North West Consortium Doctoral Training Partnership (NWCDTP)

A blog for students funded by a cross institutional scheme through the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) to train a new generation of skilled researchers. Offering postgraduate studentships and training across the full range of the AHRC’s disciplines. All views are those of students and are not necessarily those of the NWCDTP.

Getting That Publicity Photo Done: Some Thoughts For Early Career Artists/Academics


Ever had to produce a photo for an event?

The Trials of Passport photos

The most common photo requested in the wider world is the passport photo. Rules for that one include, head and shoulders in the frame only, face the camera, no smiling, face clear of obstructions, no fancy backdrop.  I’m quite certain the rules are there only to please facial recognition software:  I’ve yet to meet any human who is 100% happy with their passport photo.


The  Star Portrait

Outside of these State/Institutional ID badge generated requirements, the solicitation for a photo can bring with it a hint of glamour  – you have been deemed worthy of being photographed. Before the invention of photography, only those of high status were honoured with a portrait (often involving a couple of months of posing for the painter). The most commonly reproduced image in contemporary times is that of the ‘celebrity’;  so for many non-celebrities (ie most of us) there is a tinge of embarrassment at the ‘fuss’ of being photographed – we are not worthy, some inner voice says, and worse still, by some divine law the camera will therefore bring forth and capture forever in one widely disseminated portrait all our flaws.

Beauty Is In A Lens Camera

Should only the beautiful be photographed? The dance movement known as Voguing copied the typical poses of Vogue magazine fashion models and (though the research is a little hazy on this) combined these poses with Harlem Ballroom moves to create what is now a worldwide phenomenon.

Headshots: How They Happen

If we can’t be beautiful, perhaps we can be interesting? Actors’ Casting photographs tend to be black and white with a focus on the face. Known as headshots, the actors, generally dressed in black, less often white and, rarely, grey, gaze straight at the camera; there appears to be a deliberate intensity  around the eyes  in that ‘windows of the soul’ way with these photos; backdrops are either plain or completely out of focus – the portrait lens of a good camera can fade out background detail and focus only on the narrow depth of field of a human face. The look achieved is engaging, inviting the viewer to pause and consider – yet also aiming at a certain timelessness and fluidity – actors want to be known as capable of performing for any age/era and as any character.

The Academic Portrait

I guess for the world of academia a typical portrait will convey an attitude of thoughtfulness  or the hint of some intelligence while also carrying an air of approachability.  Although some folk may be blessed to look that way ‘naturally’, for others perhaps this look might take an entire afternoon to get right.


The Portrait Photographer’s Art

I don’t consider myself someone who photographs well. At the sight of a camera, I seem to adopt a rictus grin, my neck becomes impossibly angled in relation to my shoulders and worry lines jump across my face. I’ve found that most good portraits of me have been done by people I know well and trust.  They get me to relax and reveal  a side of myself that others might not get access to. It makes me suspect that the art of the portrait photographer may be as much about winning the trust of the subject as any technical proficiency with equipment –perhaps  good photographers are psychologists as much as technicians.

That Casual Look

Recently I got a tip. I was invited to speak at the Wales based, Hay (Literature) Festival this year and they take a photo of all the speakers. On being taken to the shoot area, I explained to the photographer I was rubbish at posing.  He said, ‘OK, just shove your hands in your pockets’.  I did and he took the photo in that instant. It worked. So I’m going to try shoving my hands in my pockets for every photo from now on!

For your amusement, this article is accompanied by a montage of out-takes: bio photos of mine that didn’t quite make it…


Photo credits:

1. PK; artwork by unknown graffiti artist

2. PK

3. Christina Fonthes / NBAA

4. Various. Details on request.



2 comments on “Getting That Publicity Photo Done: Some Thoughts For Early Career Artists/Academics

  1. Angel
    July 3, 2017

    my pictures come out rubbish when I try to pose


    • nwcdtp
      July 4, 2017

      Perhaps if you spend some time with a friend who has a camera walking, lunching, talking, fooling – you may relax and the photo may then come out better? Good luck


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