A Portrait is more than a Photograph


Many people get professional portraits to use for their LinkedIn profile or for their company’s staff directory or web page. One group of professionals in particular, has embraced professional portraits for a long time and that for good reason. Real estate agents are not only in the market to sell properties; they are advertising for themselves. These images are to create a level of trustworthiness that connects with their potential clients on an emotional level. After all, we trust these professional with most likely the biggest commercial transactions in our lives. So, a portrait is more than just the likeness of the individual, it shows us the real person.
Private individuals, however, rarely invest in professional portrait photography besides family photos for the annual Christmas card or group photos at family events. While such group photos are nice to have, these images typically miss to show the essence of a single individual. The larger the group in the picture is, the less we learn about the individual through the image. Instead, most people rely on snapshots from their phones to share with their family. Needless to say, while being fun, these representations often leave something more to be desired, which is probably the reason why those photos aren’t used in the long run.

Portraits can be our Legacy

If we think about the longevity of a photo of ourselves, we often have a pretty short timeframe in mind. The endless number of images on our phones or in the cloud for that matter, is the very evidence of that. But I would like to challenge this here: Think about a professional portrait of you to last decades - or even centuries. Yes, centuries! Don’t believe me? Our family has portraits of some of our ancestors from the late 1800s (see below) and we feel these portraits provide us with a connection to them personally, crossing time and space. The art of professional portrait photography was well established back then, and we are very fortunate to have these images, which give us a view into their lives and maybe even a small glimpse into their soul.

My great-great grandparents

A well-crafted portrait of an individual captures the character of the person, without using any words. Such an image connects with us, it tells us a story. Modern portraiture is a true art form and its very job is to show more than the snapshot of a face. Much more. And that is the very reason why a professional portrait of an individual often survives decades and maybe even centuries. Oh, and paper photos don’t have any data format compatibility issues with whatever devices we might be using in the distant future. Imagine you have a professional portrait of yourself, and this image will be on the wall or the fireplace mantle of someone in your family who might be born fifty or even a hundred years after you pass. Someone in the 22nd century might look at your portrait and think: “My great-great-grandpa has such kind eyes. I wonder what it would be like if I could just talk to him.” or “Great-great-grandma has this little twinkle in her eye. I bet she was quite the character “last century”, back in the 2020s.”. These portraits show who we really are, something a selfie would never be able to accomplish. Take a look at the photograph of Abraham Lincoln below. This portrait that was taken in 1865, almost 160 years ago. Doesn’t it speak volumes, without a single word?

Credit: Alexander Gardner / Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University

There is a good reason why real estate agents, and many other professionals for that matter, are not using selfies or cropped group photos of themselves for their professional portraits. Such images rarely have the depth that we are looking for if we want to make an emotional connection with someone to help us with a big decision. We should all think of a professional portrait as being part of our legacy. In the greater scheme of things, this is a tiny investment in something that might be on this earth much longer than we are. And in case you wonder when is a good time for portrait? The answer is: Right now! We are never too old or too young for a true, authentic portrait. It captures our personality right then and there and in that moment it becomes timeless.