Why is a first impression from photos really important?

With the growing use of social media in our business and personal interactions, our first impressions happen more and more through our online profile pictures.

Did you know that:

  • in less than a second, the person viewing your photo will make a snap judgement about your trustworthiness, likability, competence and leadership qualities.
  • this first impression is persistant and very difficult to change.
  • first impressions from photos will be more harshly, even negatively judged than a face-to-face first impression.

But why is a first impression so important?

A first impression, even from a photograph, will determine the future of a relationship, or even a career. If you make a good first impression, that’s a good thing. But as explained by Jeanna Bryner in her Live Science article, when you don’t, it can doom a relationship before it begins.

You really don’t get a second chance to make a first impression… especially with first impressions from photos because you won’t have the opportunity to talk with that person and possibly help them change their mind about you.

What can we do as photographers?

As photographers, we play an important role in creating this first impression for our clients and it is our job to control the narrative.

The way we can help them is by:

  • understanding their goal for the photograph to suggest appropriate body language.
  • getting a good feel for their personality to create an authentic image.
  • suggesting clothing and accessories that match the project.

Interview with Vanessa Van Edwards

Vanessa Van Edwards
Behavioral Investigator & Author

I had the great pleasure to discuss the science of first impressions with Vanessa Van Edwards, the amazing lead investigator from human behavior research lab: Science of People.

As a professional people watcher, Vanessa researches, speaks and writes about cracking the code of interesting human behavior. Her groundbreaking workshops and courses teach individuals how to succeed in business and life by understanding the hidden dynamics of people. Her specialty is human lie detection and body language in business.

We often hear that “you don’t get a second chance to make a good first impression”.
It sounds a little cliché. Is it true?

Yes it’s true. It only takes a few seconds for someone to decide if they want to get to know you, and studies have found that we not only decide if we like someone in the first few seconds, but also that first impression stays with us.

A first impression only takes a second. Why does it happen so fast?

We are conditioned to judge people within the first second of meeting them, or seeing their photograph. We take a mental snapshot of someone and guess their competence, confidence and likability in less than a second.

This is called thin-slicing.

Researchers think this is a survival mechanism we have developed to help us evaluate very quickly if someone is friend or foe.

What is the one Body Language cue that makes you cringe when you see it in a photograph?


That smirk is a buzz kill when it comes to presence. And it’s so easy to fix–just smile for real!

Can you share with us one photograph you really love and tell us how it makes you feel.

You can tell we really care about each other and I am also very protective of them–lots of hugging and leaning in and full smiles. Good memories.

Pro tip from Vanessa

It only takes a few seconds for someone to decide if they want to get to know you, so you have to make those first few moments count. I want to help you make a memorable first impression. check out my article on How to Make A Killer First Impression on my blog.