An Investment in Authenticity: Tips and Best Practices for Successful Attorney Photography

by JD Supra Perspectives
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Attorney bio pages are the most frequently visited pages on most law firm websites, so how you showcase and organize those profiles is critical. A key component of that profile is the attorney’s photo. Attorney photography is often viewed as a discrete assignment, one that’s time-consuming and often difficult to manage. It’s also an area that seems hard to change, given the scope and cost of completely updating photos firmwide.

"You get 1/125th of a second to capture someone – to listen, watch, be honest and help them be themselves." 

We believe the approach to this effort should be no different than any other creative assignment under the firm’s brand. There seems to be more tolerance for delving into it when a firm is at a major milestone: conducting a brand refresh, has undergone a merger, or is developing a new web site. But the reality is this is an area that can be improved at any time.

Hopefully, your firm is armed with a clear brand platform, where the brand essence, core strengths, and firm’s personality are well defined. If so, then you should be able to assess your existing photography against those criteria. Does your attorney team appear as a strong, accessible group ready to meet today’s client challenges? Or do your photos make the firm’s team seem dated and stodgy?

Finding the Right Photographer

Once you’ve decided to move forward and your firm’s brand positioning is in focus, you need to identify potential photographers whose styles most closely align with your brand. Can you see your firm through the lens of the work in their portfolio? Obviously, budget is an important factor and matching talent to budget can be tricky. That said, your client prospects are forming critical first impressions when visiting your attorney bio pages; it’s an area that deserves adequate investment.

It’s not just what they shoot, it’s how they shoot it.

Aside from budget and style, you need a photographer that’s a good fit. It’s not just what they shoot, it’s how they shoot it. Color or black and white? Background or no background? Environmental portraiture or seamless? Tie or no tie? Will your attorneys enjoy working with them and feel that they successfully captured their personas? 

So, when do you pick the Maserati, the Audi or the Subaru? For important campaign work, we often select highly skilled and highly accredited photographers that have worked for leading brands. These kinds of shots are often taken up close, where expression is everything. It takes a special photographer to make the most of these moments. One such photographer is David Peterson, who has done major fashion and editorial work. According to Peterson, "You get 1/125th of a second to capture someone – to listen, watch, be honest and help them be themselves." 

A comfortable attorney is a photogenic one...

For firmwide portraiture, we recommend finding a photographer with a great eye who can move quickly. This is a rare talent when you are trying to create a unique style. Such a photographer is Chad Ziemendorf. I asked Chad to explain his approach:

What I think About Every Time I Shoot

These pictures have nothing to do with me

Instead of setting out to make better pictures, I set out to help them present well to their clients and look more authentic. My pictures then get better as a symptom of helping them look their best, not because better pictures are my priority. 

Find the common ground

The portraits are always more successful when they are captured in locations on the attorney’s turf. When an attorney is in their environment they have home-field advantage. If they are forced to venture into a dark room with bright lights or go to a photographer’s studio off-site, they will be less at ease. Instead, I request to meet them in their office, then walk with them to the first photo spot. A comfortable attorney is a photogenic one. 

Being a human is more important than being a photographer

The greatest corporate pictures come from the photographer’s ability to build a relationship in as little time as possible. Candidly, the 30 seconds it takes to walk to a photo location is more important than the minutes we spend in that location making portraits. I enjoy asking them about their practice and their background, and will have done some research about most of the attorneys ahead of time. I’m always genuinely curious about their story. If they’re a lateral hire, I enjoy hearing about their excitement for their new opportunity or a new city. If they’re a brand-new associate fresh out of law school, I ask about their daily routine or if they have a focus for their practice, or start a conversation about their law school. The more we converse about them, the more they forget how nervous they are about the photo shoot.  In the high-pressure world of law, they’re relieved to have someone in their corner and helping them look their best.  

Remember, in most cases, photo shoots rank as enjoyable as going to the dentist. Plus, since they care so much about their clients, every minute they spend with me is a minute they aren’t helping them.  When I show them how invested I am in the process and how much it matters to me that they present well, they will bring their best too.  

Spend time but be efficient

I always let them know that I will spend as much time with them as they want, but that I’m happy to expedite the shoot if they have pressing commitments.  In most cases, the longer I can be with an attorney, the better the pictures get.

This puts them at ease on two fronts: they are relieved to know that I’m not in a hurry and will spend as much time as necessary to make an awesome picture, but that I won’t belabor things so that I cut into their day's schedule.  

The photo session is relational.  It isn’t a one-way street.  The attorney trusts me with their time and their image; being in front of a camera is a vulnerable place.  I owe it to them to bring my best to each and every click of the shutter.  

Involve your subject in the process

I tell them that they are the creative director. After all, it’s their picture.  If they can see the pictures on screen or on the back of my camera as I work, they get real-time feedback on how things are progressing.  That way they can see the immediate results of a head tilt or posture change and make their own adjustments with my help. We are building an amazing portrait together.

We’re all in this together

Every partner’s voice carries weight, and I always look forward to helping every partner be excited to invest in the company image. The right photographer will realize that their purpose is to help you attract more clients, and they will be eager to help the firm shine. The right photographer will feel like family and be more of a consultant, not just a service provider. They won’t only deliver nice photos on time to meet deadlines, they’ll offer their insight about how best to make the imagery shine.  

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So, what do you need to do to make your attorney photography challenge successful?

  1. Clearly define your firm’s brand personality and select a photographer whose style is best suited to match it.
  2. Allocate enough budget to do it right – depending on your firm’s size, it can easily be six figures including stylists and retouching.
  3. Give attorneys guidance on what to wear and be consistent.
  4. Plan your schedule to accommodate shooting approximately 15 attorneys per day.
  5. Be sure to capture multiple formats for future uses, vertical and horizontal, black and white, and color.

Make the most of your attorney profiles with great photography and bring out the best in everyone.

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[Dan Stokes is executive vice president of creative marketing agency JStokes. Connect with Dan on Linkedin.]

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