Brand Photoshoots: Everything you need to know
Doing a professional brand photoshoot is something most business owners have thought about but may have reservations about. I talked to photographer Julia Malinowska, who specialises in personal brand photoshoots, to get the answers to the most common burning questions surrounding the subject.
The thing I loved about Julia when I met her was that you can tell she puts her heart into every project, she never rushed anything when we did our shoot together and I felt really supported by her. This is coming from someone who knew nothing about photography and generally didn’t like being in front of the camera.
We first bonded over the similarities in our jobs, as both fall under the umbrella of branding, and we gushed about our love for Barcelona over a café con leche one sunny Sunday afternoon.
“To me, Barcelona is a city of dreams” says Julia, “I meet artists here from all different industries who tell me how being in this city has allowed them to do what they always wanted to. They tell me how they made their dreams happen”.
Julia’s academic background includes studying 5 years in an academy of art and getting her masters degree. Film and photography were her main focus but she also studied history of art and painting which she says have all contributed to how she works as a photographer.
She has photographed music artists for Spotify and she’s been featured in Vogue Italia. Nevertheless, throughout all of this experience, she says each project was related to personal brand photography. “The steps I took to capture these people’s stories were the same as what I do now”. She explains how she’s always aimed to understand the person’s culture, their message and express their individual way of looking at the world through the photos she takes.
So, who better to interview than Julia to find out the answers to the most common questions about brand photoshoots?
Read on to hopefully find out all you need to know on the topic. Plus, you can download my free Brand Photoshoot Checklist to help you prepare everything for your own shoot. I’d recommend it, because as Julia says, “preparation is the most important part”.
There are a few things you can do to find a photographer for your brand photoshoot, says Julia. From a good old Google search including your location, searching an Instagram hashtag, or asking for recommendations.
If there are businesses or companies in your area who you follow and you like the style of their photography, reach out. Send a message saying you admire them and you’d love to know who took their photos. It would be a compliment for the other business and you can find out how their experience was with the photographer.
Julia admits that she markets herself as a “personal brand photographer” now because it’s become trendy, which is evident from the data shown on Google Trends. Searches for this term have almost doubled in the last couple of years.
“I heard it on a podcast by Donald Miller, Building a Story Brand”, but she also points out that what is meant by this title has really changed in recent years.
“It used to be LinkedIn-style headshots, wearing a suit with a white background, in the past”. She warns that “some people still use personal brand photography to refer to that, so it’s important to check out their work”. Obviously, if you’re building a brand online right now, it’s quite likely you don’t want this style of photography.
If you are using Instagram to research a photographer, one thing Julia points out, which I had never considered, is making sure the photos you’re looking at on their feed is actually their work.
“Some people post inspiration on Instagram” she says “and I never normally go into every photo to read the caption when I’m on someone’s profile, you look at their overall feed to get a feel of their style”, so this is something we could easily get tricked by.
No, absolutely not. “Look for other photographers without the term personal branding photography” suggests Julia. “You want someone who fits with your style, even if that is an artistic photographer, you just need someone who clicks with you”.
We also talk about how seeing a good variety of the person’s portfolio is essential. If you want to stand out, you don’t want someone who takes the same poses in every brand photoshoot. You want a photographer who can guide you and come up with original ideas so you stand out, not someone who just goes through the motions to produce sub-standard pictures.
“You want to be able to see yourself in the photographer’s pictures. Not the exact pose in that exact place, but in the mood and style they have created” describes Julia.
She says you need to have in mind what mood you are aiming to capture in the photos, then that brought up a question I see quite a lot.
We hear so often about making mood boards as a first step to building your brand, although people sometimes struggle to know what they’re looking to find in a mood board as they don’t understand what a mood is.
“A mood is the atmosphere you want to create and the emotions you want to evoke, like making a movie”. She suggests gathering ideas on a mood board for everything from textiles and fabrics, colours, shadows and light, and feelings or emotions. “This is the mood”.
Personally, as a branding designer, I always use Pinterest to make my mood boards, but Julia’s been in this creative business longer than me and she suggests magazines too. We do both agree that having a list of adjectives is essential to guide the shoot. In my job too, we use this to create a brand that aligns with the business’ vision and target audience.
To do this, think of your brand as a person. What are they like? How do they make people feel? What type of people do they appeal to? For my shoot with Julia, I had a list of five adjectives.
How do you speak to your client? Your brand voice is linked to your brand personality, so as you think of your brand as a person, imagine how they talk. Are they direct and quirky? Are they authoritative but kind? Inspiring and encouraging? This voice needs to stay consistent and relatable for your audience and your photos need to reflect this.
“A personal brand is an alter-ego when it’s just you, as an entrepreneur or freelancer” says Julia, and I totally agree. If you always work alone, maybe you don’t actually have it written down anywhere what your brand voice is, because it’s your voice. Your brand is you.
If you hire a virtual assistant, social media manager or copywriter, they need to stay consistent and write as if they were you. This is the moment when defining your brand voice will be essential. Apart from using adjectives to describe your brand voice, you can also pick words and phrases your company does and doesn’t use.
For instance, my audience are female entrepreneurs so I’d refer to them as that. Or as ladies, women, female founders, female business owners. I wouldn’t use girl boss or boss babe because I don’t like those words. In the future, I’d like to hire a team, so I have a clearly defined brand voice which I could describe to others (and a list of approved emojis!).
You don’t need to go so in depth before the photoshoot and pick out specific vocabulary. Still, this is something to be aware of when you hire a photographer, what messaging you want to transmit.
“A brand is a character, a person, and people trust people” says Julia. And it’s true, the more I think about it, the more I realise when defining your voice, values and personality of your brand, it always helps to think of it as a character.
“The photographer should suggest things to their client and give a few directions and concepts for the shoot if they’re not sure exactly what they want. It is a collaborative process”. She says she doesn’t mind if people don’t know exactly what they need for their shoot, as long as they’re honest, then she’ll do her best to guide them in any way she can.
In terms of props, a studio could have some generic props if it’s used as a set, but you want to be individual and unique so its better to take your own props specific to the look and feel of your company.
“Take your own stuff” recommends Julia, “your computer, tablet, notebooks, drawings and sketches, pens and pencils in your brand colours, cups and water bottles in the right colours too. Using books is also a good idea. Pay attention to the title or writing in it to see if it represents your brand”
Anywhere with the look and feel you want to evoke with your brand which will appeal to your target audience. A studio, a park, a busy city street or an Airbnb. On a beach, in a hotel, or borrow a house from a friend or relative, there are no rules!
In my shoot, we used a concrete box structure which was by the beach in Poblenou, Barcelona. I’d never even noticed it before, even though I’d lived in the city for two years, but she suggested this place because of the shadows and lighting that matched with my vision. In the end, these photos ended up being my favourite ones from the whole shoot!
“Hire a photographer who you trust, they’ve most likely got way more experience than you” says Julia. That was totally true for me! In fact, we met at 6am to do our shoot because the light gets too strong during the Spanish summer to shoot any later, something I’d never have thought of if Julia hadn’t brought it up.
“I prefer to meet in person if possible, so the client understands my character. They’ll most likely have already seen my work so we need to check we click.”
As I mentioned earlier, me and Julia met over a coffee for the first time and chatted continuously for two hours about ideas for my shoot. This was confirmation enough that she was the right choice for me.
This is pretty much everyone’s objection so there was no way I couldn’t bring this up with Julia.
She recognises that depending on the location, prices differ a lot, so it’s difficult to comment on a worldwide scale. However, she does think that anyone who markets themselves as a personal brand photographer is probably charging higher rates. Look for other types of photographer to try and find lower rates, as long as they fit with your style.
She also recommends looking for people who are newer to the industry. “You can help them build up their portfolio, and their prices could be lower too, if you’re on a budget”. Another suggestion is to shorten the time of the photoshoot to save money.
“You can start with just having 10 good quality photos for your website” she says. “On Instagram, things are more casual and relaxed as its social media so you won’t really need professional photos there”. I completely agree with her.
As a web designer, creating a great website becomes way more difficult when the photos are taken on a phone. To be blunt, you’re damaging the look of the site before the project has even started. And numerous web designers have told me that that they too, always recommend professional photos to their clients.
“You’re losing money” says Julia. “You are less likely to trust this person as they look like an amateur”. Nevertheless, there are ways to cut the price down. She recommends viewing a small pack of professional photos in the same way that we view other necessary expenses. “Just like you buy a computer and pay your taxes”.
I too would always recommend investing in a small batch of professional photos. If you’re having a website built by a designer, this helps you get the most out of your investment. Plus, your photographer will edit them all in the same way to keep consistency throughout the site.
Julia reminds me something people often don’t consider, preparing for the day of the shoot takes a lot of time, plus selecting and editing the photos post-production is also part of the job.
For our shoot, Julia advised me on everything from props, poses, locations and outfits. I sent her videos of me in different outfit options to show her how the clothes moved and fitted. Then, she would approve them and match them to the backdrop at each location.
“Preparation is the key to a successful brand photoshoot and any good photographer will guide you through the process. So you’re also paying them for this time, not just the time you’re in front of the camera” reminds Julia.
We covered a lot of ground in this blog, which hopefully will help you to prepare your brand photoshoot. But we don’t want you to feel overwhelmed! Download my free Brand Photoshoot Checklist to keep yourself organised when planning your shoot.
I’m a British-born, Spanish-based Brand Strategist & Designer. I help you build an online brand that stands out from the rest and is adored by the right people, so you can not only reach the right clients, but more of them.