There are many factors that define your personal brand. One of the most important, but often overlooked, is your appearance.

People spend hours agonizing over the words they want on their LinkedIn or Twitter profiles, ensuring they perfectly reflect who they are and how they want others to perceive them.

Then they take a hasty look through their picture files, and toss up a photo taken by a friend, or worse, a picture snapped by an office colleague on a smart phone.

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That's a mistake. Your corporate head shot or executive photo is often the first impression you make with someone. And for many, it is not well aligned with the personal brand for which they want to be known.

Recently, I spent time on a photo shoot for a corporate executive. The experience made me think about the importance of a more creative, interesting head shot.

The publication sent a great photographer who was able to work with the executive, create a trusting environment and take him out of his comfort zone to capture a visual that really popped. It was completely on-brand and would definitely get the attention of readers.

I interviewed the photographer John Hryniuk to get some top tips for taking a great photo. Here's what he had to say:

1. Appearance

You want to be well groomed and ready to go. Pay attention to the smallest details. It is important not to expect a professional stylist to transform you the day of, unless you bring your own.

It is also important to have clothes that fit really well and consider having options, as you may look sharp in your mirror at home but the camera might tell a different story.

Accessories should be kept to a minimum, as they will distract from the purpose of the photo – which is to focus on you.

2. Timing

Keep to an early schedule. The morning is the ideal time to book your session, since that's when you look your best.

Allot at least 30 to 40 minutes; the more photos you take, the more options you have to choose from.

Keep your schedule clear to ensure you are well rested and not in a rush to make it to a meeting.

You can also ask the photographer to show up earlier in order to set up his or her equipment to save some time.

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3. Location

Make it interesting. Consider the purpose of the photo. If it is being taken for a magazine or newspaper, your office may not be the best setting.

Executives often think the boardroom is the ideal place but most are filled with track lighting and a long table, making it difficult to get a dynamic shot.

A warehouse facility or retail location can make a much more interesting background.

If you have suggestions, speak with the person in charge of the photo shoot, either the photo editor or art director, to discuss your options.

4. Research

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You may have the opportunity to take photos for a publication or a firm. Be aware of the rights you have to those images and never assume you own them. You may have to negotiate directly with a photographer to use the photograph again.

If you are aware of what you are allowed to do, you can avoid any legal tangles that may arise from misuse. Copies of articles or photos from a publication cannot be used for advertising, Web use or even in-house distribution without the consent of the publication or photographer.

Put your trust in a photographer to perform his or her job. If you conduct research into finding a reputable and experienced photographer, you can rest assured that your photo will turn out professionally and reflect your personal brand.

Remember, this photo may be used more than once. Take the time to do it right.

Special to The Globe and Mail

Mia Pearson is the co-founder of North Strategic . She has more than two decades of experience in creating and growing communications agencies, and her experience spans many sectors, including financial, technology, consumer and lifestyle.

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