Five Tips for Writing a Great Photographer Bio

Image of a bio. F.M. Kearney is a frequent contributor to the NANPA blog. His bio, shown here, uses a little humor while still meeting other criteria for a great bio.
F.M. Kearney is a frequent contributor to the NANPA blog. His bio, shown here, uses a little humor while still meeting other criteria for a great bio.

Story by Julie Patterson, NANPA Marketing and Communications Coordinator

Your bio is an important tool. Potential clients, art buyers, editors, agents, conference goers, colleagues, and others form impressions—that ultimately lead to decisions—based in large part on what’s in your bio. So what makes a good one?

Purpose

I bet you own more than one camera lens, right? And you intentionally choose and change lenses to fit the situation, purpose, and effects you desire? Apply the same thinking to your bio.

Maybe you need three bios that emphasize different areas of specialization: wildlife images, conservation efforts, and macro work, for example.

Or bios that showcase skills: one for workshops/teaching, one for photo tours, one for publications and exhibits, and one for keynotes or presentations.

You might want to have several versions of your bio ready—a long, a short, and a very short.  If you’re invited to speak at a conference, for instance, the event marketing team may need different language for social media, web, program publications, on-site introductions, and media inquiries.

The more you can anticipate and address the purpose of your bio in each specific situation, the better your credibility will be. Colleagues will clamor to work with you, too, if you demonstrate that you can anticipate their needs in this way.

Focus

The fundamentals of composition are the same whether you’re creating an image or text. So when you write a bio, give readers something to focus on, without overcrowding the shot.

Here’s where I think the abbreviated term “bio” misleads many of us. Most of the time, you need a brief “biographical statement,” not a book-length “biography”—a snapshot, not a movie.

If you’ve been a nature photographer for a long time, you might have a substantial and impressive list of publications, exhibits, and awards. But you don’t need to list them all to establish your credibility. Again, consider what the target audience is most interested in and prioritize that information.

Consider listing just the most recent credits, or the most prestigious, or 3-5 that show a range of abilities.

Remember that the real goal of a bio is typically to make readers want to meet you—to attend your workshop, read your blog, follow you on social media perhaps—and people are generally reluctant to hang out with someone who talks only about his/her accomplishments. Keep it brief but relevant.

Thought Bubble describing your audience.
Audience Checklist

Audience

Notwithstanding the huge generalization I just made about people not wanting to hang out with boasters, avoid thinking of your readers in broad general terms. Instead, write your bio as if introducing yourself to one person.

Take a minute to mentally sketch the person you’re talking to—age, interests, likes/dislikes, what brought them to the place where they’re going to see your bio, what do they want and need to know. Imagine a real human being, because that’s presumably the kind of person you want to do business with.

Revise

You’re probably not the exact same person you were five years ago, and your bio shouldn’t be either. Make a habit of reassessing it regularly.

Carve out time to think strategically about how you’re positioning yourself as a nature photographer and why. Actually set a recurring annual appointment in your calendar to do this, so it doesn’t get overlooked or dismissed because you’re busy. Your bio is never truly finished.

Remember the Goal

I already mentioned that the goal of most bios is to get readers excited to meet you. That might be worth thinking about again. Meet you.

A wise mentor once told me the purpose of a resume is not to convince someone to give you a job; it’s to convince someone to interview you. The interview is then what makes or breaks the job offer.

Similar might be said about a bio. A good one gets people to knock on your door. Whether they come inside and how long they stay depends on what you do when they knock.

Julie Patterson is a writer and communications consultant with more than 20 years of experience helping arts venues, education programs, and other small businesses share their stories to meet traffic and revenue goals. She is also a creative nonfiction author and editor, and an adjunct English professor. When not writing, Julie enjoys helping her husband tend to the honeybee hives in their urban backyard—or, as a college roommate once quipped, she’s likely to have “wandered off to take pictures of rocks.”