Portraits are your chance for an attorney to see how you’ll “play” on the stand. It’s not a beauty contest.
A subtler and crucial factor is how the attorney responds to you in a visually visceral way.
Do NOT assume anything about what you look like.
But it is essential you get portraits (more than one.)
The key is for jurors to relate to you, and for attorneys to relate to you, and that can mean anything about you. That’s why I say it isn’t a beauty contest, or reflection of societal expectations.
Authenticity makes a photo engaging. There is no better message for integrity and trustworthiness.
Do’s and Don’ts
No Selfies and other Rules of Thumb
(a) Always have a portrait, post it online (LinkedIn, etc.)
(b) Don’t use a selfie (see exception below)
(c) Avoid off-putting demeanor like an argumentative stance
(d) Always compose yourself in an open posture. Avoid a hostile message with your arms crossed over your chest.
Photographers, unfortunately, are used to composing subjects in a stance that looks “tough.” This derives from the competitive nature of “business.” It has nothing to do with a medical-legal expert witness.
Being tough can be interpreted as being unapproachable. The crossed-arms body language is beloved by photographers who mistakenly believe it communicates “toughness” but instead communicates a lack of accessibility. This is the opposite of what attorneys will want jurors to see.
Take a cue from what patients show you in the exam room
Think about what you see in your patients that alert you they could be fearful of talking about symptoms, ashamed, confused, or even lying: their body is positioned away from you, they avoid eye-contact, their speech is mumbling and statements hard to understand. Perhaps the patient is disheveled, hair unkempt, eyes out of focus. This could mean symptoms are at play, they are impaired, perhaps drugs, side effects, etc. Whatever your thoughts: you would never ignore these signs. Apply this experience to your own photos bearing in mind that as a “subject” you are the patient in the above example. The attorney is the physician. What are the “signs” of a confident, erudite doctor?
Do’s in your Visual Message
- easy to connect with
- professional demeanor
In addition, physicians 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
- a good listener
- discreet (no one wants to tell their secrets to someone they don’t trust.)
Kind and Gentle? Yes.
Confident and Unflappable. Yes
During cross-examination, attorneys will try and get you to present only one quality–defensive, angry, self-doubting. Your portrait conveys the “kindly listener” while delivering “knowledgeable assertion.”
Secrets to good portraits:
- eye contact
- a smile, or a warm resting face and additional photos with
- a serious resting face
- clothing that is professional, good quality, never slick. Avoid shiny fabrics.
- posture and body language consistent with the qualities outlined above
- your in context through the use of backgrounds
- Background or props can turn 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.
- 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.
- dress in a kempt manner
- hair in place.
- Makeup: for women, limit makeup or pursue a “natural” look. Juries respect authenticity and the idea you are ready for work and nothing else. Women sometimes learn “makeup” should make them look younger and sexier. I know I did. This is not true in med-legal work. Test options at home before your photoshoot.
- Pro tip: Avoid glossy lipstick–it reflects lighting which can be a problem.
- Buy a good suit and remember, tailors are your friend. If needed, get your clothes altered. Not everyone owns a well-fitting suit. It’s an investment in the future too. You’ll need that suit 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 realized it is a cheap way to do a test run before your professional portraits are taken. You can how your clothes fit, what colors look good on your, your posed expressions. Try out different backdrops at the mall–whatever you want! Then 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. 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. Get feedback. Run the photo results past clients, family and friends. What do they think? If you work with a marketing person, get their feedback, all 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. If you can’t attend an in-studio shoot, 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 . 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 .)
Leave Your Assumptions at the Door
A photo is a form of “audition.” But an audition for what?
- to establish if you look trustworthy
- to establish if Attorneys want to meet you or retain you
- to establish if attorneys trust or like you, based on a 2 dimensional image (an response independent of the jury)
- how will the jury react to you?
Think outside the “norms” box.
Juries respond positively and negatively to skin color to body size, as do attorneys.
The attorneys may look exactly like you, as might the jurors, however you look and however you are.
John Doe might be the expert you expect–handsome, smart, white, male. THAT MIGHT BE YOU, OR NOT. Be your authentic self and then imagine you in this layout.
A headshot alone is limiting. Attorneys can’t get a strong “sense” of you, and it isn’t suited to the many computer screens on which we find Experts. Above is the original image cropped for use on a website–room for text. Below left is the image cropped as a headshot. Below right is another crop that provides a smaller frame for text.
Expert Witness Stephanie Williams, PhD
Forensic Psychologist, Stephanie Williams, PhD’s portrait reflects desirable features in an expert witness: intelligence and approachable demeanor.
Confident authenticity is another way to describe integrity.
On a different note, I observe that the direct “facing front” is not as ideal as other postures that are more relaxed and interesting.
Dr. Williams’ expression and excellent lighting make this photo work.
Of note, the darkness of your complexion requires a photographer who knows their way around the proper lighting. Ask!
Visit her website at Integrated Psychological Clinical and Forensic Services
 This is the evolution from a studio photograph headshot to a website-ready full width (screen size) image with room for text.
Below 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