Branding photography, also called personal brand photography, is primarily for small business owners and entrepreneurs to attract their ideal client by showing in photos who they are, what they do and their values. Personal brand photos get used in blog posts, social media posts and marketing materials so that potential clients can get to know them and their small business.
I’ve been doing personal branding photography as a professional photographer for several years now and I’ve never come across a client who fully understood what is branding photography. It’s not unusual to see wedding and portrait photographers offering personal brand photography and I think many of them also struggle to fully comprehend what’s involved. It’s more than happy, smiley photos of a client writing in her notebook or chatting on her mobile in a trendy coffee shop.
So I’ve put together this photographer’s guide on how to become a professional brand photographer. Maybe it will help you to think through your own brand identity and then get in front of the camera so that you too can attract your ideal client.
What is a branding photoshoot?
To become a personal branding photographer you need a combination of photography skills, including portrait photography and product photography.
Even though a branding photoshoot is for business use, it’s very different from a corporate photoshoot. Much less formal and rigid. Branding photography is all about showing the client’s unique personality, which means it’s much more fun and informal. But that doesn’t mean unprofessional at all.
It’s all about establishing an online presence that’s truly reflective of the brand while showing exactly what the business does. Brand images are designed to be irresistible to the brand’s dream client. So a brand photoshoot is focussed entirely on creating images that will appeal to the dream client.
Which is exactly why no two personal branding photoshoots are exactly alike. They may have the same basic structure, but branding photoshoots are bespoke and start with getting to know the small business owner so that the shoot can be designed around:
- Their business
- And their potential clients
This is why a personal branding session starts with a questionnaire and a planning consultation, long before you pick up the camera. A brand photographer puts in a lot more time and effort planning for a personal branding photography session that any other type of portrait photography.
Why do small businesses need a brand photoshoot?
The mantra of all small business owners is that the client has to “know, like and trust” them. The best way to do this is by creating a great first impression with professional brand images.
A personal branding photoshoot tells the brand story through photos. But not just any photos. It’s more than just portrait photography combined with a bit of product photography and a few flat lays thrown in. A branding photographer concentrates on certain types of images, while bearing in mind the brand itself. This creates a set of brand images that are representative of the business’ brand.
How can a small business owner use personal brand photos?
The main way small business owners use their personal brand photos is in digital format. They very rarely print photos. They do, however, need a constant flow of professional photos to use:
- On their website and in their blog posts
- On their various social media platforms for social media profiles and in posts
- In their marketing materials
- In their newsletters
Using images in so many different places means that they’ll have to crop them to the required aspect ratio of the platform they’re using the photos on.
So, as part of a brand photoshoot package, all professional brand photographers should include permission for the client to edit the images. This is of course very different from portrait photography where professional photographers don’t want their clients to alter their images in any way.
Sometimes the client is going to edit the images in a way that the photographer doesn’t like, but in brand photography the images don’t reflect the photographer’s brand. They need to reflect the client’s brand. Hopefully the client chooses a brand photographer based on style rather than price, so they get photos shot in a style suited to their brand. Then they won’t feel the need to do much more than crop them.
How to prepare your client for a personal brand photoshoot?
It’s the most high touch type of shoot for a portrait photographer, so it involves a lot of contact with the client and planning ahead of the photoshoot. Every one of my clients has been surprised by how much planning goes into a brand photoshoot and they all appreciate how much the process helps them to clarify their brand’s visual identity.
Every branding photographer will have their own process. So might differ slightly from mine, but the basics will be the same – a lot of preparation ahead of time leads to a successful photoshoot and a happy client.
Here’s how I prepare a client for a personal brand photoshoot:
- Once a branding client books (and pays) me we set a date for a planning call about 2 weeks later.
- I send them my branding questionnaire to fill in and return at least a week before the planning call.
- I create a mood board on Pinterest so that they have a visual reference of how I’ve understood their brand identity based on their answers.
- Just ahead of the call I send them a link to the Pinterest board and we talk it through on the phone while we also go through their questionnaire answers. I make a point of letting them know that the images aren’t a shot list, the board is purely a visual summary of my understanding of them and their business.
- I always include an image or two that I think jars with their brand identity and personality. While talking through the board I subtly draw their attention to these images to gauge their reaction. When they react as expected – not liking them – I’ll tell them what I’ve done to make sure I’ve understood them. If they like them it means we need to talk about why they like them as I might have misinterpreted their vision.
- On the call we discuss locations, time of day, outfits, props and if they want to include family in some of their lifestyle photos.
- Some locations will require permission to photograph there. If a photography licence is needed I arrange it, but if we need to use a coffee shop, coworking space, flower shop etc etc the client makes contact and secures permission. A great way to help my client sweeten the deal is to offer to send a few location photos from the shoot for the venue to use in their social media. So I add this to my shot list.
- Some clients want a stylist to help them select their outfits and I’ll put them in touch with a suitable stylist.
- I encourage female clients to use a hair and makeup artist and if they agree I’ll book one for them from my list of freelancers.
- Before we finish the call we set a time for a last call to touch base and make sure all boxes are ticked a week ahead of their photoshoot.
That’s a lot of planning! By the end of the call they know they’re in good hands, we have a clear plan for the day, they trust me and we know each other a little better, which leads to a relaxed shoot and better photos.
How do you shoot a branding session?
As with planning a brand shoot, every professional photographer has their own way of shooting a branding session. But if you’re new to branding photography and want advice on how to shoot a branding session, here’s how I do it…
1. Gear involved in brand shoots
I take quite a bit of photography gear to a branding session, because I use both natural light and flash, depending on the location. Each branding session differs slightly as it depends on the client’s business, but I always shoot indoors and outdoors for a well rounded visual identity.
So to make the branding shoot less exhausting for me and my client I always have an assistant who can help to carry things, hold light stands and keep an eye on bags while we’re photographing.
2. Order of brand photos
I start a branding session with the more formal photos and get gradually more casual, because a casual look doesn’t need to be as perfectly groomed as a formal photo.
3. Use a professional HMUA for brand shoots
The hair and makeup artist is also on set throughout the shoot to change hair and makeup to suit different outfits. This helps to create variety in the images produced.
4. Product photography and flat lays
If the small business sells products, I’ll maximise my time by doing the product photography while my client is in hair and makeup and/or changing. This includes flat lays and their work environment for personalised stock photography.
5. Brand shoot locations
Most of the time, especially for a new business, if a client works from home, their home office is too small or cluttered for good photos, so renting a meeting room at a coworking space works really well for the office look.
Lifestyle images are very much a part of every brand shoot, because it really helps to show another side of the small business owner or entrepreneur. So every brand shoot also includes more relaxed lifestyle images of them:
- Working in different environments where they normally work. These images are shot in a way that feels natural and not staged, even though they are of course staged
- Going for a run, walking with the family or taking the dog for a walk
- Meeting a friend, client or colleague in a coffee shop, park, coworkng space, etc
- Making a drink or lunch
- Whatever feels natural to the client and their lifestyle that they’re willing to share with the world and makes sense to their brand
What is a branding headshot?
Headshots are essential for social media profiles. A full length, three quarter length or even mid length shot is too far away and the potential client can’t connect with the person in the photo the way they can with a headshot. So, any branding photoshoot should include time where you concentrate on branding headshots.
Branding headshots differ slightly from standard business headshots in that, like all brand images, they need to convey emotion and personality. But your branding client doesn’t need to be laughing at the camera in every single photo. They’ll also need some more serious images, so make sure you include a range of looks.
Speaking of looks, a branding headshot is another opportunity to include the client’s brand colors in their image. As with all brand images, the colors don’t need to be in your face, but there should appear somewhere, even in the background.
Further reading: Portrait backgrounds – 4 photography mistakes you can easily avoid
Here’s a great idea for branding headshots that your clients will love…
I include 2 minutes of “let it all out” rapid fire headshots to capture personality. Your client needs to feel comfortable with you at this point so I do it at the end, like a last blast end of shoot celebration. You’ve got to get your client’s energy and your energy up before you do this. So…
- Get your client to choose their favourite rev up songs and crank up the volume
- Have relevant props within reach that they can grab for a few shots
- Encourage a lot of movement with spins, silly dancing, forced laughing (that leads to actual laughter) – you’ll have to do as much as they do, so be prepared to let it all out
- Do a practice run with them while the music is playing
- Then start shooting
- Don’t stop talking, giving direction and have fun with it
Obviously this won’t be suitable for every business – it all depends on the type of clients you attract with your own personal branding.
One last point – don’t surprise them with this. It’ll make an introvert want to curl up in the corner. My clients know we’re going to do this right from the very first conversation. Some people are more high energy than others and an essential skill for a portrait photographer is knowing how to work with different personalities and draw them out of themselves.
Why would you offer branding photography?
For many family photographers and wedding photographers weekends are filled with photoshoots, especially in the summer, with quieter week days. Not only is branding photography a lucrative genre of portrait photography, it takes place during the week.
Wedding photographers already have many of the skills required for brand photography. Plus, in the winter months many wedding photographers are quiet. Adding branding photography to your skillset helps to create a more stable year round photography business.
How much should you charge for personal branding photography?
How much you should charge for professional personal brand photography depends entirely on your CODB (cost of doing business), how much you need to make for the time you invest and your skill level. So it varies for everybody and I can’t give you a straight answer unfortunately.
What I can advise though is that to work out your CODB (cost of doing business) you should very carefully and realistically work out:
How many shoots you can do a year based on how long it will take and remember you need to time out for vacations. Include time spent on:
- Marketing yourself
- Client consultations
- The brand shoot (including getting there and back)
- Delivery of the finished digital images
Then add up the cost of:
- Marketing, including your website and attending networking meetings etc
- An annual allowance for replacing your gear
- Insurance costs, business subscriptions, education etc
- Staff and marketing costs
Add to this figure how much you need to earn (take home pay) to make it worth your while.
Divide the total figure by the number of shoots you can do per year.
Now add a bit for your skill level. If you’ve been realistic, that’s roughly what you should charge for a branding session.
Leave a comment
If you have any questions about professional branding photography, let me know in the comments.
Also, I love good news, so if my personal branding tips have helped you to start offering branding sessions, share that too.