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 (see exception below), or (c) present off-putting demeanor like an argumentative stance with your arms crossed over your chest (beloved by photographers who mistakenly believe it communicates “toughness.”)

Play Nice

Think about what you see in your patients that tell you they are off-limits such as a body positioned to one side or no eye-contact. You know the signs and can apply it to your photos.

The Expert Witness’ Visual Message

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

In addition, physicians and especially forensic psychiatrists and psychologists are up against a jury’s preconceived notion of what you should be. By extension, attorneys will also want to see some photos that reflect you are

  • 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? Yes.

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

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

Secrets to good portraits:

  • 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 (a headshot) into a story. You can be sitting at a desk, speaking into a microphone as if on a witness stand, in front of a building such as a law library, standing beside something doctorly or legal and if you have been in the news, a news outlet may have a picture of you testifying. Get copyright permissions whenever you want to use someone else’s authored/photographed work.
  • good lighting. Go to a professional for your photograph. Poor lighting can ruin even the most compelling expression. If you absolutely must DIY, there are tips below.

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

Practical details

  • Find a few local photographers. Search online with the name of your community and “commercial photographer.” Ask friends who they like; common sources are those who have had a local wedding, and wedding photographer.
  • Take a good look at the photographer’s online portfolio. Check out business headshots AND family portraits.  If you don’t like what you see, move on to someone else. Look beyond a headshot. A photographer’s skill in family photos reveal their ability to capture warmth and people at ease in their environment.  That subtlety belongs in your photo.
  • Prepare: dress in a kempt manner, hair in place. For women, limit makeup. Juries respect authenticity and too much makeup can be off-putting. Not everyone owns a well-fitting suit. Get one and have it tailored to fit if need be. You’ll need it to testify, so why not buy it now, before your photos.
  • Before the expensive sitting, head to the Mall (after they 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! Take that information to the best photographer you can find.

Tips for the Photographer

  • More than one position.  You will need shots in a variety of postures, and both full body, partial body, and just your face.
  • Tell photographer your images may be used on a website–this is because the layout may require that you stand with adequate background to each side.[1]  On a website, you usually need room for you and for text. I have spent hours “building” “fake” background into a headshot needed for a full-screen width. It is easier to start with a big photo and crop a headshot than to take a tight photo and “grow” it on Photoshop. 

Once the photos are taken and you have to choose

  • 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. 
  • COVID Era Photos. 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. A few tips are provided below. 

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

Portraits Taken at Home

Whether COVID shut down your favorite photographer, or you are forced to take your own photos, here are some tips gleaned from decades as a photographer:

  • Best Camera in the house. If you own a digital camera, use it. Phones released in the last 2 years have excellent camera quality. Ensure settings are for maximum resolution (usually 300 dpi).
  • Best photographer in the house.
  • Ambiance. Background sets the tone of your photos. Assuming you have no marble walls handy, or the Hogwort’s library, here are tricks of the trade:
    • Solid color or muted pattern backdrop: Walls and Drapes. 
    • Wide shots with room on either side [1].  They will need to extend at least 4-5 feet around the perimeter of your body.
    • Wear different colors and clothes.  More colors and clothing: more choices. See about clothing:  Demeanor: What are You Communicating to Attorneys and Jurors?)
    • Good lighting. Inside: Light bulbs cast harsh shadows, stand near a window when the sun is diffused.  Lighting from any source may benefit from covering of a sheer translucent curtain. Avoid overhead lights as they can cast a shadow over your eyes. Stand out of direct sunlight; consider an overcast day, or early morning before the sun is fully out.
    • Outside backgrounds: natural and manufactured.  Avoid busy/distracting backgrounds like a half-dead tree or multi-colored flowers. Instead, try an exterior wall or travel to a commercial building with a universally subtle wall pattern. If you’re at home, feel free to hang those solid colored drapes on a rod suspended from a tree.
    • Post-Processing: Fixing it on the computer. I use Photoshop all the time–it’s a powerful tool for these common problems (a) Sharpen and emphasize eyes–eye contact is so important, that eye shape and color may need a “ratchet up., (b) blur a  background; “paint out” the dead tree behind you, remove splotches on dirty walls, (c) removing lighting “artifacts” like blasted lighting on glasses (see [1].)  



[1] This is the evolution from a studio photograph headshot to a website-ready full width (screen size) image with room for text.

A headshot alone is limiting. Attorneys can’t get a strong “sense” of you and it isn’t suited to the many screens on which we find Experts.  On the right is the original image. On the left is the image cropped as a headshot and some quick touch-ups.

[2] 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.”

Compliments of Sartori Studios, 123rf.com

Practice Development for Expert Witnesses
Beryl Vaughan, Consultant

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

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