Brand Photography: 6 Steps to Getting the Best Images
How recent is your professional headshot? I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess that any images you have are old and you haven’t invested in a professional brand photoshoot in quite some time.
Please don’t take offense — so many people are using outdated images to represent themselves professionally. Until recently, the headshot I was using was taken over four years ago by a business friend who wasn’t even a professional photographer. While the image served me well over the years, my business had matured, and I wanted my visuals to showcase that growth, too.
I knew that investing in professional brand photography was exactly what I needed as I worked behind the scenes on a complete marketing rebrand, but when it came down to hiring and planning for the experience I wasn’t quite sure what to do.
Here, I’ll share my best advice on hiring a photographer, planning for your shoot, surviving the experience, and ending up with photos that perfectly represent your professional identity.
1. Find a brand photographer
Before you start pinning outfit ideas to Pinterest or buying accessories to use in your shoot, find a photographer with an aesthetic that fits your goals for your future pictures. The best place to start is by asking for recommendations from your colleagues. They may be able to point you in the direction of a local brand photographer who does excellent work.
If you don’t get any referrals, a simple Google search can get you started. Simply type in “brand photographer” and “your location”. Once you have a list of potential photographers, check out their websites and social media accounts until you find one who’s pricing and portfolio match what you’re looking for.
In an interview for this article, Mallika Malhotra, a brand strategist and photographer, suggests that professionals hire a photographer who not only knows how to take good photos, but also understands business and branding as well.
She says, “Potential photographers should be asking questions about your brand, about who you are, about what you stand for, about who your ideal client is, and about the marketing activities you have planned for the year so they can create photo stories around that information.”
2. Hire or book any other vendors
You might think a brand photographer is the only one involved in your shoot, but many professionals actually make additional hires before the big day. For example, you might want to consider working with a personal stylist, a hairstylist, or a makeup artist to achieve the look you’re hoping for.
You might also consider booking a venue for the location of the photoshoot if your photographer does not have their own studio or you don’t have an on-site work location that you want to be photographed in. I work from home, so I decided to go this route and book a venue with an aesthetic that matched my brand. If you’re looking for a location for your brand photoshoot, check out co-working spaces, hotels, or Airbnbs in your area.
Angie Trueblood, founder of The Podwize Group, a podcast marketing consultancy, actually took a hybrid approach when she did a brand photoshoot this month. In an interview for this article, she says, “I have a private office in a local coworking space, so we shot there because it’s such a great environment. But I actually booked three additional rooms for the shoot: a large speaking area, a smaller conference room, and an additional office space that was staged nicely to get a variety of shots in different spaces.”
Just make sure to book any additional vendor immediately after your photographer so you can ensure all the people you want to hire are available on the day of your shoot and that any places you’re renting are not booked during the time you need them.
3. Prepping for the brand photoshoot
You might be surprised to hear this, but the success of your final images really depends on the work that’s done before the day of the brand photoshoot. Now that your vendors are booked and a date is on the calendar, it’s up to you and your photographer to plan which shots are important to get and what you’ll need to make those pictures successful.
Malhotra says, “A brand photoshoot is not a show-up-and-shoot experience. Spend time planning ahead. Know what the stories are that you want to tell about your brand that will demonstrate your personality, process, your point of difference, and your purpose, and then get them organized.”
If you’re feeling a bit confused as to what “stories” you’d like to capture in your brand photoshoot, simply think about what normally happens during your average workday. Are any of these activities something you’d like to show in your pictures?
For example, as a copywriter, posing with my laptop was an obvious photo story I wanted to capture. We also decided that images with a typewriter and a paper and pen would be smart additions, as well as an oversized website wireframe as that’s part of my process. But that’s not it. As I am planning to launch a podcast by the end of the year, we also created some staged shots of me with a microphone and a computer to use in my podcast marketing materials.
Malhotra suggests communicating these choices with your photographer in advance. She says, “Make sure that you and the photographer are both in agreement and alignment on how you’re going to express your photo stories. You don’t want to show up at your shoot scrambling and taking random pictures. You want to make sure that your story is clear and defined, and that you have a shot list of everything that you’re trying to capture on shoot day.”
Once this is figured out, make a list of all the accessories you may need to buy or bring with you. My list included items such as a coffee mug, Sharpies, Post-It notes, glasses, a bottle of Writer’s Tears whiskey (What can I say? I’m super corny!), books, a microphone, headphones, a planner, pens, a computer, my outfits, makeup, and more.
Now let’s talk about what to wear: My best advice is to dress in clothing that you feel comfortable in. I’m not a stylist, so I can’t help you pick out the exact items of clothing to wear, but for most professionals, the clothing you wear to work would likely work well in your brand photoshoot. That wasn’t the case for me, as my usual work uniform is yoga pants and a t-shirt. When it came time to choose my outfits, I picked one “professional” outfit with a blazer, one “creative” outfit with a colorful skirt, and two outfits I felt I would have worn to either a conference or networking event.
Trueblood also wanted to feel comfortable and have that come across in her images. She says, “I knew the colors of my rebrand, but I didn’t want to overwhelmingly try to match them in the outfits I chose. I wanted to show up as myself in clothes that I felt good and comfortable in.” I felt the same way. Like Trueblood, I had touches of my brand colors in my outfits but chose many neutrals so I could use the images in a variety of ways.
But there’s more to planning than choosing the clothing, colors, and accessories. Malhotra suggests, “It’s really important before your photo shoot to think about the vision for your business and share that vision with your photographer. Yes, we’re trying to capture images of your brand right now, but it’s also important to think about where you want to be in two years, three years, or five years, so that you can optimize this experience and you can build a library of visuals.”
4. Dealing with pre-shoot anxiety
Even if you’re confident in your preparations, there’s a good chance you’re going to feel some level of anxiety leading up to the photoshoot. Personally, I started second-guessing all of my planning the week before the shoot. I started shopping for new items of clothing and props, and I internally struggled about how I’d visually appear in the images.
The best piece of advice here is to call in a colleague or trusted friend for support. Lay out your plan for the shoot and ask them if they see any gaps that you’re missing. Maybe they’ll point out that all your planned shots are of you individually, and it would be great to have a few of you interacting with a customer, even if that “customer” was a friend you called in for help. Or, maybe they’ll congratulate you for your hard work and give you a bit of a self-esteem boost to lift your spirits.
Once your strategy is well planned, there’s nothing more that you can do. Try to relax as best as possible, in whatever way works best for you. Deep breathing, repeating positive affirmations, spending time with friends, or binging your favorite tv shows are all appropriate ways to cope as you wait for the day to come.
5. The day of the actual shoot
When the big day arrives, it’s time to get ready. Dress your best, practice your smile in the mirror, and head to the place where your brand photoshoot is taking place.
It gets real weird right when the brand photoshoot begins. Suddenly you don’t know how to hold a coffee cup in a way that’s not awkward or you’re smiling in an absolutely abnormal way. How do I know this? Those were both things I was mentally focused on during the beginning of my recent shoot. I didn’t know where I should be looking or what I should be doing, and it made me feel insecure.
Trust me when I say this moment is fleeting. I’ve worked with many photographers in the past for various life events and all good photographers know how to make people feel comfortable in front of the camera. And my photographer did just that.
Your photographer will guide the shoot based on what they see on their camera. They’ll suggest you move to a different angle, push back your hair if it’s sticking out awkwardly, or adjust your accessories to get the most realistic, best images possible.
They’ll build you up by telling you when you’re doing a great job and when you look your best. Eventually, those jitters you felt in the beginning of the shoot will fade away and you’ll feel a lot more comfortable during the process.
Depending what you hire your photographer for, you may need to change clothes, readjust the set, move rooms or even locations to continue capturing those strategized stories. That shot list you created before the big day should keep you both organized. Make sure you’re regularly referencing so you don’t miss any of the shots you were hoping to capture.
6. After the brand photoshoot is over
You might have had fun during the photoshoot, but it will be such a relief for it to finish. All your hard work is done, and all you have to do is wait to get the deliverables from your photographer.
All photographers have a different process, so make sure to ask yours in advance what you should expect after they’re done taking pictures of you, such as the approximate number of images you can expect and when they will be ready for you. Your photographer may send you a large batch of pictures and let you pick a set number of those to keep or they may curate a collection for you of what they think the best images are.
When you get your new brand photos, remember to take a moment and write testimonials for any vendor you worked with. You know how important positive reviews are for your business, and your kind words can help them too.
Now, go book your photographers, get your pictures taken, update your website and social media accounts and enjoy the feeling of showing up professionally in the best light possible.