By Katya Mulvaney
First off, let me clarify that I am not a photographer talking about marketing; I am a marketer discussing how to build a personal brand as a photographer.
Being a successful photographer (or any creative for that matter), isn’t only about your talent. No one is going to know who you are unless you put yourself out there. You need to communicate your talent, skills, and offering to potential clients. This in itself requires its own set of skills.
What is a personal brand?
Essentially, a personal brand is like a recognisable personality. There is no difference (from a basic branding perspective) between big brands and small or personal brands. If you think of any well-known brand such as Nike, Apple, or Chanel – they all have distinct features. These range from their logo, their style, and the way they make you feel (glamourous or active). The way they talk is distinct and unique too, as are the products they produce. Branding is story telling. Your brand is its own entity with a story to tell.
Your clients should immediately get a sense of your brand whenever they come into contact with your work. It’s important to remember that brands (big or small) are curated. Careful decisions are made to create a specific look and feel. So, what is the story you want to tell? And how do you communicate this? Let’s take a look together.
An expert guide to creating a personal brand as a photographer
1. Define who you are
This may be the most challenging part of creating a personal brand. It takes time and reflection to find what it is you want to market. Set aside some time to think about what makes you unique. If you don’t feel unique then try to identify what makes you, you. What is your style? You may find it helpful to sit and write things down to help you introspect and to give clarity to your thoughts. If you already have a clear understanding of what your brand offers then awesome – step 1 is essentially done.
However, it’s also important to note that you don’t need to restrict your brand identity to only one skill either. Your brand can be made of different themes or ‘micro identities’. For example, if you are a macro photographer but your portfolio contains different types of subject matter (outdoor, food, etc.), your brand will be defined by the overarching style of your work.
You can use your portfolio website to create separate portfolios or galleries that divide your work into themes. This can help attract the right clients (for instance, you wouldn’t send a food client to a folio with outdoor macro shots). For example, your brand, Katya Mulvaney Macro Photography, can be made up of Katya Mulvaney Macro Food Photography, and Katya Mulvaney Macro Outdoor Photography etc.
2. Have a strong, easily recognisable presence
This ties in closely with defining your brand. Once you have identified the features you’d like to showcase, you’ll need to ensure you communicate these clearly. This can be done through the tone of your brand, your logo, and all creative elements such as; website design, email signature, business cards (if you use them) etc. All your touch points (places where your clients will make contact with your brand) should be uniform in style. So, if someone visits your website and then your Instagram page, they need to instantly feel that they are still looking at the same brand.
Nowadays, you don’t need to spend a lot to set up your brand. There are many affordable and free options out there. Social media sites are free and there are plenty of free logo creation and design sites. Plus, with a LightRocket Launchpad membership you get a totally free portfolio website, free hosting, 5GB storage, and unlimited file transfers. This is more than enough to get yourself started with an online portfolio, with no investment.
3. Know your audience
Remember, you don’t have to appeal to everyone. But you do want to have a clear idea of who your audience is. You’ll need to understand who your services appeal to so that you can speak to them in a personalised way. Identifying your niche is one of the first steps to establishing your brand. Remember, you can’t be all things to all people. Find your identity and stick to it. You’ll attract the right people if you speak their language.
If you try to be or do too much, you’ll only end up confusing people. Have you ever been to a restaurant with a massive menu? Most of the time those kinds of places make average food because there’s no way they can make 100+ dishes well. The same goes for your brand. If you try and do too many things, you risk diluting your offering and not specialising in anything.
4. Keep it the same and simple
Potential clients should get a feel for your brand in the first few seconds of seeing your portfolio – be it a website or Instagram profile (if you’d like more info on why a portfolio website is the way to go, check out this blog). Your choice of font, colours, logo, style (minimalist or bold) all go towards communicating this. Ultimately, your brand should be simple and uniform. Don’t try to be too fancy and gimmicky.
Creating brand cohesion helps instil a sense of trust. If things are messy and change from one platform to the next, it creates a feeling of disorganisation and lack of attention to detail. So, ensure your branding is the same across all your touch points. For example, once you’ve chosen your colour palette, you can’t go from pastel on your website to neon in an email. I find it useful to put together a ‘brand book’. This can be a document that has all your brand’s rules in it – what font to use, your colours (with hex codes), your logo etc. This can help guide you in creating a holistic brand experience.
5. Be real
For me, being real is one of the most important factors when it comes to creating a relatable brand. No one wants to interact with a robotic, bland person. The same goes for brands. People want to work with people, not businesses. You need to have some emotion and humanity in your communication. Allow your audience to get a sense of who you are as a professional. You can do this on your ‘about’ page on your website or via your social media channels. It goes without saying that first and foremost, you need to remain professional in all your communication. But professional doesn’t have to mean robotic or sterile.
Also, don’t try to be something you’re not. This will come across quickly and no one likes an imposter. Just be yourself. Stick to your offering and be honest about what you can and can’t do. Everyone appreciates honesty and from a monetary perspective, it’s a solid way to build customer loyalty and returning clients. Customer loyalty is one of the golden eggs of marketing – when people feel they’ve gained value from a service, they talk about it. And word of mouth referral is one of the strongest kinds of referral you can hope to get. So be honest, be human, and keep your loyal customers happy, coming back, and giving you good referrals.
6. Have a strong online presence
By strong, I don’t necessarily mean sharing reels 5 times a day on Instagram. What I do mean is that your online profiles should be a strong representation of who you are and what your brand can offer. And the best way to do this is to have a portfolio website.
Your website should be a place where you really flex your photographic muscles. It should be visually beautiful, easy to navigate, and have a clear call to action (that’s marketing jargon for “get people to take action”, like contacting you). People can only base their decisions on what you tell or show them. This may very likely be the difference between hiring you or the next photographer. You have to let people know who you are and what you offer – they can’t guess. This goes for everything from the photos you choose for your portfolio to what you say in your bio. All of these points need to have careful thought behind them.
7. Invest time in yourself
I’ve noticed that many people underestimate the time good marketing or brand creation takes. This is the same for any size business. To build a strong brand, you’re going to need to set aside time and put in effort. If you want to start making money from your photography, up to 50% of your business time could go into your marketing once things pick up.
It’s not just about taking good photographs, it’s also about how you present your brand, communicate with clients, keep relevant, and stay top of mind. Don’t underestimate how much time developing this side of your business will take. But it will be worth it. Brands aren’t born, they’re built. In the digital universe, a large part of reaching and gaining new clients is how you market yourself online. Setting things up well will require some time. However, with a free LightRocket website you can have a portfolio site up and running in under ten minutes. That’s one less thing to worry about.
Final thoughts on creating a personal brand
Building a strong personal brand as a photographer is about more than just taking incredible photographs. A large part of your business will depend on marketing yourself well. At the core of your marketing efforts needs to be a recognizable, well-thought-out, non-robotic, and meticulously executed brand. And creating a portfolio website is one of the best ways to get your brand online and in front of potential clients.
Written by Katya Mulvaney | Katya is a brand creation and digital marketing specialist. She heads up marketing and communication here at LightRocket. If you subscribe to our emailer or follow us on social media, then you’re probably already familiar with some of her work. She also never shies away from a good plate of pasta.
Cover image by Photo by Thiago
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