Saturday, February 13, 2010

The Professional Image

Today, I'm going to be attending an event at a college to do some photos of Belly Dancers, from the Tribe of Medusa. Of course, since my younger sister and a friend of mine (both dancers) are preparing themselves here at my home I also get some nice portraits before hand, but still. What came to mind was how I should dress for the show.

I know most of the dancers that will be performing, and went to school with most of them too. So you could say that we're fairly acquainted and know each others particular habits when it comes to how we dress for different occasions. Four years ago back in High School, I'd probably be painting my nails some odd colour (like purple or blue, or hey, both), pulling my hair back in some crazy style, and wearing an outfit you'd only expect on someone coming out of a store like Hot Topic, or that caters to a more Indie scene.

My first thoughts, in fact, were to maybe paint my nails, because I haven't done so recently. And I was thinking some odd colour, but I'm stopping myself; and for good reason.

I'm not a student in High School anymore. I can't pass my appearance off to my age. I am attending this event not simply as a guest, but as a professional photographer. As such, I need to dress and act the part, and to me this is probably what most professional artists overlook the most; especially if they're young.

While I'm only twenty years old, I have parents who have instilled the professional attitude in me. And so I'd like to take a moment to share these musings with everyone, so that hopefully others out there who are looking to be professionals in a field don't make fashion faux-pas that lose them work they might have otherwise gained.

The biggest thing and most difficult thing that one must do, is put themselves in someone else's shoes. And not just anyone either, they must look at things as their potential clients would.

Sure, if you're looking to be a garage band photographer and help out up-and-coming rock stars, you don't need to look like a million dollars. Those torn jeans and funky shirt will be good. Throw on your Converse and get out there. But chances are you don't want that.

So instead, you must look at it from a mother's view, or an instructor's, or the CEO of a company looking for PR shots--anyone really. And these people are judgmental and if that first impression--your appearance--doesn't meet their standards, they'll talk to someone else. Even if you have more skill and better creativity, if the guy down the road looks more friendly and professional, that's where they'll go. So if you're at an event, people are going to target the person they're most comfortable around.

This being the case, the big things to remember are as follows:
1. Iron any blouses or dress shirts, and pants if necessary. It's a pain in the butt to do, but it pays off.
2. Don't wear a T-Shirt with a slogan or something on it. Pick something business-casual, if you don't want to wear dressier clothes.
3. Jeans are a no-no unless they're more of a dress-pants look. Especially if they're ripped! If it's a more casual event you might get away with simple blue jeans and a nice shirt, but it's more professional to wear black slacks.
4. This one is for the guys: PULL UP YOUR PANTS. No client is interested in your boxers.
5. This one is for the girls: TONE DOWN THE MAKE UP. Trust me, you do not need to cake your face to look presentable. Leave it at natural tones, done lightly, and a little bit of mascara and eyeliner. Clients don't want to hire raccoons or powder-jars.
6. If you're wearing cologne or perfume, pick something light and don't wear a lot! Believe it or not, you will offend people if you smell so strongly that it's overpowering.
7. This is for the guys: You need to shave! Or, if you wear a beard or goatee, trim it up! Make it look decent.
8. Don't wear sandals/sneakers! Your average shoes just don't look good. If you must wear sneakers, pick some nice white or black ones. Simple really is better hear.
9. This is for the girls: Trim up your nails! And if you paint them, pick a non-offensive colour such as pink or beige. Believe it or not, people will notice your hands, especially if you're handing off a business card.
10. The biggest one of all, which I wish didn't have to be said but needs it anyways; BRUSH YOUR TEETH. I have been in group interviews before and next to people who haven't brushed and their breath stinks. Believe me, this is a big turn off and there are people out there who need the reminder.

So that's it on dressing, what about attitude? Attitude is the second thing you need to complete your image.

Most importantly, and this probably goes without saying, smile! Smiles are warm and friendly, and it will get people to come over and talk to you.

When you shake hands, do so firmly. Your handshakes says a lot about you, and I'm proud to say that I have been complimented on mine more than once. My most prideful one came from a veteran though. That was a true honor. But people do remember a good handshake. If you need help, ask someone to practice with you. Most men have great handshakes!

Another big thing is how you carry yourself. Walk with your head up looking straight ahead, and not at your feet. Don't slouch either, or stand with your hands in your pockets. That shows that you're not interested! When you talk to someone, make eye contact. If you have trouble with this, look at their nose. Believe it or not, people can't tell if you're looking them in the eye or at their nose most times, unless they're watching for that.

Have a greeting ready too, and at events go ahead and introduce yourself to people. This way you get the opportunity to pass off a business card, and maybe receive one from someone whose services would be helpful to you.

This should go without saying, but I know it needs mention--don't curse when you speak. Eliminate those nasty words from your vocabulary, because it's going to make you seem very unprofessional and people won't want to work with you. It's one thing if you're hanging out with friends chatting and you drop the f-bomb, but a potential client will see this as a huge turn off! So while you're dealing with the public, just wipe them right out of your repertoire of words.

Along that note, also keep your personal life personal. No one wants to know that your assistant is actually unpaid and your boyfriend. And they don't need to know. Let them believe that he's making good money to be standing at your side carrying the extra lenses and holding your reflector or slave flash up. If it's not entirely relevant, the best policy is to say nothing.

I've had to speak with my friends more than once about these things when I'm a photographer in public while they're around, because while I might not bring personal things up, they have. It's not professional and you don't want to be known for those kinds of things.

The most important thing though, is to have fun. If you're having fun, then you will have a more honest smile and people will be far more likely to chat with you.

So I hope that this has helped at least one person out there, and that the tips were easy to understand. If you think I forgot something important, then leave me a comment! I read all of them, and will publish the appropriate ones for others to read too.

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