How To Brand Yourself as a Photographer: Making a Name for Yourself Will Help You Makes Sales


© Casey Bevington

While branding might not be as sexy a topic as fashion or travel photography, it’s a critical element to making your photography business a success. Fortunately, we have a good group of educated and experienced photographers to help bring us up to date on what branding is, how to create it, mistakes to avoid, and why it’s so important to your business. Bottom line? Marketing your photography with a strong brand message will give you a competitive edge and get you paid what you are worth. I want to thank my patient contributors for sharing their knowledge and lessons with us: Casey Bevington, Matthew Dutile, Andrew Fingerman at PhotoShelter, Karen Hirsch, Giulio Sciorio, Beth Taubner at Mercurylab, and Daniel Waters at Get Pro Photo. They gave so many good ideas and tips that you will want to take notes!

Q: What is a “personal brand” and why is this important or necessary for photographers?

Beth Taubner: All brands are personal because they are based either on an individual or a company’s belief system or psychology. This belief system is at the root of who they are, what they do, how they approach their work, and additionally in the case of photographers, the images they make and take. Brands are based on mixtures of facts (e.g., a still life photographer with finely honed lighting skills) married with attributes, traits, personality, and characteristics (e.g., romantic, ethereal, dynamic). Every brand is constructed this way.

It’s important to have a differentiated brand because it enables the photographer to have a clearly articulated set of guidelines to use internally as a touchstone for how they run their business and for the images that they create. It becomes a clear kind of North Star that they can follow to help them create work that separates them from their competitors. A clearly articulated brand will also provide the external focus for their brand that they can then apply to all of their marketing and communications activities—portfolio, website, marketing pieces, social media, how they speak and write about the brand. A clear brand is like a visceral one-liner—this is what we want our audiences to be able to conjure up when they think about us, or see our work. It’s also a useful one-liner to use when we speak to ourselves, and can be a very powerful call to action.

Daniel Waters: A brand is the emotional response, or feeling, people have when using or thinking about your service. Photography is a service industry with an enormous amount of client interaction. You are the business. You’re not a faceless corporation. It’s all about you. How you interact with clients, how you look, and how you treat people are all critical to your brand. Ultimately your brand is your personality.

Your brand is critical because people hire people they like (and trust) and people who are like them. There are lots of talented photographers in every neighborhood. One of the key ways you can separate yourself from the competition is through your brand—your personality. Most types of photography are highly emotional purchases. A couple won’t hire a wedding photographer if they don’t feel their personalities and sensibilities fit. People will pay significantly more for a photographer they like and trust, even if another photographer is more talented but a poor “fit.” Think about two builders quoting you for an extension. One is scruffy and surly and doesn’t take their shoes off when entering the house. They don’t write down anything you say and seem rather uninterested. The other builder is more smartly dressed, shows you their ID badge, takes their shoes off, makes notes, takes photographs, asks questions, smiles, and says please and thank you. Would you be prepared to pay more for the second builder?

Andrew Fingerman: For photographers, a personal brand goes way beyond basic marketing elements like a logo, website design, or well-designed promotional materials. A brand is really the personality or essence of your business. It’s about who you are and how you communicate your strengths and specialties to your market. Your brand consists of your photographic style, your voice, your aesthetic, and most importantly, the feeling that you leave with clients when they work with you.

Although we’re now living in a visual world, where photo and video assets are treasured by companies and media as the most compelling way to engage with an audience, it’s still a “buyer’s market” for photographic talent. For clients and prospects, strong photographers are easy to find, and there’s often a less experienced, less expensive option waiting to take your spot. So, while standing out on talent alone would be nice, it’s not enough, and a strong personal brand can help professional photographers distinguish themselves to clients or prospects.

A strong brand will make you money and enable you to command a premium from clients. Try this exercise: If you’re the brand manager at a leading skiwear manufacturer, would you rather hire “the top outdoor adventure photographer in the world” or “a very capable photographer with a good outdoor photography portfolio”? Behold, the power of branding.

© Matt Dutile

Q: What are the pitfalls or mistakes to watch for when gearing up for brand promotion?

Beth Taubner: There seem to be three major issues. First, not having a yearly marketing promotion budget. I encourage my clients to set aside a monthly sum and put it into a marketing savings account so that they won’t feel the pinch of having to come up with a big sum of money all of a sudden to pay for a mailing or sourcebook ad. Promotion must be done on a regular schedule in order to work. Secondly, they tend to panic three to six months into the marketing cycle. It can take a year to 18 months to gain any traction from a specific marketing campaign so don’t panic! Hang in there! Thirdly, integrated marketing is the way to go—not single-channel marketing. It’s impossible to determine which client is going to be motivated by what kind of promotion—some respond to digital, some to social media, some to physical pieces—so it’s important to develop an integrated plan that is related in execution—not necessarily identical, but clearly part of the same system and campaign.

Daniel Waters: Ninety percent of photographers feel that if they have a cool logo, lovely photographs, and a professional-looking website then that’s enough. Branding isn’t only about logos, color palettes, and straplines. It’s about injecting your personality into everything you do so that people have an emotional connection with your business. It’s everything, including the little details like writing thank you cards, remembering anniversaries, listening, and caring.

Too many photographers copy each other. Their websites all look the same, they don’t explain what makes them different and they don’t define their target market. They try to be all things to all people and end up appealing to no one. When no one calls them, they use price to differentiate themselves and this is the beginning of the end. Again, words are the currency of persuasion. Very few websites have enough words on them. People will read your website if it’s helpful, interesting, and full of personality. These words help prospects feel like they know you and makes them much more likely to get in touch.

Matthew Dutile: Nothing falls apart quicker than half-assed or cobbled together branding. You can tell it when you see it. For instance, if you hand me a business card I should be able to find the same typeface or style on your website. You don’t want to present one thing and then show a completely different format in another medium. Same goes for e-mail promotions, direct mail, and portfolios. Cohesion is king.

Andrew Fingerman: When considering true marketing campaigns, like e-mail blasts and direct mail drops, the biggest pet peeve we hear from would-be clients is that the gunshot approach doesn’t work, and wastes time (and paper) for both the photographer and prospect. Firing promos to every buyer possible, without regard to relevance and what that buyer may need, is a losing proposition. In other words, don’t send your promo featuring still life images of consumer products to the editor of a luxury travel magazine. You’ll see much greater success if you invest the time and effort to make sure the audience you’re targeting is a match for your specialty, subject matter, style, or location.

© Karen I. Hirsch

Q: What are the best ways for photographers to promote their brand?

Karen Hirsch: Be consistent with the logo, color scheme, and font for when communicating with your client. From stationery to business cards, blogs, websites, direct mail pieces, flyers, etc., have a catchy tag line that pervades your marketing materials. Choose a domain name that defines your brand whether it is your name or what you do. For your URL, select keywords that correspond to you and your photography—e.g., Use keywords in your copy on your website. Use keywords in your text that define your brand. Think about where your clients would hang out and get in with them. An architectural photographer can get a table at a trade show for architects or building contractors. Participate in networking groups in person or online. Write articles and give presentations that show your expertise in your specialty by sharing information or stories such as “Five Things to Do to Prepare for Your Photo Session,” or “How I Got the Photo of the Pope with Madonna.” Become the go-to guy for reporters and editors when they need information or a quote about your specialty. Go to photo conferences like PhotoPlus Expo, FOTOfusion, and the Palm Springs Festival where you can meet the editors and curators at portfolio reviews. Sponsor events where your clients will be in attendance. Make alliances with other businesses that cater to your audience and do joint promotions.

© Mercurylab

Daniel Waters: Everything you say and write to promote your business must support your brand image. For example, you can’t promote yourself on quality if you’re cheap. The most critical ingredient for promoting your brand is words, both written and spoken. You can’t demonstrate what your brand is if you don’t communicate. Beautiful photographs aren’t enough. Your words are what set you apart from the competition. They need to be injected with emotion, enthusiasm, and sincerity, plus some distinct reasons why someone should choose you over another photographer. For example, my money-back guarantee makes me unique in my area. However, I don’t just say “I offer a money-back guarantee.” That’s boring and devoid of sincerity. I say, “I understand how important your wedding photographs are to you and that it’s hard to choose the right photographer. That’s why I’m the only photographer in the area who offers a written guarantee that if you don’t love your photographs and the service you receive then I’ll give you all your money back. That’s how much I care about creating images you’ll really treasure. If you’re not thrilled then I don’t deserve to be paid.”

Casey Bevington: The biggest social media misconception is that it’s all about building up the largest number of followers possible, when, in fact, quality of followers is the key, not quantity. You want 10 of the right people following you, rather than 1,000 of the wrong ones. The way to do this is to consistently post high-quality content, unique to each social media channel. Just like big brands and magazines do, create an editorial calendar for each social media channel (Instagram, Facebook, Twitter) and stick to it. Rather than posting the same thing on all channels, create unique posts tailored toward each one. Instagram is great for strong, individual images and encouraging social interaction. Facebook is good for sharing a series of photos, as an album, and encouraging people to share those on their feeds.

Giulio Sciorio: Work is something you do, art is something you live. How I dress, the music I listen to, my home life, how I talk, even my wife is part of my personal brand. All those parts of my life feed my art directly and are part of my personal brand. Incorporate your personal brand into products you use and give away such as business cards, T-shirts, and stickers. Get the highest quality or don’t bother. Work with a professional designer. Having a thin and poorly designed business card says something completely different from a well-designed card printed on premium stock. I tie everything into a branding guide that I send out to press and potential clients with my logos, how to use my logos, bio in various length, headshots, and various social media links.

Matthew Dutile: Photographers are really finding different ways to make it work based on their personalities. Some are pulling down jobs through Instagram posts, others through great direct mail marketing, some through elusive meetings, and a whole host of ways. Whatever you decide to do, do it as best as it can be done—that’s the only rule these days. There are so many communication vehicles. It’s a great time to be an artist and to have the myriad of outlets to express your vision.

Andrew Fingerman: This is important. Every single touch point—every possible point of interaction with a client—should be considered an opportunity to promote your brand. Grab a pen and paper and map this out. How do people first learn about or engage with your content (perhaps social media, perhaps at an event)? What do they look at to evaluate services like yours? What do they do after they make that choice (proposal/contract)? How do you interact mid-project? How do you wrap up the project and deliver finished content? I bet you can come up with several ways to make your approach unique, or even ways to improve on the commonly accepted ways things get done. Choose the improvements you feel will have the biggest impact on your brand and test them out.

For example, if you’re a wedding photographer, how do you package and deliver the final album and prints? Is the handoff experience, and the product itself, something that your client will want to tell their friends about? I hope so! Better yet, will they take a picture and post that to social media?

Your blog (and other blogs you might contribute to) also offer an outstanding tool for brand promotion. With a blog, you have the ability to tell the “story behind the story”—where you can showcase your brand in action. Blogging about projects also becomes a pedestal for demonstrating your professionalism, your problem-solving ability, your sense of humor, or your mastery of a subject.

Casey Bevington:
Matthew Dutile:
Andrew Fingerman:
Karen Hirsch:
Giulio Sciorio:
Beth Taubner:
Daniel Waters: