Attorney Portraits: A Better Way
Attorney Portraits: A Better Way
“To me, a lawyer is basically the person that knows the rules of the country. We're all throwing the dice, playing the game, moving our pieces around the board, but if there is a problem the lawyer is the only person who has read the inside of the top of the box.” —Jerry Seinfeld
Attorneys want legal portraits that are authentic and natural, but there’s a challenge: they’re often uncertain about what “authentic” or “natural” means for a lawyer. They wonder if they should look concerned, studious, confident or intimidating. But then again, maybe they should consider looking warm, empathetic and deeply understanding.
This is a relatively new problem for attorneys. It wasn’t until 1977 that the Supreme Court overturned the laws prohibiting attorneys from advertising. Prior to that time, marketing yourself as a lawyer was restricted to hanging a shingle or putting a listing in the Yellow Pages. Most lawyers simply joined the Rotary Club and wore a three-piece, vested suit so the locals would get to know them.
Today, legal marketing is a robust full time affair. Many law firms that once scoffed at the idea of marketing now have full scale marketing departments. They use multi-media advertising, and spend significant dollars on web sites featuring lawyer profiles. The one and only way to truly differentiate yourself or your law firm in this highly competitive visual environment is with pictures, since the only graphic element used in this field are the scales of justice.
Even though a majority of people practicing law now weren’t even born when attorneys couldn’t advertise, many lawyers still are uncomfortable with marketing; it’s somehow uncouth or beneath them. Getting their picture taken is something they have to do or, worse, as a necessary evil.
This makes it more challenging and interesting for me to make the kind of professional portrait that I believe is the most effective: a visual narrative. Simply put, I want to create professional headshots that express the real, authentic character of the individual so that potential clients get a clear feeling that drives them to engage that attorney.
Rather than a snapshot in time, I approach the creation of a portrait as discovery into the heart of my subject. If you approach someone as a lawyer, then you get a typical “lawyer” portrait—staid and unfeeling. I go deeper by taking the time before I even pick up the camera to find out more about that person. Lawyers are more than people who practice law: they may be a foodie, craftsman, actor, hiker, hunter, mother, or even a Sunday school teacher. All of these are more dynamic than just, “lawyer,” because they represent the whole person, not just a job title.
Setting the stage.
Lawyers (or anyone, for that matter) come to a portrait shoot with some common feelings of dread. My favorite quote from an attorney was: “I’d rather have a root canal.” Many have well-constructed protective walls built around their persona. I make it a point to be ready for my clients: camera and studio strobes ready to go, background set up, and music playing in the background. With overhead lights turned off, I create an almost theatrical scene with a lit stage surrounded by darkness. The idea is to let the subject know they are entering a special space, one different from where they just came from, and where the potential exists for a new expression.
Before the attorney gets in front of the camera, we talk about simple things like the weather or traffic. I stay away from talking about their work, since that can be distracting. Eventually, I will ask something like: “What matters to you most in your life?” Or, “What do you most enjoy out of the office?” That’s when everything changes. The conversation becomes all about being a foodie, as an example, and the lawyer persona starts to peel away.
As we continue, now in front of the camera, I keep the conversation going in the right direction by taking a couple of throw away shots using the pretense that I’m just checking the lights. As we continue to shoot, direction to pose this way or that is kept to a minimum. Rather than rapid fire and intense, I let the experience “breathe” by creating space between the shots. This gives us time to go deeper so that the personality emerges.
Other questions help reveal more. “Tell me about your biggest challenge.” “What are you most proud of?” Reminded of those experiences, my clients' expressions become more natural, less posed. The true person emerges.
During pauses in the shooting, I’ll show the lawyer some of the shots which are automatically downloaded to my iPad. They have the chance to see the direction the shoot is going, which increases their buy in and enjoyment of the portrait experience.
As the demand for more web site content and social media marketing has increased, so has the interest in attorney photos that appear more candid and have a lifestyle vibe. These are commonly known as environmental portraits, and they are one of my areas of specialization.
I work with my clients to frame their stories by showing them in action. A lawyer spends the day meeting with clients, studying documents, doing research, taking breaks, conducting and attending depositions, and conferring with colleagues.
No preparation is necessary for these choices. Cluttered desks remain so, since for many attorneys, that is real and authentic. I focus on them, not just the environment, bringing the viewer visually into a moment in time that they well may encounter.
I create an atmosphere of authenticity by blurring the time between setting up and shooting. As I set up, I’ll get the attorney engaged in conversation either with me or a colleague. By leaving the exclamation, “Ok! We’re ready!” out of the process, I start capturing photos. I’lll often shoot handheld rather than on a tripod for greater mobility. Because the subject is essentially unaware that photos are being taken, he or she acts in the most natural way even when I ask them to look directly into the camera lens.
It’s not over even when it’s over.
Whether it’s 10 minutes or an hour, it’s important to make space between taking pictures and delivering pictures. I never put an attorney on the spot by forcing them or the firm’s marketing staff to make final choices on the spot. All of the photos taken are reviewed by my photo editor who culls them down to a selection of the very best shots. These are loaded into a private web gallery and sent to the law firm for review. The lawyer can review them at his/her leisure and get input from staff, friends and/or family. Final selections are professionally retouched resulting in a portrait everyone can be proud of.
More articles about photography: click here
Silverman Be Remarkable