Thursday, January 23, 2014

Picking Publicity Photos - Marketing, Marketing, Marketing

I hate Marketing.

Professional Storytellers conduct the business portion of their work like every other business in the world.  We have to figure out what we have to offer, package it with a pithy logo or tagline that helps us stand out from the pack, and sell that brand to the public.  This is not an easy task for many of us.  I have met very few professional storytellers who went to business school.  There are some, but I haven't met many.  I also haven't met many storytellers with a degree in marketing.  Again, there are some, but most of us spend our time trying to play catch up.

Some storytellers have a natural eye for what makes a good photo or what elements tell a story.  Some are also visual artists, and they have a good eye for composing images.  That's all fine and dandy, but what if you haven't got any of those things going for you?  No business school, graphic arts background, visual arts sensibilities, or Martha Stewartesque sixth sense about pictures?  What if you are just somebody who tells stories?  Then what?

"Every Story I tell is true…except for the parts I make up!" - Donna Washington

Most of us pick photos of ourselves based on a few criteria.  For instance: 

We often look at the one physical feature of which we are most horrified, and try to pick a photo that does not emphasize it.

We consider which photo makes us look the thinnest.

We consider which photos show off our most attractive features.

If you are a super model, these are perfectly reasonable criteria for choosing a publicity photo, but if you are trying to tell a story of who you are, and what you do this might not be the most useful set of guidelines.

A Little Shiver - Donna Washington

I have different criteria for different photos.   All of them have one purpose:  To catch your eye. 

1.  Does this photo evoke some kind of emotion?
2.  Is this photo interesting?
3.  Could this photo have more than one caption?

Next, I consider the image.  What's in it.
1.  Is this picture about me, or something else?
2.  Do the other elements in the photo fight with me?
3.  Does this photo say anything particular about me as a storyteller?
4.  Is anything in the pic distracting from what I am doing?
5.  What is the first thing that draws your eye?

Then, I consider what I'm doing in the picture.

1.  Does this give you some idea of what you might see if I was performing?
2.  Does this make me look interesting or versatile?
3.  Do I look committed to whatever it is I'm doing?

"Every Story I tell is true…except for the parts I make up!"  - Donna Washington

The last type of pic is my neutral pic.  This is the image that is as close to the 'glamour shot' as I ever get.  Again, the question is not do I look beautiful.

1.  Do I look interesting
2.  Can you tell I'm a performer of some kind?
3.  Do I look 'fun'. (And by fun I do not mean in any way that would make my Great Grandmother Topsey blush)

I market myself as a "fun, interactive performer who uses her elastic expressions and vocal pyrotechnics to bring stories to life".

All the images I select are aimed at that phrase.  Any image that does not capture that idea, is discarded from the publicity line up…no matter how  lovely I actually look from my left side in the proper light while wearing shades of plum.

Here are a few images you will never see in my Marketing materials

This says, 'look, I'm surrounded by young adults from Taiwan!'  I like the photo, but it is not one I would choose for a cover photo, internet grabber, or primary marketing photo.  I will use it for a post about traveling or possibly on my Facebook page, Donna Washington - Storyteller, as a 'look at me' pic, which you need in your pr stuff, but this not a centerpiece pic.

Love this photo.  it evokes images, shows emotion…not a publicity photo.  I have seen lots of storyteller photos that show images of them with their kids or family.  They are lovely, but they are not photos that tell us what you will be like as a storyteller.

Here's a pic I used for a while, but retired once my braces were removed.

Totally NOT a marketing photo.  Distracting, odd and too much clutter!

Now, you might say, why would you include this one at all?  This is just a candid photo someone took of you.  Well, the truth is, lots of times we are photographed doing things that are interesting.  We also have photos in our collection from teachers and other people who happen to catch random images of us.  Unless that person is a photographer, there is a good chance these pictures aren't quite what you are looking for.  That doesn't mean it doesn't ever happen, but it is not likely.  

Not even going there.
Who doesn't want an awesome photo where you are rocking a pair of shades?

I have a glowing box coming out of the back of my head.

I'm in this picture.  Grab a magnifying glass and I'll prove it!  Aside from my ability to stand in front of people, what does this image really show?

I do have a face, I might even be using it right now, can't tell though.
This one is off center and cluttered.   I also look like I might be about to grab my boobs.

You'll have to trust that this is me, and not some other random black lady in a dress!
resting? half telling? blurry!

My recommendation is that you get professional photos done in a studio, or get a professional or quasi-professional photographer out to one of your venues.  It is always better to get a pic that shows who you are.  

Don't make clients guess if you are the right hire.  Turn up the volume and shout it…with an image!

Happy Marketing!


  1. Excellent, excellent, excellent article!!! Yesterday, I actually said to someone who wanted some publicity photos, "I never know which photo to use." I sent her 4 to choose from. I'm now going to use your criteria and look at my photos a little better. Thanks so much for this blog post; timely, informative and, of course, from a master of the business as well as storytelling. Peace and belief, Sheila Arnold

    1. Thanks for stopping by the blog! I am glad this was useful for you. It is not always easy to guess how a photo is going to hit an audience. Narrowing down the distractions, making sure you look like you're doing something, and seeing to it that the image is interesting gives you your best chance! Good luck as you go through your pics!

  2. Thank you Donna. I just recently had some new photos taken because they were needed for a publication. Thankfully, I did like a few of them. I detest posing in front of a camera and it shows, but I also know it is necessary to have some fun performances shots. I have many but I am admit, I am very picky because I am not photogenic and I can always find fault. Thanks so much for gently telling us all to loosen up and let go! Another great post!

    1. I had to get over the 'not photogenic' thing a long time ago! Most of the time when people take pictures of me it looks like I'm trying to crawl out of my own face. Most of them are not attractive. Then again, I'm not trying to use them to snare a man! By the way, images that show your spirit always look better than static ones where you are trying to appear lovely…I'm not talking about you in particular, but every person on the planet. Thanks for all the help you've given me, my mentor! Thanks for putting together a breathtaking blog yourself. How you find all of those links and get them up every week is exhausting. it takes me hours to compose a post. Why didn't you tell me this was going to become a part time job?

    2. I love this article! Pictures say "a thousand words"! Getting one that is right is important. I love my pictures, but I have gotten older and need something that includes the sweet gray in my hair. Want to represent me as I am. Also, I most definitely work with a pro! Easier and cheaper in the long run.

      Thanks for your musings. Always so helpful.

    3. Gray hair is the thing that starts getting us, doesn't it? It is hard to tell how often you should change out the images. I think I'm going to have to go back in to studio later this year and do some 'Queen Photos'. Yes, I'm getting to that age! Have a happy photo shoot. I'll keep a look out for your new pics!

  3. I've been a fan for a long, long time, so reading this blog entry and viewing your photos brings back good memories. I've discovered that my own energy is transitioning and I cannot rely on older photographs to depict who I am now, and you've confirmed it. Thanks for the pointers and tips - Saundra

    1. I just had new pictures made. I should see them in a couple of weeks. I am moving in to Crone stage. I love it! Enjoy your new looks!