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How important is your public image?

Robert Nowell, Professional photographer, photography professor and VP at Sprout Studio About Robert

I have written a lot here on Sprouting Photographer about giving great value and I have explained how a combination of great customer experience with outstanding photography can almost guarantee success.

One aspect of great customer experience that seemed too obvious to mention was what being professional can look like in terms of behaviour and appearance.

Last weekend’s wedding made me think that while it may seem obvious to me, perhaps it’s worth mentioning here anyway.

Ever since I started shooting weddings I have always concluded that regardless of the weather conditions or my own personal comfort on a wedding day, I need to blend in with everyone else at the wedding. I should wear clothes to a wedding that I would wear if I were going as a guest. So for me that means a suit and tie, shoes shined, clean shaven and hair groomed. Pretty obvious right?

Apparently not, as evidenced at a recent wedding I shot.

It was hot and humid as we often experience in the Niagara area. With the humidex reading, the temperature was around 38C or 100F it was obviously a very hot day. Still, I was amazed to see the videographer arrive wearing shorts, sandals and a golf shirt. His female assistant was wearing a very loose short sleeve shirt and shorts so short that I thought they could be considered inappropriate for most church ceremonies.

I’m sure they looked at me with equal incredulity because of my attire – suit and tie on such a hot day. My logic is simple, if the groom and groomsmen can handle it (they often have a vest on under the suit jacket) then surely I can handle it too.

I have lost track of how many times I have been complimented at weddings just because I show up in a suit. I find that the parents of the bride appreciate my professional demeanour and appearance. I make that effort for a good reason.

I believe I am a reflection of the people that hire me.

I want them to feel great about me as a vendor at their wedding. I want them to hear great things about me from their friends and family. That kind of validates their decision to hire me, especially when my services are at a premium price point.

I should point out that the example I just used does not necessarily represent all videographers. I am simply using this example to make a point.

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While appearance is obviously important, so is our behaviour and communication. On the wedding day I do not talk about other weddings or brides for two reasons. One is I try to keep focused on the bride in front of me and keep all the attention on her day. The other reason is I don’t want my bride to wonder how I’ll be talking about her to other clients in the future.

Our behaviour also needs to be exemplary.

I have heard over the years stories of wedding photographers who drink too much at the reception, or help themselves to food at the bride’s home that was intended for the wedding party. I’m sure you’d agree that kind of behaviour is unacceptable. As professionals we should always be prepared on the wedding day with water, food, snacks, etc. so that we are hydrated and never distracted by hunger. We should never lose sight of the fact that we are working and even though I am often invited to partake in a toast or shots with the wedding party, or offered food during the day, I usually decline except in circumstances (especially for certain ethnic groups) where my declining may actually offend.

Being artists does not mean we need to look like a bohemian beatnik (yes I just used the word beatnik) but rather we should represent our industry well by exuding professionalism at every contact point.

I have always felt that it’s better err on the side of being overdressed rather than showing up somewhere underdressed. I don’t mean quantity of clothes, but style of course.

Being neat and tidy expresses that you have your act together, while looking disheveled or unkept automatically tags all sorts of negative (though, not necessarily true) traits to you.

Celebrity stylist Estee Stanley says,“Fashion is one of the most powerful tools to convey who you are and what you want the world to see you as…”

That doesn’t of course mean we all walk around in Burberry suits everyday either. If I’m going to shoot a band, I’ll be in jeans and casual so I can fit in with them, if I’m going to photograph business portraits in a corporate environment I’ll be in business casual, (dress pants, and button down collar, long sleeves, possibly even a sports jacket). Weddings we’ve covered already. At networking events I usually go for business casual. The point is to stand out in a good way, you may be blending in to the environment but as a photographer, you will stand out since so many choose comfort and casual over style and class.

I am well aware that overall as a society we have all stepped back from being formal at work. Nurses no longer wear the white caps and crisp white uniforms from the 1960s, policemen have dropped the tie from daily uniforms, school teachers even come to school dressed informally and casual so we have all become accustomed to being less formal and focused on personal comfort and there is nothing wrong with that.

I’m only suggesting that we as photographers should endeavour to project an image that is as professional as possible and to be appropriately attired and groomed for every situation.

I may be alone in my thinking here, so I would love to hear your thoughts.

Please share a comment below.

#Personal Growth #Reputation


  • You're welcome Claudio! Thanks for your comment!
  • Great post Robert! I was just having this very conversation last week. I'm in complete agreement with Stanley's quote. Being "put together" not only communicates who we are but when I'm looking my best there is a confidence with knowing I've done my best to show well.
  • Victor Honba Honba
    Interesting article.
  • I would add a little bit to the topic of clothing. While trying to dress appropriately in terms of style I'm also concerned about the colors of the cloth. My goal here is to dissolve as much as possible in the surroundings, not only with style but also with color. Accordingly, I dress only in black for concert photography, something neutral, gray for street photography, and maybe some pleasant light colors for shootings at family events.

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