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  • Writer's pictureSarah Tulej

The Ultimate Guide to Personal Branding Photography

Updated: Jan 28, 2022

Woman at desk writing with colourful post-it notes in the background, a plant and yellow lamp

What is personal branding photography all about?

If you're a business owner or a freelancer you probably know somewhere in the back of your mind that you should be working on your personal brand. Or at the very least you need to update that ancient LinkedIn photo on your profile.

Personal branding photography is a new but growing genre, and is a major piece in the marketing jigsaw for people with product or service-based businesses. Moving beyond headshots, a brand photoshoot portrays you in depth - going behind the scenes, showing your unique personality and giving you oodles of great visual content to market your business.

But you might be wondering whether having a personal branding photoshoot is worth the investment, or whether you even have the confidence to get in front of the camera.

This article breaks down all of the burning questions I hear as a brand photographer from my clients in Rotterdam and London. So read on if you want to understand whether personal branding photography is right for you and your business.

If you want to know what it's like working with me in particular, then check out this article (including how I plan your shoot from start to finish) then I have an article for you all about it.

Here's what's in this article:

How do you plan a personal branding shoot? (including locations, themes and props)

Why is it important to have personal branding photos?

There are tonnes of articles on the importance of having a strong personal brand, including this great one from Forbes and this podcast about how to build your personal brand from Squiggly Careers.

If you run a business, you may be a coach, an architect, a designer, a photographer even, then you know you have a LOT of competition out there. What's the thing that's going to set you apart from the competition and win over potential clients? The answer is: YOU.

Having a set of high quality brand photos can really help to grow your business. Here's how.

Differentiating yourself from the competition

No one else has the same story as you, the same values, the same taste in music to dance around your living room to when no one is watching. And, once you've convinced people of your skill set and experience, your personality is the thing that will make someone choose to work with you rather than someone else.

Your personal brand is at the heart of building trust with potential clients, employers, investors, or whoever you are trying to reach with your marketing.

Building trust with potential clients

We're all used to buying products and services online, but we're also wary of being ripped off or tired of shallow 'influencer marketing.' As well as reading reviews and going through someone's website, if someone is very visible across their marketing, showing their face regularly and talking to you, then that is going to speed up the process of you getting to know, like and trust them (aka the holy grail of marketing).

Nowadays we don't expect people to be perfect and polished. We want to see a bit more of who they really are, what their kitchen looks like, where they like to hang out at the weekend.

Great personal branding photography builds trust in a way that a faceless company will struggle to do half as effectively.

Building genuine connection

After our collective experience living through a pandemic, many of us had a crash course in living and working online. And, while we are gradually getting used to life 'IRL' again, a huge portion of our lives is going to still be lived online (like it or not).

Having high quality pictures of yourself to share is going to be ever more important to help build connection and relationships with people that you might never meet face to face. We all check each other out on LinkedIn or Instagram before meeting someone as a matter of course these days. How you show up on these platforms is hugely important because for many people it's the first impression they get of us. If they receive a warm welcome then it really helps to get working relationships off to a good start.

Woman in white jacket looking through a wire fence at a moving train in Rotterdam

What is personal branding photography?

Personal branding photography is about creating a bank of images to use to represent you as a business owner and help your clients to get to know, like and trust you.

Personal branding photography is more than a headshot

Often people come to me and say that they just need a new headshot for their LinkedIn. For some people, that's just about enough. But for many people - particularly the service-based business owners that I work with - a simple head and shoulders shot isn't going to cut it.

You may hear it referred to as business photography, or corporate photography but, to me, these sound a little impersonal. Personal branding photography is about capturing the heart and soul of your business.

So, on a personal branding shoot you may want to capture what you do 'behind the scenes.' You could show yourself interacting with your clients, the tools of your trade, or how you unwind. The aim is to capture a series of expressions from calm authorativeness to playfulness. All with the goal of building trust with your audience and standing out from your competition.

Why should I invest in personal branding photography?

There are several benefits to brand photography which are the reason that established business owners plan it as part of their annual marketing spend and see it as an important investment in their brand.

It will save you time (and money)

If you're like me, you will have wasted time scrolling through your phone for half decent selfies or historic photos to use to accompany a post. Or, just as frustrating, you may have spent half an hour taking selfies only to reject all of them. Having a bank of beautiful, high quality images to draw on for your website and socials will save you the time and hassle of trying to do it yourself.

You have plenty of things to be getting on with to run your business, and time is short. Having professional photos ticks a big job off that long list.

It will give you a strong and consistent brand image

While I think the idea of having to have the perfect Instagram grid has been debunked, it is important to have a consistent look and feel to what you put out into the world. High quality photography shows the world that you take your business seriously, and people are attracted to beautifully photographed images.

It will boost your confidence

Having professional images of yourself that you love will make you feel that bit more professional. It shows to the world that you are someone to be taken seriously, and gives your business a big credibility boost. A great brand photographer will know how to take flattering photos that you'll hopefully be just as happy to share on your online dating profile as your business one (well, within reason...).

Many of my clients tell me that the photos gave them a boost to their self-esteem, and meant they were no longer frightened to increase their online presence now they had the right images to share.

Woman wearing grey jumper smiling with eyes closed in the sun, underneath pier by the sea

How can I use my personal brand images to promote my business?

There are so many ways that your brand images can help to market your business. Here is a list of all the ways I have seen my clients use their images, but there are no doubt plenty more:

  • Social profile pictures (LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram)

  • Social media posts

  • Website banner

  • Website About Me section

  • Podcast cover

  • Author photo in book jacket

  • Printed marketing materials (leaflets, brochures, flyers)

  • In proposal / pitch decks

  • On CVs

  • Speaking engagements

  • Guest blog posts

Using your brand images in multiple places gives a huge boost to your visibility, particularly when you use a consistent style across different platforms.

How do you choose a personal branding photographer?

The best way to find a great photographer is through personal recommendation. Check out who took the photos of people in your area that you really like. Google 'personal brand photographers near me.'

But. overall, the key to getting photos you love is finding someone that a) whose style you like, b) you think you will click with and c) you can afford.

Find someone whose style you like

Finding someone whose style you like is very important because that style is going to be infused in your photos. So, if someone is quite light and airy and ethereal, that vibe is going to be in the photos of you. Other people edge towards a vintage, almost sepia look which can look great but may not work at all with your brand.

Spend time looking at different photographers websites and Instagram profiles to get a feel for the style which feels most 'you.'

Find someone you think you will click with

Plenty of photographers post a lot on Instagram, about themselves as well as their photos. They may have a section on their website breaking down what they're like to work with, or have a load of Google reviews. Generally finding someone who seems friendly and approachable is a good start as you want to be able to break the ice quickly on the photshoot.

If you are camera shy (like 95% of us) then look out for photographers that talk about helping their clients to pose and overcome nervousness. That is going to make all the difference when it comes to getting relaxed photos of yourself.

Once you contact someone you're interested in working with, ideally they should offer a phone call to get to know each other a bit and find out exactly what you need. If, after that, you are not sure whether they're right for you, definitely follow up with more questions or try someone else and see if they seem more well-suited.

After speaking to them, before you decide to go ahead you should definitely feel confident that your photographer is interested in working with you, that you'll get on well, and that you're in good hands.

Find a photographer you can afford

The price of professional photography varies, which may be related to the level of experience they have, the type of client they normally work with and the industry they work in. You should easily be able to find someone in your budget (within reason!)

It is worth investing in someone whose work you love, particularly if you remember that brand photography is a business investment and will ultimately build your brand. But do choose something that is in your budget so that you don't have the stress of a big invoice layered onto the process. As long as it feels good value to you (and that means different things to different people), then you will be going into the experience with a positive mindset.

If you're on a tight budget, something to look out for is whether photographers offer mini sessions, where you spend less for fewer photos. This is a great way to get started while you build up your reserve of cash.

Which brand photographers do you recommend?

I'm lucky to know some fantastic photographers, particularly in the UK where I have done most of my training as a photographer. Here is a non-exhaustive list of some UK-based brand photographers I know and recommend:

Woman in orange jacket leaning against dark green brick wall

How do you plan a personal branding shoot?

A good photographer should plan your shoot with you so that you feel prepared and confident before you get in front of the camera. Here are the key things to plan in advance so that you have a great shoot.

Think about the themes you want to capture

When I prepare for a shoot with my clients I aks them to think about what aspects of their life and business they want me to capture for them. For example, it could be 'behind the scenes,' the tools of their trade, how they work with clients, the great outdoors, family - whatever is most relevant to their personal brand.

This then helps us to plan which locations, outfits and props to go for in the shoot. Pinterest can be a great source of inspiration for your photos, so head on over and create a board. This is a really useful thing to show to your photographer so they can see what ideas you would like to try out.

Decide what format you need the shots in

This is really useful information to give to your photographer beforehand so they can get the perfect images for you. For example, you may want a really striking wide angle shot for your website banner, or a portrait shot for the author photo of your forthcoming book.

Or, if you plan to use your content all over Instagram then let your photographer know so they can ensure the photos will fit the format.

Pick a great location

One of the most important things to aim for in a shoot is variety. One of the main ways you can do this is by changing up the location. That doesn't mean you need to travel very far though. Aim for locations that can offer a lot of variety in a relatively small area. For example, picking a spot near a park that can offer a bit of nature as well as an urban setting works very well.

Should I use a cafe for my shoot?

Often my branding clients like to use cafes, however there is no guarantee that a) there will be a place to sit that is good for photos and b) the owners will be ok about it. You may be able to get some cafe shots if you are lucky but if you really want to set up 'working lifestyle' shots, then consider hiring an event space off Airbnb for your shoot. This is a good option if your actual working space is quite small or dark and you want to make sure you get some some great indoor shots of yourself working.

Other things to consider when choosing locations

Will there be many people walking around, or will it be quiet? If you are someone that gets very self conscious then choosing a quiet spot will help take that factor out of the equation.

Something you may not realise is that not everywhere permits photography (because the space is privately owned) and so double check that isn't going to trip you up.

Always factor in travel time if you are using more than one location as that will eat into the time you have for taking photos. And remember that public transport can often take longer than planned!

Two women business partners standing in summer garden

What if the weather is terrible?

If, like me, you tend to work in rainy places like Rotterdam and London, consider picking places that provide shelter in case the heavens open during your shoot. An overhang or bridge you can stand underneath are good options.

However, sometimes the elements are truly against us and you may need to reschedule your shoot. A bit of drizzle is manageable but driving rain and high winds are going to make a shoot very difficult. Always check what your photographer's policy is on rescheduling in the event of bad weather (or other events, like government restrictions). Most will be happy to change the date when the circumstances are outside your control.

Think about what props to use

Props add a bit of interest to a shoot and also can help to calm you down as you warm up as you have something else to focus on rather than just posing! Common props to use are your laptop, notebook and coffee cup.

In a shoot with an architect and seaweed designer she got out her paints, product samples and sketchbooks for the shoot. A facilitator I worked with stuck up post-it notes to simulate her giving a workshop. A sourdough baker used a ball of dough, packets of ingredients and recipe books as part of showing herself at work.

Props can be used to take 'flat lay' photos, which are photos taken from above, to vary the content from just portraits of you.

Props can also add hints of colour that can align with your brand colour palette.

Think about whether you want to involve any other people

If you have a client-facing business it's a great idea to get some shots showing you interacting with them. I worked with a strength and conditioning coach and she offered a free training session in return for her client being photographed.

Make sure to give people plenty of notice and be very clear on what is expected of them and when to arrive, so that it all goes smoothly. Your photographer will ask them to sign something called a model release form so that you and the photographer get permission from the other person to use images of them.

Woman wearing red lipstick laughing by white painted brick wall

What should I wear to a brand photoshoot?

This is the source of much angst for many of my clients. The short answer is... whatever you like! But there are few guidelines to help you.

First of all, pick something you will confident and comfortable in. If you never wear a skirt, then I would steer clear for your shoot as you may feel awkward.

If your shoot allows for outfit changes then go to town - variety is one way to ensure you get a lot of value from your photos. Easy tricks are to bring jumpers or jackets to take on and off. Same with scarves and even hats. You may also want to experiment with having your hair both up and down, and putting glasses on or off.

In terms of colours, I am always a fan of a block colour rather than patterns as it tends to make you stand out more and also patterns can date more quickly. Beware of dressing in all black as this can make your body disappear if you're not careful (which is NOT the object of a brand shoot!).

Bear in mind that if you are travelling with clothing to avoid bringing things that crease easily, not always the best look.

If you are really struggling to decide what to wear then try things on, take a few photos and get a second opinion from a friend whose fashion sense you trust.

How many outfits should I bring?

I always thing it's a good idea to bring a few so that you can get plenty of variety. For a three hour shoot then three outfits is very doable. Just bear in mind that you'll need a place to get changed. If you're not shy then getting changed in the street is always an option!

Woman in red jumper in front of deep blue wall

Do I need to get my hair and makeup done professionally for my shoot?

Not at all, but if that's something that would make you feel good then go for it! I am all for showing people as they normally are, and so for me these are not a priority. However plenty of people do want the feel-good factor of professional hair and makeup.

Discuss with your photographer if you plan to use a hair and makeup artist. They may be able to give you personal recommendations of people to use. At the very least they will want to know timings so that the shoot is not delayed by the extra time needed for hair and makeup.

How do I pose for my brand photoshoot?

Posing is something that most of my clients feel really nervous about and I give a lot of guidance and encouragement to them during the entire shoot. Being really vocal about what looks good, what is working, helps to relax people and start to enjoy the process, which leads to great photos.

For me, posing in brand photography should look very natural so I look out for the positions that people naturally strike when they are relaxed, and then ask them to stay in that position or tweak it slightly.

Good posture is a must! Standing up straight and relaxing your shoulders makes the world of difference and is something I continuously remind people to do during a shoot.

Some of the 'go-to' poses are standing with arms folded, one hand on your hip, leaning against a wall, or perching on the edge of a chair or steps. Generally it's a good idea to put the weight in one side of your body and stand at a slight angle to the camera.

If you're particularly nervous then have a practice in front of a full length mirror. Or, if you find yourself waiting in a queue, take a moment to notice what pose you naturally adopt.

Overall I would say that posing becomes a lot easier once you relax into the shoot, and that it's largely the photographer's job to make you feel confident and comfortable.

Woman in purple jumper leaning against blue and pink brick wall

What if I don't like my brand photographs?

Something I always say to my clients is to be prepared not to necessarily love their photos on first sight. Now, most people are blown away and can't believe how good they look. But, many of us tend to focus on what's wrong rather than what's right. And when it comes to how we look, we can be brutal on ourselves!

Getting in front of a camera can bring up feelings of insecurity about our appearance. A brand shoot isn't going to cure you of that (although it can definitely give you a confidence boost).

One thing to focus on is less about whether you look perfect, and more on how these photos are going to help you grow your audience, serve more people and mean that you have more impact. Showing your face is central to building a strong brand, and people don't want perfection, they want realness! In an age of filters and face-tuning, seeing real people showing up as they are is refreshing and really important.

Are you ready to build your personal brand?

I work with purpose-driven freelancers and business owners in the Netherlands and London. If you would like to explore how brand photography can grow your audience and impact I'd love to chat! Click here to book an informal and totally non-salesly call with me.

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