As someone who manages all of Wonderful Machine’s emailers, a large part of my job is coming up with effective turns of phrase. Regardless of whether I’m sending a promotional email to Fortune 500 companies or just a quick update to our members, the copy needs to be thoughtful, clear, and — most importantly — concise. The same goes for your website bio.
Like with an emailer, a bio can act as a potential client’s “first impression” of you, meaning it needs to leave them with a sense of who you are, how you work, and why your personality and approach are a natural fit for their commission — and brand as a whole.
You’re probably not sending out your bio in an email blast to the masses, but the “About” page on your site is one of the first places clients go when making hiring decisions (aside from your gallery, of course). Your portfolio may be curated to perfection, but it needs to be accompanied by an equally-engaging bio to give the client an ideal first impression. As a way to get started, we’ve come up with a few Dos and Don’ts.
Do have a photo. One of the first things I do when viewing a photographer’s website is look for a picture of them, and I’m sure I’m not alone. This is one of the reasons we like to have headshots for all our Wonderful Machine member photographers. It’s nice to put a (usually smiling) face to a name!
While you can never go wrong with a traditional headshot/portrait, there are other approaches you can take as well, examples of which are toward the end of the article.
Do keep our interest. If you’re more of a dreamer, an imaginative biography that keeps the reader engaged might be right up your alley.
Do have fun. To catch a prospective client’s attention, show creativity in your bio and having fun with your writing.
Don’t be pompous or take yourself too seriously. Unless you’re Duane Michals, Sally Mann or the like, refrain from overly self-important remarks. You don’t want creatives to think you’re a prima donna who’s difficult to work with or doesn’t take directions well.
Don’t be careless. Avoid typos, bad translations, grammatical errors, and spelling mistakes. If you’re not the best writer — or aren’t writing in your native language — think about hiring a someone to help you craft your thoughts. Regardless of whether or not you pursue outside help, always have someone else read over your work. No good impressions come from cringe-worthy grammar or semicolon misuses. Also, steer clear of online translators to rewrite your bio in another language.
Don’t get too lengthy. This is self-explanatory. Please, no novels — or even novellas. Be short and sweet. Leave them wanting more. This isn’t to say that longer bios are to be avoided at all costs, just that they’re a tougher sell than concise blurbs.
Alright, enough negativity. We could come up with more bio “Don’ts,” but let’s shift our focus to some standout bios of varying lengths — and what makes each of them work.
Why it Works: Short and Extra Sweet
All photographers write their bios with clients in mind, but Inti St. Clair cuts out the middleman by addressing her clients directly: “Hire her. You’ll have a blast working with her”. Inti also includes a smiling photo of herself, which reinforces how pleasant she is to work with. She is assuaging every client’s biggest fear, that of bringing on a disagreeable and incompetent photographer.
Inti’s bio is full of conversation starters as well, a refreshing way for someone to show their personality without falling into the cliche of listing likes and dislikes.
I also want to shout out bullet points. Inti uses them to make the information easier to digest and quicker to scan through, an ideal setup for the busy, perhaps passively attentive creative.
You can use bullet points in your bio — or anywhere you write, for that matter — to highlight information, such as:
Why it Works: Speaks to Client’s Needs
This is a nice change-of-pace from Richard Moran, a UK-based photographer who cuts a humble figure in his bio. Instead of focusing on his own qualities as a photographer, Richard appeals more directly to the client by stating that teamwork — strengthened by transparent and focused communication — is the key to success, no matter the assignment.
The adjoining image backs up that approach, since it’s clear he’s letting a colleague work hands-on while he offers input without dominating the space. Put text and photo together, and you’ve got an ideal teammate in Richard. Plus, anyone who includes “I don’t have all the answers” in their bio probably isn’t going to be a pain on set.
Why it Works: Strikes a Balance
Having a healthy mix of personal and professional information in your bio is key. The goal is to remind clients that you’re human (and a capable one, at that). Matt Odom has a nice balance; he first lists his specialties, his alma mater, and how he started out in his career. Matt then gets to the fun stuff, where his personality shines through.
“He’s also an avid vintage comic collector who is one of a few people in the world to hold an original copy of the 1984 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #1 first print…COWABUNGA”
Although Matt uses a third-person perspective, the writing feels very personable, as if his friend is telling us that, ‘he’s a people person,’ or confirming, ‘yes, he’s a huge Hall and Oates fan.’
Who wouldn’t trust Matt to show up on time, get the job done, and produce timeless images? And perhaps jam to some 80s music afterwards?
Why it Works: Holistic Approach
A lengthier bio, if done well, is an opportunity for potential clients to gain a fuller understanding of who you are, and to assure them you’d be a suitable (if not likeable!) candidate for the job.
Andrew Faulk comes across as a down-to-earth yet highly professional photographer in his bio. His writing is clever and imaginative, but avoids being pompous as he reminds us he’s a “country boy” at heart.
Andrew nails the first sentence of his bio: “I’m Andrew, but most people just call me Andy”. It’s simple, but we can tell Andrew is friendly and approachable, terrific qualities in someone you’re considering working with.
Including a shortlist of clients — as Andrew does with big entities like New York Times and the Government of Japan — is a smart way to showcase your past experience and reputation within the field.
Bio Pic 1: The Traditional Headshot
Can’t go wrong with a straightforward portrait, be it of your head, your whole body, or something in between. Felix Reed has the right idea, and the fact that he’s so close to the camera allows us to see his eyes. As viewers, we’re drawn to people’s eyes first, which is why so many advertisements feature close-ups of smiling faces — making eye contact with an individual in a photo adds a layer of personability to the proceedings. You feel like you’re interacting with them, in a sense.
Bio Pic 2: With Loved Ones
This is a favorite of many photographers, who use the bio space to show themselves with family members, be they relatives or pets. These images give the viewer a chance to see a different side of you. Maybe you’re a proud dog momma, like Michelle McSwain. Or perhaps you’re the parent of some adorable young children, like Tiffany Luong:
Whatever the case, people can’t help but smile when they see you and your loved ones together. It’s a nice window into your personal life and an easy type of image to track down. After all, who doesn’t have a plethora of pictures with their pets, kids, and other loved ones?
Bio Pic 3: On Assignment
Some photographers want to give off the impression that they live and breathe their craft, and an easy way to convey this message is to get a shot of you on the job. Ethan Welty is an action/adventure photographer, but you don’t need me to tell you that once you get a look at his bio picture:
Bio Pic 4: The GIF
The creative commercial photography duo Jordan Hollender and Diane Collins, who go by HollenderX2, introduce themselves with a GIF showing their many personalities. This is a wonderfully wacky way to exhibit the sense of humor injected in their work.
Though none of the above lists are exhaustive, they do give a good sense of the different ways photographers use words and images to introduce themselves to people who visit their website. There are no shortage of ways to give off that ideal first impression and, ultimately, your bio should feel right for you. Don’t get tripped up by the rules, but don’t try to copy someone else’s style. Just be you. A grammatically correct, typo-free you — with a nice photo to boot!
For additional reading…
See lots of examples of photographer bios on our Pinterest page.
Read some consulting case studies on our Publicity Consulting page.
If you need help writing your bio, please reach out!
This article was originally written by Lindsay Thompson and updated by Hannah Sirusas and Varun Raghupathi.