some goofy face just to be silly. Those who know me, think that the photos fit my personality, but I guess I really should buckle down and take a nice portrait … one that Mom would be proud of. ;-)

  10. On a similar topic…

    I’d love to put a video of me working on my site as I think its invaluable for client to feel a bit more of a connection with you… problem is, how do you do it without looking like an f*cking idiot! I’m still not happy with it! I know Chase Jarvis is a famous exponent of video as a self promo tool!

    What’s APE’s thoughts on photographers having video on their sites? Insightful or frightful?


  11. Rocky Dobbs

    If you want to see a hilarious example of this, look at the latest edition of Rangefinder magazine that lists several pages of the photographers that will be speaking at the upcoming WPPI conference. Most of them look like there were taken by a second rate yearbook photographer.

  12. All right I’m gonna let it all hang out.
    I, like all of you, hate 99.9% of the snaps of myself.
    I happen to have one I like but it’s of me holding my baby daughter.

    Is this out of line? Not cool enough? As Rocky points out on post 17 – the last thing I wanna look like is one of those PPA dorks holding a camera, no offense PPA people, it’s just a different aesthetic. Maybe I should just get a Terry Richardson blow up doll prop …….

  13. @3 .. @4 .. how true!

    Anyway, chances are that if someone else takes my picture I’ll be chimping or my face will be scrunched up looking through the viewfinder of my Nikon Dxxx that don’t have active preview. Not flattering..

  14. @18

    Holding the kid shot works for me. Not pretentious and not too serious. Damn! Too bad I don’t have one. Maybe I can borrow a friends’.

  15. One mag I know bans all babies, puppies, scooters, ice cream, hand-holding, flowers, kittens, etc. from their pages as part of an anti-cliche policy. Proceed at your own risk.

  16. @19: That’s a great one!

    I’m glad APE brought this up. I’ve actually run vintage police blotter mugshots for every single contributor in one issue, covers of beatnik comic books for another…all because the contributors either didn’t supply shots or they were so atrocious that we just couldn’t run ’em.

    Allow me to suggest just this: don’t make your shots so damned serious, photographers. I’m not saying you have to put on clown makeup, but reward the reader for actually taking a moment to read your freakin’ bio. Most of them could care less, so make them pause for a moment as they turn the page and give them a compelling shot that’ll actually make them look up your website when they can turn on their crackberry after the plane lands.

    If I didn’t know anything about Richardson and I saw his furbie shot in the contributors section, damn straight I’d remember it and look him up.


  17. Nice rant! I am snickering.
    Ya, I think about this too. Seriously, it happens over and over again!

    I always give ’em (at least) two options.

    From my competitive nature point of view, I am relieved when I see a not-so-great shot. But I do not mean that in a mean way—really, I don’t.

    Pictures aside, anything is better than THE BIO:
    “When I was 6 I got a Brownie Camera…”
    How can this be true time & time again!?!

    Thanks APE/RH. I enjoy your blog and want it to continue.
    And I also dig the friendly photographer community it as spawned.

    It is so cool that all this happened from your honest opinions on your real experiences.

    cheers, SAW

    p.s. btw, my first comment.

  18. I have plenty good ones of myself – taken by myself. I think it’s so great when people take the time to do their own self portraits as a form of art. Of course, if you know another photographer – definitely support them and pay them to do some photos of you!

  19. A very noteworthy post! I have helped photographers with this issue many times.

    Take a look at the photo here: used to introduce Ethan’s new website. The shot was cropped for his business card as well, seen here:

    When creating his site, we hired a fellow travel pro, Roberto Soncin Gerometta, to shoot him in several settings to match the site’s travel journal look and feel.

    In turn, when it came time to update Roberto’s site, I convinced him to go with this shot here: taken by Maurizio Grisa. Some told him it wasn’t “professional” looking. But we both thought it was a great shot, and also because Roberto is a great swimmer.

  20. Rob

    You been trawling through my archives for material now that you got all this free time on your hands, ha ha.

    I did a quick post here

    on the subject way back in the early days when I was a young blogger

    Many thanks for the shout out on your coming out piece it means a lot to be mentioned.

    So you may be happy to hear I am ending my own blogging hiatus and will be back open for business tomorrow

    Best wishes


  21. Several years ago I did some portraits for Graphis magazine and they asked for a portrait of me and a creative bio.
    So I sent them a picture of me at the age of 15 on a beach in California holding a Hawaiian vintage big board (I’m from the midwest).
    For my bio I wrote something that was like the dialogue from a David Lynch movie. It was so strange the editor of the
    magazine called and questioned me about what I had said. Once she understood the metaphors and innuendoes she was fine.
    I don’t know if it hurt but looking back I’m sure it didn’t help. So not only is a good portrait helpful but a professionally written bio
    is also a good idea.

  22. I plead guilty to not having a good photo of myself. I also plead guilty to being (gasp!) somewhat camera shy.

    But, lately I’ve been messing around with self-portraits, and here’s my latest. One of these days, I’ll get one when I’m not out bicycling.

  23. i have an “good looking” photographer who always winds up on the contributor page. i’ve often wondered if he get placed just because he’s good looking. your post makes me think my hunch is right.

  24. alan- i like any contributor photos with your kid or dog in them. make me feel like i know you. (but then again, i am just a reader of a magazine. maybe what i think is not what the PEs think)

  25. Maybe it’s for the same reason that many hair stylists and barbers have bad haircuts — they don’t want anyone showing them up.

    Since you can’t really cut your own hair, nor photograph yourself (silly “self portraits” notwithstanding), having a bad haircut or photo of yourself says “I would have done a better job than the monkey who did this.” At least that’s what those barbers and photographers like to think. ;-)

  26. For the love of all that is pure, never take a photo of yourself looking through a camera in a mirror and than photoshop something on the lens. I hate that…

  27. Yes! I deal with this dilemma every month. Writer contributor photos are even worse, I don’t know how many JCPenney headshots I’ve seen. And the reality is, if the photo is bad, the contributor is out. Why miss the exposure? Same thing goes for art submitted by the subject of a story. If supplied art is available and great, a story is more likely to be written and published…at least in the regional world of tight budgets.

  28. It’s funny that you bring this up when you manage to have the worst photos of yourself. We all know you have decent taste in photography, so why the crap photos? Actually why post a picture of yourself at all?