Expert Advice: Writing a Photographer Bio
While there are ample resources available on portfolios, websites, leave behinds and promotional materials, there’s one important subject that I’ve found little helpful information on: the photographer’s bio.
Almost always found on a professional photographer’s site, the bio can make or break you. In a world where creatives often only have a couple of minutes to view your site, the bio can play a significant role. A biography is a glimpse into your personality and gives the reader a sense of what you might be like to work with. Creatives will often seek out the bio to help them make quick judgments. Therefore, just having great pictures isn’t enough. Many people will quickly abandon a website to jump to the next, so you have to make sure your entire site is not only engaging but successfully portrays your personality. With bios being one way to express who YOU are, I’m always surprised at just how many dreadful ones I come across. So, after reading one too many boring, exaggerated, absurd, grammatically incorrect and simply over-the-top biographies, I decided to come up with a few Dos and Don’ts.
Let’s start with the Don’ts. These are easier to lay out, and there are certainly plenty of them. (Editor’s note: These are simply opinions. Please take all advice and examples with a grain of salt and a pinch of humor.)
Don’t be pompous (names have been changed to protect the innocent/pompous) “Jim Doe has left an indelible mark on the modern photography world as we know it.” Unless you’re an Annie Leibovitz, Ansel Adams or the like, I would try to refrain from overly self-important remarks. You don’t want to give creatives the impression that you’re some sort of prima donna who’s difficult to work with or doesn’t take direction. Also, try to avoid superfluous words, phrases, and sentences.
- Too Pompous 1 “I find myself becoming more and more jaded with the photographic landscape of today. I never want to be someone who takes predictable, boring photographs. To combat this, I ask myself after every photo: is this good enough for a gallery, a museum, a photo book? If so, I’m happy. I’m always looking to create timeless images; classic photographs.” Is there anyone out there whose goal is to take a predictable picture?
- Too Pompous 2 “Jim Doe always loves to photograph great people and awesome things. Jim shoots camera and he could care less if it’s digital or film because both are equally damn great when especially he shoots with either one of them. However, he highly encourages all of you to disregard scanners and go to the darkroom at least once in your lifetime. In fact, if you are lucky you might catch him dancing his minds out in the darkroom quite often while pretending to make a print.” Great people and awesome things. Gettin' deep on us. It’s possible that he thinks he’s the only person in the world who has ever been in a darkroom (cause he’s pretty damn great)…. and yea, we won’t even visit the typos.
Don’t take yourself too seriously Overly serious bios sometimes fall into the pompous category as well (such as my previous example). Often times, photographers aren’t saving lives. Unless you’re a João Silva or Eddie Adams, austere and somber isn’t super appropriate and can give off a stuffy vibe. Your goal is to attract and be hired by creatives, who aren’t typically the super serious type. Remember, this isn’t a Ph.D. dissertation.
- Too Serious “Jim Doe is a leader in the planning and creation of visual media that connect people with their lives and connect their lives with the world.” (Exceptions to the rule: wartime photojournalists)
Don’t get too lengthy This is self-explanatory. Please, no novels… or even novellas. Be short and sweet. Leave them wanting more. I’ll spare you the long example.
Don’t be illiterate Please try to avoid typos, bad translations, grammatical errors and spelling mistakes. If you know you’re not the best writer (or aren’t writing in your native language), think about hiring a writer. Everyone should have someone look over their work, no matter what. You’re not going to impress anyone with your cringe-worthy grammar or semicolon misuse. Also, please don’t use an online translator to translate your bio from one language to another.
- Bad Translation Leonard Doe a man that after a long romance with the art gets to find in photography the muse of his own creativity His lovely grandma and an analogic camera announces a discovery, the emergence of a birth, and there his eyes understood the power that residedon them to inmortalize momentsof diary intimate stories and free In his presents days is to improveand expand his knowledges, his actual works and those will comeare expectedanxiously for this photographs the perfect return that track to enter more in the white and black world where his more comfortable muse shines… WELCOME TO THE TIME NO TIME
OK, that’s enough negativity for now. I’m sure we could all come up with more bio don’ts, but I’d rather focus on the good. There are plenty of great examples out there that I’d love to share.
Do have fun You only have so much time to catch the eye of a creative. Showing some creativity in your bio and having fun with your writing is a great way to get attention. Below are some of my favorite “fun” examples:
- Fun 1 Adam Voorhes Not only is Adam’s bio amusing, but you can also play pong on his site! Here’s his bio: HI I’M ADAM I was born somewhere, and then grew up. Along the way I went to a prestigious college where I learned about important things. Like student loans. Then I lived in different cities and worked for different famous and important people. Then I ended up where I am now. And this is where I do stuff. I’ve won a bunch of important and/or impressive awards for some of that stuff. I hope to continue doing stuff for sometime now.
- Fun 2 Roberto Westbrook Robert’s bio stretches over several pages and includes a fun image to go along with each blurb. Usually, I would discourage such a long text, but Robert’s quirky and charming writing style keeps you engaged and leave you wanting more. Check it out on his site: www.robertowestbrook.com - it’s worth a read!
- Fun 3 Bruton Stroube Studios On top of having well-written photographer bios, each BSS staff member also has their own bio. And each includes a goofy poem. Adding a little fun poem goes along with their fun loving brand. Assistant Jake Pott’s poem: A lightweight, at least at first glance, He just fills out his ski pants. With work so high rated, To success he is fated. In the darkroom when given a chance.
- Fun Suggestion Mad Lib style bio. I saw this done once where each member of the studio filled one out. So fun!
Do keep it short and sweet Concise, informative and thoughtful bios are always appreciated. Just make sure to not err on the side of boring.
- Short/Sweet 1 Ryan Ketterman Ryan Ketterman is an editorial and commercial photographer, specializing in people and corporate photography with a style consisting of colorful and energetic imagery. Running a client-friendly, service-oriented business he believes that great creativity often is the result of team effort and values working closely with his clients. Based in Jacksonville Beach, Florida Ryan and his team are ready to create outstanding visuals for you.
- Short/Sweet 2 Bradley Spitzer I am a simple man who loves making photographs and spending time with my wife and son. I am fortunate to be able to spend a good amount of time on personal projects, traveling and collaborating with a team of rad people. I make my bed in Nashville, Tennessee and am a sucker for assignments where I have the opportunity to travel.
- Short/Sweet 3 Grace Chon Grace is an animal photographer. Her bio is short and sweet while also giving you a glimpse at her personality and love for animals: The camera is the least important element in photography.” -Julius Shulman
Grace combines her background as an award-winning advertising agency art director with her photography, creating modern, lifestyle portraits of people and animals. Her clients include ad agencies, magazines, publishing companies, celebrities, non-profit organizations and TV shows.
When she’s not writing about herself in the third person, Grace likes to go hiking with her dogs, meditate, and grow organic heirloom tomatoes. She makes a mean guacamole (want to challenge her to a guac-off?) and really hates Comic Sans.
In her spare time, Grace photographs homeless dogs looking for their forever homes and donates her photography services every year to multiple dog rescue groups in Los Angeles. She lives in LA with her husband, baby boy, and their beloved rescue dogs, Maeby and Zoey.
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.
- Interesting 1 Forest Woodward Raised by Woodwards and tamed by wolves, I live under the influence of a man who walked into the wild. Haunted by the allure of point breaks and powder days, steep creeks and tall peaks; i am a hunter gatherer of natural light and candid moments. with an appetite whet with a taste of the unknown and the smell of home, i wander a path paved by open minds and trusting eyes, guided by willing feet… …and a desire to bring you with me.From my early days drinking fixer in the dark room, learning zone system and processing 4×5 negatives, to recent trips photographing fashion in tokyo, surf volunteerism in peru, a moped odyssey through spain, rock climbing in patagonia, or a music festival in california, my pursuit of new experiences pushes me to continually evolve my vision, while reminding me of the importance of carrying my camera with humor, compassion and curiosity.
- Interesting 2 Nick Burchell My name is Nick Burchell. I’m an Englishman, but I live in America. By way of Canada, technically. Photography is my calling, my profession, and the thing that will undoubtedly drive me insane someday. I don’t photograph subjects. I photograph the way they make me feel. Admittedly, it’s a bit of a strange concept. But it’s honest – and it’s the best way to describe my approach to the craft. I wrestle with every image I shoot. I assume perfection is possible and I want to wring it out of every picture. If that’s all you ever know about me, it’s enough to say you know me very, very well.
- Interesting 3 Hubert Kang This is going to be a rather lengthy bio because I feel it’s important to let you know some things about me. If you are in a rush please jump to the conclusion paragraph directly. I was born on February 22nd. It’s an interesting date because some cool people were born on the same day as well. To name a few, Frederic Chopin, George Washington, Dr. J (!), and Jenna Haze… but really the coolest are Robert Wadlow (tallest man in history. 8’11”) and Steve Crocodile Hunter Irwin (My personal hero!). On my 27th birthday I wrote up this bio.
Do have a photo One of the first things I do when viewing a photographer’s website is to look for their portrait. I’m sure I’m not alone. This is one of the reasons we like to have head shots for all Wonderful Machine member photographers. It’s always nice to put a face to a name. Also, it helps if the photo actually looks like you. Ignoring the fact that there are many dos and don’ts in themselves for bio photos, I’ll just share a few I like.
- Bio Pic 1 Alvaro Leiva Alvaro is a travel photographer, his photo highlights this well while also showing a bit of his personality.
- Bio Pic 2 Stephanie Diani Stephanie is a celebrity photographer, something you get right away from her photo. It also shows that she’s fun loving and laid back.
- Bio Pic 3 Nick Hall Nick has a Q&A style bio that I really like, but I also enjoy the images on his about page. They give you a good sense of Nick’s personality and his photo style.
- Bio Pic 4 Ethan Welty Ethan is an action/adventure photographer and his photo displays this quite nicely.
In the end, you need your bio to feel right for you. Don’t get too caught up with the rules and certainly don’t try to copy someone else’s style. Just be you - a grammatically correct and typo-free you.