Why politicians shouldn’t be involved in choosing images of themselves.


Candidate workshops are events where folks running for local offices or the legislature and their key staff gather to hear from experienced campaign staffers about how to run a winning effort.

I was involved in these for many years, up until the 2016 election cycle. My angle was always campaign graphics – the ‘dos and don’ts’ of producing campaign literature, signage and working with vendors and consultants.

Among the don’ts: Candidates Should Not Choose Their Head Shot.

As I would say this, looking out at the audience, I would get the same reaction every time. The candidates would look puzzled. The campaign staffers would nod in agreement.

Choosing the best portrait for promotional purposes requires a level of dispassion and objectivity that’s nearly impossible for the subject of the photo because of their ego.

For starters, a person’s concept of what they look like is based in part on what they see in the mirror every morning – and that image is reversed. Also, a politician’s self-image is often aspirational: they want to look like something greater, more noble and more inspiring. If they spend too much time thinking about it, they may turn to portraits of those they think they should look like. It almost never works.

An example of that is the official White House portrait of Donald Trump, released on his inauguration.  In it, Trump scowls into the camera, his eyes staring down the iris of the lens. The White House is in the background, tinted in blue and weirdly askew from the rest of the image. It’s an amateurish effort.

To me, it looks like Trump was trying to look like Winston Churchill – the one in the famous portrait by Yousef Karsh. As anyone can see, he’s no Churchill. Trump might think of himself as resembling this great man, but he comes off in his portrait looking like a scowling crank – which as it turns out, he is.

So who should make the call on a politician’s head shot? Not the candidate. Probably not the candidate’s spouse, either.

Ask the photographer to choose a half dozen or so of what s/he considers the best shots, and pull together a handful of people to look them over and make a choice. Shoot for an image that conveys a leader who is approachable, competent and confident.