Building personal brands through photography

Michael Chia

The importance of building one's personal brand in social media cannot be underestimated. What you say about yourself on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and other channels, and how you appear there, can either enhance or diminish your personal message.

The first thing people see when they visit your LinkedIn profile, or Twitter account, is your photo. That's why you should not underestimate the role of the "right" photo which ideally has to communicate not only your appearance but also your personal value proposition.

I have recently participated in a very fun photo shoot during which Michael Chia, a Singapore-born, Brussels-based photographer, spent about two hours shooting images of me. I liked the results, some of which you can see in this blog post, and so I decided to chat with Michael about his work.

In this interview Michael talks about his profession, which is  essentially capturing people's personalities through photo portraits.

Schmoozy fox: What is, in your opinion, a successful photo portrait?

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Michael Chia: A successful photo shoot for me means projecting a personality of my client through the use of images.  In this, I aim to ooze out  and exaggerate that personality during the shoot.  I use the word 'exaggerate' because it is an important element.  That personality could be a hidden trait that others do not get to see.

Sometimes that can be difficult for people who are more camera shy, and in this case, I chat them up and make up some personalities along the way.  The final image should be built based on the interaction between my client and myself.  Similar to finding a mix of chemistry with the ingredients we have to get that right shot.

SCHMOOZY FOX: How important is it to have a professional quality photo, that shows one's personality, as part of one's profile on LinkedIn or Twitter, for example?

Michael Chia: Many people underestimate the power of photography in their profiles.  They spend infinite time and resources creating websites to market the services they offer.  When it comes to photography, they stick to a snapshot of themselves!

Remember -  a picture paints a thousand words. That photo you use is your personality, a valuable visual business card. It tells your potential clients who and what you are.  In this era of the Internet, 90% of the time your potential client's first contact with you is the website.  You want to have that single image to reach out to that potential client with the correct message.

SCHMOOZY FOX: When business people come to you to order a portrait, what do they usually want? Do they want to look serious and professional or appear more personable and authentic?

Michael Chia: Most of the corporate clients have a preference for the more serious and professional appearance.  And in certain cases, it is hard to break away from the normal convention due to the nature of their business and their clients' fixed perception of what image should be related to that business.

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Nonetheless, my role as a photographer also includes me acting as a consultant and injecting ideas into the process.  At times, I am able to convince my clients to move away from conventional photography. Alternatively, I'll shoot according to the brief while still aiming to avoid the dry, boring and static shots. What I look for is dynamism in the shots.

On the other hand, many small or new business enterprises miss the perfect opportunity.  Instead of crafting out something unique through the effective use of personal portraits, they try to project themselves as a big company with the serious, static and boring shots.

Photo by Michael Chia: Funky Olga!

Let's face the facts.  Nobody likes to work!  Given a choice we'd rather be on permanent vacation.  The truth is that we all have to work.  If we have to work, the preference is to work with people who can be personable, fun and approachable (not forgetting competent). Here photography can play a deciding factor.  The smaller the team is, the more important images are in projecting your visual business card.

And when I have clients who need shots for non-business use, moving away from the static and standard shoots is a big must.  Why should they stand or sit on chair, facing me at 45 degrees angle smiling into the camera?

No. No. No.  This is the perfect time to have funky portraits.  Move. Jump.  Dance.  Scream.  Pout. Be yourself or be who you want to be and capture that moment!

SCHMOOZY FOX: Your own style of photography is very personable and funky. Could you reveal some elements of our own photo session and how you managed to pinpoint my personality that you wanted to show through photos?

Michael Chia: I make it a point to meet all potential clients before I take on an assignment, that's why I asked you to meet before the photo session.   To me, that first meeting gives me an idea of the client's expectations, exchange ideas and finding a 'style' for the shoot.

Both the client and me have to find that chemistry to work together.  As you mentioned, I pinpointed your personality.  What I actually did was this: I found your style, cooked up a chemistry, exaggerated that funky and foxy personality in you and made us both work together to achieve that. 'Work' is a bad word ;-)

Photo by Michael Chia: "Foxy & Funky"

Let's replace that with playing funky music and me chatting you up with nonsensical, hypothetical questions.  When your guard is down, you are more relaxed, open to ideas and everyone has fun.

Having fun is a key ingredient in my funky photography shoot!