Representing You: The Art Of The Personal Brand
I have one question: who are you?
You can answer this question in a lot of ways–elevator pitches, rehearsed soliloquies, existential dread–but headshot photography is still one of the most efficient and attention-grabbing ways to market yourself.
It’s not enough to just have a business anymore: you need a brand. The good news is that whether you know it or not, you actually already have a brand; you just need to capture what makes it unique. Personal brand photography does just that (and more).
Everyone Has a Brand–What Is Yours?
We all have a personal brand, and we market it whenever we walk down the street. We may not need to worry about marketing ourselves to our friends–hopefully, they’re already sold–but in our professional lives, you can easily miss out on good opportunities to promote your brand (or worse, damage it).
Whether you are trying to stand out in your corporate environment or build a small business, you want to be intentional about building your personal brand. Your online presence will be a huge part of this. Everything you upload–from your website to your Instagram–tells people what you value and how you operate.
Capturing Your Essence In An Instant Takes Some Skill
Your online presence needs to tell your audience a lot of information in a very short amount of time. You get about three seconds–at most–to convince people to stay and learn more. That’s why brand photography is so powerful; it uses the perfect visuals to show you are, what you value, and what makes you different from the competition.
Capturing all of those in a visual format is no easy task. Every detail matters, and it can be easy to get overwhelmed when trying to do it on your own. It can be tempting to just pick a nice-looking template and try to woo your audience with your credentials alone, but if you really want to optimize your brand, you need to start from the beginning. You need to start with your story.
Start With Your Story
If you want to compel people to pay attention to you, you need to tell a story. Most people don’t respond to lines of text and statistics, no matter how impressive they are. Personal brand photography isn’t just about showing off pretty pictures of your work: it shows people why they should care about the work in the first place.
This can be an intimidating thing to start on, but at its core, it’s very basic. People enjoy products, but they stick around for the story. They connect more with the scrappy entrepreneur who wants to create sustainable jewelry pieces made from local materials. The pretty earrings? Just a perk.
When people look at your content, what do you want people to assume about you? Are you the expert looking for the next cutting-edge solution? The underdog innovator with a hunger for change? The home-grown business passionate about preserving what makes your community great?
People resonate with a good narrative, so when you go to represent yourself, you want to tell a story that your specific audience will connect with.
You do have a story already, even if you don’t think it’s the most exciting one. It doesn’t have to be exciting–it just has to be genuine. Think about the types of story that your audience will resonate with the most, and from there, you can tailor your photoshoot to tell that story in every pixel.
Show It In The Details
Now you have your story–so how do you translate to a visual medium? Expert photographers are worth their weight in gold here. They know that every detail, from the spacing to the colors and the props, can change the composition (and therefore, the message) of the shot.
You have a lot to consider here:
- Textures: glass windows, earthy cobblestones, polished wood, velvety carpets: all of these can look great on camera, and all of them convey something different.
- Background: You can always find a pretty background, but if you want to take brand photography to the next level, you want to find a background that captures some piece of your personality (for example, the graffiti’’d wall on 1st St, versus the creek in the park).
- Spacing: If you have ever taken a selfie, you know that backgrounds sometimes lose their impact when you try to take a picture of them up close. Where you physically are in the photo can change the viewer’s focus, for better or worse.
- Colors: Your color palette has a lot of potential here. From neons to neutrals, a good splash of color (or lack thereof) draws the eye.
- Props: You don’t live in a bubble, so your pictures shouldn’t show you in one (unless that’s literally part of your story–we don’t judge here). Lifestyle shoots are great to show yourself in your natural environment, and they blend seamlessly with headshot photography. Put yourself in context!
In theory, you can do your own branding photoshoot, but it’s a bit like trying to direct a play while also leading the orchestra and playing the lead role all at once. All these details play off of one another in an instant, so having a knowledgeable photographer at the wheel can help keep you on track. They’re a valuable resource in that they can give suggestions, provide critique, and make adjustments in real-time that give you the best final product possible.
Elicit The Right Emotions
In the words of Sally Hogshead, author of Fascinate: How To Make Your Brand Impossible To Resist:
“Corporations don’t create brands. People do.”
In other words, you can plan your brand on paper down to the letter, but at the end of the day, your brand is how people perceive you, not how you intended to be perceived. That’s why you want to elicit the right emotions with your brand photography to leave the type of impression you are looking for on your audience.
This is what differentiates brand photography from your typical Instagram post. You’re not just looking for stuff that looks good–you want things that feel good. (Or in some cases, the exact opposite–as long as it leaves an emotional impact!)
Telling the story of you with a personal brand photoshoot is more than just a portrait: it is an opportunity to place yourself in the middle of a composition that makes the viewer feel something. If done properly, they walk away with the feeling you intended.
This is where knowing your audience comes in handy. Every photo should not only show you, but also appeal to what they want, their pain points, and who they want to be. Your brand is ultimately giving them an experience, not just a service.
Not sure where to start?
- Show your audience’s pain point, and show how you can solve it in real-time.
- If you like going against the grain, make your headshots unique and visually striking, going against all the “classic” rules of the modern headshot.
- Is your business social in nature? Bring all the people and props in that you can, while still maintaining focus on yourself.
Your Audience Is Waiting
You don’t need to be Elon Musk to be fascinating, That’s what personal brand photography is all about: showing off what makes you, well, you.
Again, in the wise words of Sally Hogshead, “To become fascinating, you don’t have to change who you are. You have to become more of who you are.”
So I ask again: who are you?