One of the most common questions I get in my line of work is: What exactly is a branding photographer? Furthermore, what is it like working with a luxury branding photographer? Because photography niches can be very specific, this simple question comes with a not-so-straightforward answer. Below, I’m sharing more on how to distinguish what a luxury branding photographer provides, as well as several indicators for when you should work with one.
Personal branding photography is characterized by a focus on people and portraits. The goal is to capture small businesses and entrepreneurs in an effort to tell their brand story. The primary aim of a personal branding photographer is to provide a clear visual identity for marketing a personal brand or company. Galleries may include product photos, headshots, team photos, individual and group lifestyle portraits, custom stock images, and interior photos for social media and web. (Read my full post on photos every small business owner needs!)
Personal branding photography almost always includes lifestyle elements; this is particularly helpful and relevant if your business is service-based and you want clients to be able to envision themselves going through your unique experience. However, there are some instances, say for authors or speakers, where you need imagery to sell your personal brand and service, but a simple headshot will do.
Lifestyle photography is a combination of authentic and staged interactions. It captures people in their natural environment, or a simulated natural environment, and allows potential clients to get a feel for the company’s process and customer experience and envision themselves as the consumer.
Commercial photography typically encompasses large-scale corporate projects where image licensing is especially important as images will be used for advertising campaigns with huge reach and duration. Retail photography refers to images contracted by and completed for an individual, and the images are mostly portraits (think weddings, high school seniors, families, etc.). You can think of personal branding photography as a mix between the two, a hybrid of commercial scale and retail clientele.
Deciding who to work with depends on a few factors. If your personal brand has very specific objectives regarding how your products or services are portrayed, choose someone who will work alongside you to tease out your vision.
One of the main benefits of working with a luxury branding photographer is gaining access to their unique expertise and keen eye. Based on their years of experience and (typically) niche clientele, it’s easy to see if their portfolio is a good match for your brand. If you’re booking a luxury photographer, you can count on them to share their expert opinion in response to your branding photography inquiry.
Prior to your shoot, your photographer should spend time getting intimately acquainted with your audience. They should understand who you’re marketing to, who will be consuming your product or service, and what characteristics make up your target demographic.
An experienced branding and portrait photographer will adopt a creative director mindset, providing ideas before and during your shoot to create truly engaging and unique imagery. These ideas center around the kind of backdrop or setting that will suit your particular goals and brand, additional props to provide, and the type of lighting to use, among others.
They should also be knowledgeable about where this imagery will be published, whether digital, print, or both. Understanding where and how the images will be used will dictate how they approach and photograph your project (ie. websites often need primarily horizontal images, while images for social media are often best shot and delivered in vertical format).
One of the cornerstones of my business model includes allowing clients to choose their own images for editing via an online proofing gallery. This process is unique from many photographers, who will edit and deliver only the images they think are best. Before sending proofs, I cull all of my galleries by sharpness, with the exception of some artistic soft-focus additions. In getting to choose the specific images you want from your session, you’re only receiving images you’ll use, love, and that have a place in your marketing plan.
Working with a professional branding, portrait, or product photographer ensures you’ll receive beautiful, versatile images that can be used on different platforms and channels.
Recently, I pitched a new idea to one of my repeat real estate clients, Gretchen Coley. Historically we’ve photographed lifestyle images for her luxury real estate brand in her office, and they were almost always geared toward her business: interacting with her employees, using her laptop or phone, perusing architectural renderings, posed portraits in various locations.
But in luxury real estate you’re not just selling a home, you’re selling a lifestyle. I wanted Gretchen’s session to embody the luxury lifestyle her clients could have if they moved to the Raleigh-Durham area. To achieve this, she hired a fantastic stylist (Melissa de Leon) and hair and make-up artist (Ashley Watts) and we spent a half-day taking photos in one of her premium listings.
This is what came from that session…
If you want to position your product or service-based business as a ‘personal brand’, you may be more inclined to work with a branding photographer versus a portrait-only photographer. Personal branding photographers will often shoot portraits (both headshots and lifestyle images), in addition to products, images of your product and/or service, and interior images.
They showcase the unique relationship between you as an individual and how you interact with or personally represent your brand as a whole. In this case, elements such as hair and makeup, outfit selection, and guidance on props or product placement play an important role in your branding photoshoot.
Portrait-specific photographers may not also be versed in the wider range of branding photography, so it’s important to make that distinction before deciding who to work with.
In this case, you should specifically look for a photographer with a portfolio consistent with the feel of your brand and that specializes in the type of images you need for your portfolio (ie. Check out their previous clients and current projects for inspiration).
When speaking with them about the type of imagery you have in mind, it’s helpful to pull inspiration images straight from their portfolio, and point out the specifics of what you like and don’t like about certain photos or poses to see if working together would be a good fit.
When you work with a luxury portrait and personal branding photographer, you can expect a high-touch approach. Your photographer should begin with a thorough consultation to learn about you and your business and help you hone in on your image needs. Backdrops, lighting, and some (non-personal) props will often be provided, and industry professionals (locations, stylists, hair and make-up artists, etc.) recommended. However, if you have something super specific in mind, consult with your photographer prior to your session to see if they can accommodate these requests. Prioritizing early and frequent communication with your photographer will guarantee a session that exceeds expectations.
As a luxury lifestyle and branding photographer, my goal is to showcase your personal brand through captivating imagery and composition, providing you with balmy, cultivated images, showing both where you are and where you want to go. Sound like something you’re into? Let’s chat about your photography needs and how I can help serve you.
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