As photographers, it’s our job to make people look good. It’s interesting, then, how difficult it can be for so many of us to write solid bios for our websites. Obviously, we’re talking about different modes of expression, and what we can often do so easily with a camera for someone else can feel like rock climbing with one hand when it comes to talking about and promoting ourselves to prospective clients.
As a writer, the one question I hear more than any other from my friends is, “Hey, can you read something for me and tell me what you think?” Of course the answer is always yes, and lately I seem to be proofreading quite a few website updates and revisions. Consistently, the most difficult hurdle seems to the bio or “about” section. And it’s no surprise. Growing up, we’re taught that good manners dictate we show more interest in what others have to say, rather than whatever it is we think is so interesting about ourselves.
All well and good, but we’re grown-ups now and we have families to take care of. In an era when everyone with a camera and a website is competing for the same finite about of business, it’s become more important than ever to be able to sell yourself– quickly, concisely, and effectively.
Let me pause here to say that I am not a marketing expert. I’m just a photographer who’s read, written, proofread, edited, revised, rewritten, and researched a LOT of photographer bios.
As a college and law school graduate of the late 80s, my friends and I were fed a barrage of horror stories about prospective employers with mountainous stacks of resumes to sort and very little time in which to do it. The “right” resume– the sum total of our employment and academic lives to that point reduced to a single sheet of paper– could make all the difference. Just like our websites today.
How Important Is It?
I don’t want to be melodramatic about it, but your website bio can make or break you. You may have absolutely gorgeous portfolios, but a client or art director with a long list of links to check isn’t going to start with your galleries. They’re going to start with your bio. You know that old line about how you never get a second chance to make a first impression? Truer words were never spoken. Your bio is a reflection of your personality. Clients are reading it and trying to get a sense of what working with you is going to be like. If you can’t give them that, they may never even click on a single gallery.
What to Avoid
Unfortunately, most “Don’t” lists are longer than most “Do” lists and this is no exception. Remember, though, that there are no hard and fast rules. Ultimately, the final decision rests with you to find the best way to make your voice heard. In my experience, though, the following should all be avoided.
DON’T BE POMPOUS. Please do not refer to yourself in the third person. Pretending to be someone else writing about you poses several problems. For starters, unless you have a staff of photographers working with you, we all know that it’s just you. It’s annoying. The other problem with it, while much more subtle, is probably even more important. By removing yourself from the equation, you also distance yourself from your own work– exactly the opposite of what you are trying to accomplish with your website in the first place.
DON’T TAKE YOURSELF TOO SERIOUSLY. If you are using phrases like “leaving an indelible mark on the photographic landscape for years to come,” or “portraits that reveal your soul,” chances are you may be taking yourself just a little too seriously. Okay– a lot too seriously. Nobody wants to work with a diva or a prima donna. We’re photographers. We’re not firefighters, running into burning buildings when all common sense says to run the other way. I make a living with a camera, not a scalpel. Unless you are a combat photographer in an active war zone, what we do is not about life and death. Your bio shouldn’t sound like you think it is.
DON’T BE TOO LONG. You may have a lot of fascinating things to tell me, the art director looking for a new photographer. My problem, though, is that MY client is already on a deadline, and they are just one of at least 15 or 20 that I’m juggling at any given moment. I only have about 30 seconds to read your bio and decide if I’m even going to look at the galleries. Keep it short and easy to read.
DON’T BE ILLITERATE. Here’s the thing. Some people notice this stuff, some don’t. I like to think that most people do and respect us for taking the time to correct typos, grammar, and spelling, but not everyone does. Are you willing to gamble away a potentially lucrative assignment by assuming that the person reading your bio doesn’t care? Word to the wise– if you know you fall short in this area, find someone to help you. Even if you are confident in all things grammatical, it helps to have a second pair of eyes look it over for you before you go live. (Old journalism school trick– Read it out loud, slowly. Typos and misspellings will jump off the screen at you).
SKIP THE GEAR. You’ve seen gear sections or “What’s In My Bag” pages on countless websites, but unless your site is geared exclusively toward educating photographers, you should not include it. You may have a ton of very cool stuff, but most clients are not going to hire you based on which lenses you have or where you come down on the Nikon/Canon debate. Clients want to know you can get the job done. Including a gear section might actually harm your chances on certain jobs. You can be an award-winning photographer with a crop-sensor camera, but if an uneducated client is convinced that only photographers with full-frame cameras are worth pursuing, you won’t even get a chance to change their mind.
AWARDS AND PROFESSIONAL ORGANIZATIONS. Speaking of “award-winning” photographers, if you insist on including it, make sure it matters. Was it a Pulitzer or some other true industry recognition? I’m sure that the photo-of-the-week competition is pretty fierce in your favorite online forum, and you should absolutely be proud of the accomplishment, but you have to ask yourself if it is recognition that will keep a client engaged as they read your bio.
The same goes for most professional organizations. Photography has no governing body maintaining licensing, certification, or industry standards. Perhaps it is the subjective and sometimes international nature of what we do, but we have no professional organizations looking over our shoulders, making sure we are working within accepted guidelines. Organizations like PPA, APA, ASMP, and WPPI provide some amazing resources for photographers, and I applaud them for it. But membership in an organization that nobody outside the industry knows or cares about isn’t going to bring business in the door.
What to Embrace
INCLUDE A PHOTO OF YOURSELF. People like putting a face with a name before meeting in person for the first time. Give them a nice photo, not some iPhone selfie. Try trading head shot services with another photographer. Remember, your bio is giving clients insight to your personality. A professional photo of yourself gives them another piece of the puzzle.
KEEP IT INTERESTING. You’re trying to engage your perfect client, so write your bio in such a way as to target that perfect client. The first rule of any kind of writing is to know your audience. If you know who you are hoping to attract, put yourself in their shoes and write what they need to know for this specific set of circumstances.
A LITTLE BIT OF QUIRK IS OKAY. Just because it’s business doesn’t mean it can’t be fun, quirky, or light. But be careful. It’s a razor-thin line between quirky and are-you-kidding-me? The bio needs to be right for you, but it also has to be right for the client.
PROVIDE THE INFORMATION YOU WOULD WANT IF ROLES WERE REVERSED. If you’ve taken the time to figure out your target audience, you should already know what they want to hear. This is a good place to include links to the work you’ve done for similar clients, or to your social media outlets where potential clients can see what other people are saying about you.
DON’T FORGET THE SIMPLE STUFF. If you are operating under a business name, make sure your bio actually includes your real name. Remember, you’re trying to keep it personal. Phone number, email address, and anything else that makes the client feel you are attentive and accessible need to find a home in your bio.
The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.
So, out of fear of incurring Karma’s wrath, I’m not going to include any of the bad or ugly examples. By way of a good example, however, be sure to check out Zack Arias’ about page. It’s written the way he talks. It details both work and personal experiences, as well as his family. Most importantly, he uses it to tell the client why all of that information makes him the perfect photographer for their project. It may not be the perfect bio for every client, but it is certainly tailored to his style and what he considers to be his target audience. It speaks with his voice. Your bio needs to speak with yours’.
Talking about ourselves can be uncomfortable at times, but it doesn’t have to be. Knowing what to include and what to leave out is more than half the battle. Do your homework. Visit websites of photographers you respect and admire. See what you like and what you don’t. Get help if you need it. With a little bit of work, you’ll have a bio that both you and prospective clients will feel good about.
About The Author
Jeff Guyer is an Atlanta, GA photographer specializing in commercial and portrait photography, as well as weddings, sports, and street photography. You can connect with him on Facebook and Twitter, or check out his work at Guyer Photography.