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August 10th, 2009

AFTER STAFF A Closer Look – Branding: Why + how

Posted by liveBooks

Many former staff photographers have never had to think about marketing themselves. As a staffer, the image is the most important thing. But in most of the industries photojournalists are moving into, potential clients and buyers will be just as interested in who you are. I asked three photography consultants — Suzanne Sease, Louisa Curtis, and Amanda Sosa Stone — to answer these important questions about branding.

  • What advice can you give for developing a personal brand? What are the important elements that go into a brand? How and where should that branding be used once it’s developed?
Jade Albert's website, which is branded to complement her "light, airy" photographic style.

Jade Albert's website, which is branded to complement her "whimsical, airy" style.

Suzanne Sease

I have so many clients who have found themselves in this position — who were in another industry and realized they were not living their dream. The safety net of the bi-monthly paycheck is gone and now you must create your own identity. Luckily you won’t have to start from scratch.

Visit the websites of photographers you admire and see how they are presenting themselves. Now look at your images. Are there special topics you gravitate toward or are often assigned to? And how do your images convey information? What about them got people to read the stories next to them?

Become an astute observer of the images around you, too. Make mental notes of magazine ads, billboards, store signs, direct mail, even family portraits done for friends. A photographer was paid to make all of these — notice how they did it and decide if the photographer could be you next time.

Maybe most importantly, ask yourself what you really love about this business. Do you want to continue shooting what you have been, or is now the time to re-invent yourself and shoot what you love, not your former employer? You don’t have to build a brand on the photographer you are — this is your chance to build the brand of the photographer you want to be.

Louisa Curtis

First decide which markets to pursue and which images to present. Rather than showing work you think people want to see, I think you should show the images you love to shoot, since those are likely to be your best work. Then, once the image selection is clear, consider presentation. For instance, if I were to put your website alongside your business card, your postcard, your e-promo, and your print book — would I know that they all belong to the same photographer?

Make sure the basic designs for each of your marketing components match — whether it’s a logo, a particular type font, or a color palette. This creates “brand recognition,” so that when a buyer or an editor receives something from you, it is immediately recognizable as yours.

Then make sure the design elements you choose work well with your photography. If you shoot whimsical and airy images, such as my client Jade Albert, then you probably won’t have a black background on your website.

My client Chris Crisman is a good example of how to do this. Once we figured out the image selection and how to organize his work, we created a new website that matched the visual aesthetic of his business cards. Then we built an email template that matched both the website and cards. And all the branding complemented the visual style of his work. Now, with regular promotions, a good work ethic, and a positive attitude, Chris is landing advertising jobs, not just editorial ones. Having moved into a new market, Chris has gone on to re-brand his brand!

Amanda Sosa Stone

When a photographer is looking to develop a brand, they need to start with two questions: What kinds of clients do I want to attract and how do I want those clients to see me? For example, if a photographer wants to attract young, hip clients, his or her brand has to say that.

How you view yourself is not always how others view you, of course. Try sitting down with a trusted industry person (preferably not another photographer) and asking them to give it to you straight. It also helps to review your work, find two or three hero shots, and see if you can find a connection between them that speaks to who you are as a photographer.

The most important element of a brand is the message it sends. Many elements create that message: type treatment, color, size, spacing, icons, etc. The type treatment (a.k.a. the font) says a lot about a person. A font can tell me if you are a man or woman and sometimes how you approach people and your subject matter.

Color can create a mood and can also show how current you are. Spacing and size set a pace. And finally there is an icon. I personally prefer not to see an icon, unless it’s pure genius — as in Nike swoosh genius.

Remember that branding is more than a logo or color palette though, it’s the way every element works together. For instance, on a website, even the toolbar type and the font used on their about page has to be taken into consideration.

And don’t forget that you yourself are part of the brand. Your websited, cards, emails, and mailers should reflect your style so people get to know you before they even meet you. Ideally even the clothes you wear should make sense with your overall brand. Imagine if your brand had a Harley Davidson style but you show up to a job in Tommy Bahama shorts and deck shoes…I would be confused.

My advice for anyone who wants to create a great brand is HIRE A DESIGNER. I know times are tough – but a good brand will definitely be worth the investment. I’m not shallow, but if I’m honest, I admit that I do judge a lot of books by their cover (at first) — and so do most of my colleagues.

Be Part of the RESOLUTION: If you have specific questions for Suzanne, Louisa, or Amanda, please leave them for them in the comments.

Click here for a list of all other “After Staff” posts.


  1. August 10th, 2009 at 10:05 am

    Excellent start to this conversation. Creating a brand in something that takes time and energy, but pays huge dividends as your business begins to grow and succeed!

    Everything that touches a client should drive your branding…website, blog, business cards, facebook page, twitter page, snail mail pieces, emails, email newsletters, billing statements, presentations you give, slideshows, what you wear and don’t forget your studio!

    Branding will benefit your photography business, no matter what type of photography that you do!

  2. August 10th, 2009 at 1:25 pm


    The concept of brand has evolved far beyond logos and identities. These are just the ephemera of brand building. Branding is really about understanding the unique value you provide to the market and then focusing your efforts at communicating that value. A good test of your own understanding of your companies brand is the elevator pitch. Can you explain in a few sentences why I would want to work with you? Recommended reading:

  3. August 14th, 2009 at 7:12 am

    Eric Mehl Photography Blog » Archive » This Week’s Web Highlights

    […] RESOLVE – The Live Books blog has a new series that has business advice and stories for photographers who have recently left staff jobs – especially at news organizations.  I’ve found it useful for all of us who are starting out – even if we haven’t been staff employees before.  I have only had the chance to read the first couple posts, but they are looking really good so far.  This one is about consistent branding. […]

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