I chose brand photography because I wanted to see strong, independent business owners succeed. Yes, also because I eat, sleep and breath photography! I “work” practically all the time because I genuinely enjoy learning more, helping others’ brands, and challenging myself to do new things. It took owning, running, and closing several businesses before I decided to pursue brand photography as a career. [Read about that shift in How I Became a Brand Photographer] Even then, it took a few years of shifting gears and re-focusing to figure out what it is I really want to do in this industry. It all boils down to helping others be seen, heard, and valued. With that in mind, this blog is for you budding brand photographers. I’m writing today about how to become a brand photographer.
I never thought I would find something that I loved to so deeply. I feel so lucky to have finally found what really brings me joy in life, and I truly don’t feel like it’s work at all! One of the unexpected pleasures of this work is the chance to uplift another business owner. Having gone down the path of entrepreneurship before, I know that business ownership can feel so lonely. Brand messaging and putting yourself out there doesn’t come easily. Audiences don’t appear out of nowhere. It’s hard work learning marketing! Some business owners are the best in their craft, but they don’t have a deep grasp of brand management. And that’s okay! To excel in brand photography, you have to find joy in meeting other business owners where they are and helping guide them to the right brand image for them. You have to be willing to get to know them on a personal level in order to tell their brand story through your photography. If your heart is not in helping the people behind the business, you’re in the wrong photography niche.
I knew without a doubt I didn’t want to be a Wedding Photographer. I had experienced massive burnout during my season as a wedding planner, and I knew that industry was not for me. Had I known then what I know now about truly connecting with my clients and how to personally brand myself, I might have had a different take. Finding the right clients is an art, and I had an elementary grasp of it back then. But, I truly believe everything happens for a reason and that reason now is crystal clear. What I did remember from my time in wedding planner was the amazing florists, caterers, bakers, photographers, dress designers, rental companies, graphic designers, and all those who came together to support the couple’s vision. There was always so much talent in the room when I showed up to wedding days. The people I met fueled my creative fire!
I get you because I was you. I understand your pain, and know how lonely it can be to run a business. Even with all the support around you, as you get busier you get more lonely. I also get the sacrifices you make. I remember the desire to go out to dinner with a friend and the guilt for wanting to cancel or needing to cancel because of the self-imposed deadlines you’ve created for yourself to create your amazing business. Heck, I still do this to myself! We’re both on a creative and independent journey to better our businesses, and I want to see you flourish.
So, let’s get to the education, shall we?
These steps are in no particular order. This is not an all inclusive, master list of how to become a brand photographer. It’s more complicated than a single list article can summarize. Like I’ve said, there’s so much heart you have to put in this business. Working with personal brands means your own brand will be personal! And therefore, your journey won’t look just like mine. What I do know is that there are foundational things that you have to do in order to become a brand photographer at all. Here is where you start!
There’s no such thing as too much practice. Photography is an art, and it takes time to understand how to get results you want. The first few shoots will be the hardest to book, and the hardest to shoot and edit. Often, new photographers get into the branding niche by offering to photograph brands or products for free, and then the business can purchase the final images if they would be useful. I love this because I really believe that you should never work for free. All services delivered–no matter how new you are–are worth something. Having the business buy the finished product without a commitment or session fee is a win-win for new photographers. You get to expand on your portfolio and create a potential sale, while they only purchase what they will use and don’t run the risk of hiring a novice photographer that fails to perform.
Every industry has niches. In this case, niches have niches! There are certain types of people and businesses you will work best with. If your style is bold and energetic, you’ll serve brands best if they also have a bold brand voice. If you are more sentimental and sensitive, you might have a super power for bringing out the emotion in people during your portrait sessions. Think about what makes you feel most accomplished, who you’re around when you’re happiest, and what brands you love to buy from. Somewhere in there, your ideal client profile is starting to form. You won’t be the best brand photographer for everyone, and that’s okay!
Get in there with them. Have a downtown commission, local chamber of commerce, niche industry group, committee, etc. for your ideal clients around you? Join, engage, listen, see what you can learn. Maybe they’re not ready for brand photography yet because the average small business in your area doesn’t even have a grasp on their brand. They might not even know what brand photography is! Find where the community is, and meet them there. You may still end up selling them the same services, but first you have to speak their language.
Be an example of the impact of strong personal branding. If you’re going to be the expert in something in your area, you have to execute it for yourself too!
This one is essential, but the investments themselves are subjective. I’m not talking about a particular camera, lens, lighting equipment, etc. But you need to have legitimate tools to provide a quality experience for your clients, in a legally sound exchange. You’ll need a business license, an understanding of the tax laws locally, a contract for your client to sign, a way to deliver the contract, invoice, and final images, and so on. Think about what tools you’ll need to back up images so they are safe in case of technological failure, or to ensure that you have working equipment every day if anything were to happen to your main camera body or laptop. You will also need insurance for an incidences that do happen. If you want to work with professionals, you have to be professional too!
You will never be done learning. Whether it’s foundational photography skills, equipment, editing techniques, client experience, or how to market yourself… there’s always something new to learn! I can’t count the amount of educational content I’ve purchased in the last couple years. Some of it is still sitting on my computer ready to be consumed. You don’t always have to be jumping on the latest trend or buying new classes. But, don’t find yourself stagnant.
In the beginning, aim for variety in your clientele. This doesn’t mean you take every client. You can stay within your niche and still have variety! When I first started out, I mainly offered brand photography for culinary professionals. Variety for me meant a baker, a coffee shop owner, a personal chef, a catering company, a business coach for chefs, a fresh food market. You get the point! You can serve a specific clientele and still have a varied portfolio. This will come with time.
Boldly, boldly, BOLDLY market your value! You are taking a conversation with a business owner and translating it into powerful, narrative imagery that communicates their brand story and allows them to SELL! If you do it well, that should be priceless! You have to educate people on the impact of personal brand photography. Most don’t understand. Pictures are pictures, right? Why doesn’t it cost the same as a little family photoshoot? The strategy behind the session is incredibly valuable.
You have to be profitable, and make a livable wage. This isn’t just paying yourself a good hourly wage. You also have to account for business expenses, self employment taxes, and benefits. Yes, benefits! No one is going to give you paid time off, retirement matching, or health insurance benefits. As a small business owner, these are now your costs. If you work is going to further other people’s businesses and make them money, then you deserve to be compensated well!
It’s easy to go into a brand photoshoot thinking you know what you’re doing and end up with a variety of headshots in different outfits, photos of journals, laptops, and coffee mugs, and one or two behind the scenes options and that’s it. You have to understand marketing in order to do a great job at brand photography. Part of photographing brands and businesses means understanding the ways each image will be used. Who is their audience? What message are they trying to portray? Are there unique factors you need to communicate? Shoot with a plan and purpose for each image.
Entrepreneurship feels so lonely. But it doesn’t have to be! There’s a community of like-minded businesses out there. Find your local community, and put down deep roots. Understand that business owners are prone to overworking themselves and burning out. Set limits. Strike balance. Make new friends and take on creative projects that fuel your spirit. Most small businesses close after a couple years. The key to longevity is find your passion, purpose, and people!
It is about the moments we are together and capturing what is inside you that really lights me up inside. Over the holiday I had taken a little time off for family and didn’t even realize how much I missed shooting until we headed to the beach where it was bitter cold and windy and I could have stayed all day! Now, I am not a senior photographer, I am a brand photographer. But, it was the simple act of capturing those moments that really fires me up! I get so excited when we work together, screaming with laughter is usually part of the deal on a shoot day and even more funny when we are in the middle of the street or surrounded by a crowd of people haha.
I honestly had never done a senior and was a little nervous about executing it in the right way. It was overcast, bitter cold and windy on the beach in the middle of December, but I couldn’t feel the cold, I was too busy screaming with laughter like I always do when I shoot! I fell right into routine and had so much fun. On the drive back, I realized how luck I am to have found something I am absolutely in love with doing! I get to share my gifts with the world in a way that brings both joy and success to other peoples businesses. It proved to me that even though I am not a senior photographer, just the art of creating something new and unique that inspired happiness is what it is all about for me. I think that is why I have a one week turn around on the galleries I deliver, because I am probably more excited then you are to see the results of our sessions!
To say I have found where I am meant to be in life is an understatement. I have found my happy place! If you’re reading this at the beginning of your brand photography career, welcome. I hope you find as much joy in this too!
I know I would have loved to have skipped some of my bad ideas in the early days and gotten more concrete direction. I got in this business to help people, and that means my “competition” included! There’s room up here for many more of you! This is why I now offer brand photography mentorship. Whether you just picked up a camera or have been stuck in a stage you just can’t grow past for years, I’m ready to help you figure out what’s the next best strategic step for your business. Email me and we’ll set up a time to chat!