Portraits are your chance for an attorney to see how you’ll “play” on the stand. It’s not a beauty contest. It’s a do-you-look-trustworthy “audition.”

No Selfies

Your portrait should never be (a) missing, (b) a selfie, or (c) present off-putting demeanor–like an argumentative stance or angry expression.

Play Nice

Think about what you see in your patients that tell you they are off-limits. Arms aggressively shielding the chest, forced grins, an unintended grimace, failure to make eye contact. You know the signs and can apply this knowledge to yourself.

The Expert Witness’ Visual Message

A photo of you, as a Forensic Expert Witness, should convey you are:

  • knowledgeable
  • trustworthy
  • fair
  • easy to connect with
  • personable
  • of professional demeanor

In addition, forensic psychiatrists and psychologists, especially, are up against a jury’s preconceived notion of psychiatrists and psychologists:

  • warm
  • a good listener
  • confident
  • experienced
  • discreet (no one wants to tell their secrets to someone they don’t trust.)

Kind and Gentle, or Tough?

During cross-examination attorneys will try and get you to dive into one, at the expense of the other. How will you be the “kindly listener” while delivering “knowledgeable assertion”?

On the stand you have other tools at your disposal: shifting body language and expression which is fluid in real life. A photo, however, captures a moment in time. A good photographer can capture the subtleties of your skills. 

Opposing counsel’s goal is to goad you to show hostility or defensiveness. Your photo should convey you are unlikely to falter.

Secrets to a good photograph:

  • eye contact
  • a smile, or a warm resting face
  • a serious resting face
  • clothing that is professional, but not slick or especially expensive
  • posture and body language consistent with the qualities outlined above
  • your face is in context–adding a background or props turns something flat-like a headshot- into a story. You can be sitting at a desk, in front of a building, at a law library, standing beside something doctorly or legal, on a witness stand.
  • good lighting. Go to a professional for your photograph. Poor lighting can ruin even the most compelling expression.

Your facial expression isn’t the only feature of an inviting portrait.

Practical details

  • A good local photographer. Search online with the name of your community and “commercial photographer.” Look at the photographer’s online gallery of business and family portraits. (Most professional photographers have this website feature.) If you don’t like what you see, move on to someone else. 
  • Look beyond a headshot. Family portraits, for example, reveal the photographer’s skill and ability to capture warmth and people at ease in their environment.  That subtlety belongs in your photo. 
  • More than one position.  Be photographed in a variety of postures, and both full body, partial body, and just your face. This gives you more options later.
  • Second set of eyes-Feedback. Run the photo results past clients and friends, get feedback before making your final choice.  Talk with a person who is both skilled in your field, marketing in med-legal, marketing to attorneys (aka juries, judges,) graphic design and photography.
  • Do it over if you don’t like the results.  If you don’t like the photographs, get a different photographer and do it again. Portraits are so important in the field of Forensic Expert Witness work that the return on your investment is likely to outstrip the cost and inconvenience of a second photo sitting. 
  • UPDATE: You can’t “head to the mall.” Due to the pandemic, the ubiquitous mall photography studio is closed. In fact, almost all photo studios are closed. When a vaccine is found and things reopen, you can read “Head to the Mall” below.  In the meantime here is my pandemic solution.
  • COVID Era Photos. DIY.  Until a professional photographer is available, you might be forced to stick with a photo taken by one of your quarantined bubble of friends or family. If you have no great photographers in your family, you might still get a worthwhile photo iyou follow my rules below.   How to take a good photo at home is almost another blog entirely, but this isn’t a photography website so I’ll put the instructions at the end of this blog and you can read it if it applies. Here’s the short version:
    • Use the best camera in the house, even a phone–but this won’t be a selfie. Someone else takes the photo!
    • Find the best lighting in the house, or go outside in the softest time of day-early am or late afternoon. 
    • Stand in front of a solid color and on a floor that doesn’t have a strong pattern.
    • Take lots of photos with many angles, backdrops and lighting–to give you options. 
  • Head to the Mall After a Vaccine is Found and Malls Reopen. I used to say never go to a mall photographer or you’ll look like everyone’s Christmas card. But then I changed my mind–sort of. Use the mall photographer for a test run. It’s an inexpensive way to determine if your clothes fit, what are your posed expressions? Try out different backdrops–whatever you want!  In the olden days, professional photographers would use an instant print camera just to see if the lighting was working before proceeding with their $10,000 set up.
  • To do my magic, we must have a photo that reveals you can dress in a kempt manner, have good hygeine and posture. I am learning not everyone owns a well-fitting suit, for example. You’ll need it to testify so why not buy it now, before your photos.

Google Images

When an attorney types in your name, he or she may take a look at “images” to see what you look like. 

Find out: type in your name. Click on Images. Here’s mine. What do you find? If you pop up-is it a picture you like? Is it even you? I’m in a pickle: one Beryl Vaughan starred in a film “Girls Under 21” and another is an advocate of teaching the Welsh Language and, of course, lives in Wales.  But I’m in there. See what shows under your name.

Companion article: Check out the “What do you broadcast to attorneys and jurors?” under Practical Articles.


This is a compilation of portraits from the website of Antwerp law firm Van Goethem. I selected this example because it shows a range of expressions. The narrative is “attorneys at work, attorneys that are approachable.”

For a forensic physician, I like one. Which do you think it is? (Graphic header: compliments of 123rf.com, Satori Studios)

Portraits Taken at Home: a Guide in the COVID 19 ERA

I’ve been a photographer since…well a long time ago. Here are my recommendations for taking portraits at home that can be used on your website, directory profiles, LinkedIn: wherever you need a photo!

Tips and Tricks to Making a Portrait at Home

  • Use the best camera in the house, even a phone–but this won’t be a selfie. If there’s a photographer in the house and a good digital camera, jump in. If not, and someone has a cell phone released in the last 2 years, you likely have an excellent camera. The quality of most phone photos, by the way, is adequate for use online. If there are issues, Photoshop can fix many of the small defects produced by phone photos.
  • Ambiance. Photography studios contain rolls of backdrop paper from solid white to marbled shades to fake bookcases (yes!) Assuming you have no marble walls handy, or the Hogwort’s library, here are tricks of the trade:
    • Solid Backdrop: Walls and Drapes. A wall painted a solid color are a good choice. If it’s white or light, many smudges and flaws can be removed in Photoshop, or you can clean it.
    • Drapes of a solid color and adequate weight to hang smoothly (no patterns, no wrinkles.) They will need to extend at least 3-4 feet around the perimeter of your body.
    • Floor. A flat color floor (wood that is not busy will do).
    • Colors complementary to the colors you are wearing (that are also solid or minimal pattern.  See about clothing:  Demeanor: What are You Communicating to Attorneys and Jurors?)
    • Good lighting. Inside lighting is tricky to use because light bulbs tend to cast harsh shadows (as does full sunlight, by the way). You’ll need to take test photos in several lighting options in your house–near a lamp, near a window both with and without a sheer translucent curtain, and near overhead lighting. A sheer scarf over a lighting source can diffuse a harsh lighting source.
    • Outside Lighting.  Inadequate light plagues amateur photographers. There is no lighting source more powerful than the sun. In fact, the sun is so strong that the best photos are taken when it is waxing or waning: at dawn, a cloudy day, or late afternoon or evening.
    • Outside backgrounds: both natural and manufactured.  If you have only busy backgrounds like a saguaro cactus, a half dead tree, a schoolyard, then consider adding a manmade background. Feel free to hang those solid colored drapes on a rod suspended from a tree as long as it hangs well above you.  There are fixes including Photoshop in some cases. But not everything is fixable, so it’s always better to start with the best naturally available source.
    • Post-Processing: Fixing it on the computer. Fixing photos on Photoshop is time-consuming and therefore expensive. If you know someone up to the task–tap them! If not, I do it all the time.  If the photo isn’t perfect (and few are), here are the most common issues: I may need to blur the background so the subject (you) is in sharper contrast. Occasionally I can “paint out” that cactus or dangling branch of dead leaves. Distracting splotches and dirty walls are pretty easy to fix. Removing lighting “artifacts” like an unfortunate shine on a hair-challenged head, red eye or harsh shadow under your nose, sometimes take more time than you might think, because they must look natural to the eye.

Waiting for a vaccine, however, might be more expensive because getting cases can reflect the strength of your photograph, and websites without any photograph are at a disadvantage, causing an attorney to move on.

Practice Development for Expert Witnesses
Beryl Vaughan, Consultant

Email go@forensicexpertpro.com or Call (415) 302-9589

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