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Insights & Thoughts

Branding For Photographers, Is It a Bit Out Control?

By Brandon Perron on November 26th 2014

Introduction

Branding, I believe, has become a rampant snake oil piece of advice from many “teaching” photographers, who truly do not have much to teach, but need something to give the perception that they do. To me, it seems like something they can proclaim as vitally important, but no results can really be quantified from the efforts. This allows them to seem like they are giving advice, but do not have to be accountable for it.

I think for many photographers they, on a very basic level, understand branding and do see the importance of it. I think it is hard to start up a business and not hear someone preach the words of “branding or die” and tell you that you MUST hire a professional for that aspect of your business. People start to shop around and see how expensive it is and, I think they do one of two things. 1: Drop some major coin and hire a person or firm to do it for them (which I don’t think is needed and that money could be better spent elsewhere for the business) or 2: Get discouraged and just forgo any sort of branding because they can’t afford it and since they are told they can’t possibly do it on their own, say screw it and give up.

Why I Think Branding Can Be More Of A “Feel” Than A Full Scale Expensive Venture

I disagree with this crazy high end, full-scale branding sentiment. I think we need a cohesive, polished and thoroughly complete “feel” to our business, but do not need to pay unrelenting amounts of cash to get our own custom tailored “branding campaign.” This “feel” can be considered branding, but I think that denotes certain connotations of a big level sort of budget to it. It is why I use the word feel. The people who pedal branding cite companies like McDonalds, Coke, Target, Starbucks, etc. as examples, but let’s not kid ourselves, folks…It is very unlikely we will be on that level in our career. However, if you get to that level, you are welcome to throw these words out the window and hire a firm for your branding, because at that point, it would probably be prudent and advantageous to do so.

If you remove the “logo” from the equation, what you are left with is a cohesive feel to each of these businesses that runs through out the company, no matter the interaction or touch point you have with it. Starbucks has a fairly modern and richness to their brand, with super friendly and utmost top tier customer service (or so they are supposed to, but there is always an exception to every rule) where you can get a great coffee or some similar concoction pretty much anyway you want it. If you look at it, it’s actually a pretty simple concept t0 pick up on.

I hear all the time people saying, “You need to have a killer logo and top notch branding,” but do we really? Look at local businesses that you LOVE or frequent? Do you think they have a top level highly paid firm putting their “branding” together or someone who designed their logo for $3k? I know in my neck of the woods, that is not the case. Does it really matter to you if they didn’t pay someone thousands to develop their brand? Would you stop shopping or visiting there? I am going to venture a guess and say no…because in reality, it does not really matter on a local scale. So why should we as local photographers feel the incessant need to pay massive sums to have top level branding?

Where To Even Begin?

I believe this can be achieved by doing some homework and researching what makes a good logo and brand. There are numerous resources on the Internet that will break this stuff down for you to understand. You can begin to glean bits and pieces and apply them to your business. I would also,spend some time on Amazon looking at logo design books and branding books and buy some of them. You can find used ones for under $10, combining 4 or 5 of those with the vastness and unending knowledge on the information highway will get you to a pretty good place of understanding.

What you will learn are things like: simple logos that look good in black and white as well as color. The logo needs to be “readable” on a tiny scale and also a massive scale. You shouldn’t have more than 3 colors as it becomes a bit too much. Starting here will lead you into more in-depth topics on the subject, which will lead to how to pick colors that fit together well, what typeface actually says, text layout, etc.

[REWIND: KEVIN KUBOTA ON IDENTIFYING YOUR BRAND]

 The Most Important Things To Consider For Your Branding

Here are the things that I think are most important for your business and your foray into branding:

The Logo:

It needs to be simple and not busy. It needs to be scalable from small to large. The logo will go onto business cards and potentially to a large scale (maybe for advertising or promotion somewhere). It won’t always be in color, so it needs to be “readable” in color and black & white. Take some time to google top designed logo awards (yes, that is a real thing), best designed logos, etc. Also, take some time with your logo. Don’t just find a cool font, type your business name, and call it day. Pay close attention to the logos that received awards and see how polished and refined they are.

However, do not think you will be at that level; you are just gleaning the basics of what makes them good and stand out. This should help you not just throw your name in a creative font, but refine it a bit more. Look up videos on how people create logos in the various programs that are available to do so.

The Overall Feel

You need to do some thinking on how you want to be perceived and who you are as person as well as a photographer. Do you want to be seen as a whimsical sort of brand and photographer? Or maybe very corporate, simple and clean? A bit in your face? I would actually look at your work…is it soft and a bit muted or maybe it’s extremely bold. Go beyond your work, look at the clothes you wear (are they super colorful or earth tones, modern or traditional, simple or layered?), look at what you choose to put in your house, etc.

These things are very good indications of how your brand should probably be represented and created. If your work is bold, should your really have some pastel colors with a “floaty” or sort of whispy logo and type face? I would say not, I would say that the colors should be bold and bright and the font should be thick and have a bit of an “in your face” attitude.

The Colors

They need to reflect you and your work…similar to the statement above. However, you need to do some research on how colors interact with each other…there has been vast documentation and research on this topic. Some colors work well together and some don’t. Some colors are perceived and registers in a person’s mind as pleasing or not so pleasing; they may not really notice it, but it does.

Colors have been researched to signify certain perception amongst majority of people (red = courage, power, etc. & purple = royalty, mystery, etc). To help pick a few different colors, look into color harmonies, color theory, complimentary colors, cool vs. warm colors, etc. Once you start to research that stuff, you will see what I mean. These colors then need to follow through your entire brand and branding effort. They need to be consistent and unwavering whenever possible. They need to be on your site, your business cards, your stationary, your emails, your thank you cards, basically anywhere and on anything your client will ever see.

Typeface

Doing some research on typeface is more in-depth than you might you think. There are tons of theory and documentation on types of typeface and what they actually portray. While you might think this seems to be going a little too far, I do think it is a very important aspect to branding. The typeface needs to be throughout your entire branding as well.

My recommendation is to find a couple different typefaces that are similar, but slightly different and use them in different areas of your brand. With the exception of one of them needs to look like a fairly common type face that will be easily found across the gamut of predetermined templates that you will come across (a pre-built website, letters that you will type to customer, emails, etc). This way, it will allow your brand to translate and be recognized, even when you are forced to use something that you cannot have complete control over.

For the love of all that is holy, PLEASE, PLEASE make sure they are easily readable. I see this all too often: someone finds a cool font and does EVERYTHING in it and it is not readable. It also needs to be scalable like the logo…tiny or big, it needs to be able to be easily read. Research serif vs. sans-serif, bold type face, skinny type face, etc. Again, once your start looking, it will become more evident.

Conclusion

Please understand that I am not implying by doing the things above, you will turn into a branding expert. I just think branding is not something that should really be such a high level of concern for most photographers and not something they should sink thousands and thousands into. Your clients just want to see a consistency in your branding. Something that is polished and professional, seems well thought out, and does match who you are as photographer and your work. So, please do some research, experiment with ideas, spend some time and see what you come up with.

I think with the info above and what you learn from your research, you can come up with something that looks professional, will impress clients, and most of all, save you some major money.

As always, please let me know your thoughts in the comments, share your successes or failures, and please share the article with anyone you know. I very much appreciate everyone who takes the time to read my ramblings…

Brandon Perron is a wedding photographer, making a transition into a freelance automotive digital contributor/photographer, as well as setting up his own private gallery. In his words, he is an uber sarcastic gasoline loving gear head, lost amongst the hipster hyper Eco-friendly crowd of PDX and has a mouth that makes sailors blush. He likes to think of himself as a daily life commentator, where nothing is off limits to poke fun at.

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Rafael Steffen

    Great article, thanks for sharing more information on branding.

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  2. Kirk Wilson

    Making some business cards is no more “Branding” than “takin some snapshots” is the work of a professional photographer. You missed the mark on the value of defining a well crafted message and developing tools to carry that message forward to the audiences that create revenues for your business.

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  3. Steven Crowley

    At what point in my photography would I want to consider a logo and/or branding? I consider myself a beginner and although my photographs are getting better I don’t think they are “logo” worthy. I guess what I’m saying is how do you get to the point where you know?

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  4. James Rogen

    I wish i could brand my actual name, which is James Cox. Something about “Cox Photography” or “Cox Images” just doesn’t sound right…

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  5. Neil Killion

    Brandon this is a very useful article. I will admit branding is not something I had spent a lot of time thinking about, and this article shows the level of details and thoughts one should put into their branding. You do not need an expensive branding campaign but we do need to think about what we are putting out there. Our brands are sometimes the first thing a potential client sees and it needs to speak volumes while not over-running the discussion at the same time.

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  6. Matt Walsh

    It’s nice to see an in-depth article on SLR Lounge again. So much of the content nowadays is regurgitated fluff. Thank you for taking the time to clearly identify a problem and put together a thorough solution.

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    • Brandon Perron

      Hi Matt,

      Thank you for taking the time to read the article, I am glad you enjoyed it. I very much appreciate the constructive criticism and I have brought it to the attention of the editors :-) . It does take quite a bit of time to write these sorts of articles and sometimes I wonder if it is worth it. So, it is nice to see that the time, effort and hard work that goes into these in depth articles is appreciated. I will say this, all the photographers that contribute to this blog, do it more for their love of wanting to help other photographers, than any sort of compensation. They are all full time photographers, running a business and writing does actually take a fair amount of time, in order to keep the site fresh and ripe with content the “small” or “regurgitated”, articles as you put it, helps that happen. So I think we walk a fine line, between offering in depth articles as well as the shorter stuff, to accommodate the photographers who use SLR lounge to keep up on the most current info and those who enjoy the more in depth articles…it is a very fine balancing act, indeed. This site is for you (the readers), so we do appreciate your sentiments and will do our best to try and make everyone happy. :-) All I write are the op-ed/more in depth articles, so please subscribe to my feed and you will have them to look forward to, from me…but keep an eye open as many of the other writers do also go in depth with some of their articles. I look forward to more comments from you. :-)

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  7. Fernando Lachica

    Researching and learning are the vital aspects of photography.

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  8. John McCosh

    I got a logo designed very early in my photography career and it’s amazing the number of people who I talk to away from photography that when they see my logo say that they recognize it. A good logo certainly helps get you brand recognized.

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    • Brandon Perron

      I agree that a good logo is a piece of the brand and probably the most recognizable out of the entire brand feel…but it’s not the only thing. If you had a logo that was bold and bright and then the rest of the brand was completely opposite, it would be noticed.

      Having a logo designed is another option and then build the brand around can work as well. I just don’t think it’s needed for most…especially the design tools we have at our finger tips. I would also, say that it’s not so much your logo that is so great, which allows it to be recognized, it’s your marketing that is allowing it to be recognized. You could have the best logo in the world and if no one ever sees it, it’s pointless. I’m not saying that a super cool logo doesn’t help, it does but it is a cumulative effort off all the pieces that help it be recognized. So kudos to gettting it out there.

      Thanks for taking the time to read this and comment with your own insight and what has been successful for you.

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  9. Greg Silver

    I agree that branding is much more than a logo, colors, etc. It’s the feeling one get’s associated with all aspects of the company (the logo, colors, customer service and relationships and much more). I often get different feelings of different brands just walking into various stores (Apple Store, Pro Bass Shops and yes – even Wal-Mart) – ever major store has developed their branding to create an emotional tie to their customer and a photography business is no different.

    One of the most important parts of branding (in my view) is consistency. Develop a brand, a process and standards within your own company and adhere to them through the thick and thin. Don’t deviate from your brand or you’ll water it down and become something you’re not.

    It’s good to re-evaluate your brand from time to time but brands typically evolve over long periods of time. Marketing campaigns can be shorter in length but your brand should not change that often (sometimes as long as decades – if ever)!

    It’s great to see the branding/marketing side of photography – such a vital part of a photographer’s business.

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    • Brandon Perron

      Gald to see others understand the importance of the whole pacakge, not just a logo.

      Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment.

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  10. Greg Urbano

    After four plus years as a hobbyist photographer on the web I believe the best brand you can have is your own name. You always own the rights and you have been building it since you were born.
    Just don’t get it dirty and you will be fine!

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    • Brandon Perron

      I agree with using your name…but there is a problem.with using your name, if you ever want to sell your business, it is a much tougher sale. This is especially true when we talk about such a personal thing as photography…but using your name js very common and of course a great thing to use, just gotta look at the big picture :-)

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    • Brandon Perron

      I hit submit to fast…

      Thank you for taking the time to respond and read the aricle.

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    • John McCosh

      Brandon, as most photography business that do use their name are more than likely one person business’s. Therefore I am not sure how successful these business can be sold as a going concern as it is the person behind the lens that makes the business not the equipment. Personally I think you would have to sell your equipment and office.

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    • Brandon Perron

      Josh…

      There are studios that have multiple photographers on staff…couples pick from books of photogrpahers work and then the photographer shows up to the wedding and shoots and delivers the the cards to the studio and that is it.

      While it’s very hard for photographers to accept the fact that lots and lots of couples, just want photos, they don’t really care about “connecting” with the photographer, as long as they are professional and do a good that is all that matters. We try so hard to sell ourselves, we become consumed by it and so we project those ssetiments onto others, when in fact they don’t feel that way.

      I believe the goal of any business should be to sell it…some may get to that point and some may not.

      So it is actually more common than you think to have a photography business with multiple photographers, that is successful and could eventually be sold. :-)

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    • Brandon Perron

      John…i am sorry, my phine auto corrected your name to Josh and i didn’t catch it. My apologies.

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    • John McCosh

      I agree Brandon, but my point was that studio’s with multiple photographers are not likely to be named after a particular photographer. These are more likely to be one-person operations that are named after the owner/photographer and being named as such probably doesn’t matter as much as previous mentioned that the photographer in these cases is the business. Agreed there will be exceptions to this rule but I would image these would be a very small percentage.

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    • Brandon Perron

      From the dozen or so studios i know…they all started out as one person opetations and grew to where they are now. :-)

      There is no right or wrong way to name your business…My goal is to help people understand that they have other options other than the status quo and your brand can still be you with out using your name. :-) My wedding photography business is named after me…however as i transition out and into my new business, it will no longer be my name….as I am looking to have separation now.

      I believe there are many more people who read this that thier photography biz is not named after them. I would say that out of all the photographers, i know, i would say 25-30% don’t use thier name as their biz name…I’d say that is more common, than an exception to the rule. :-)

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    • John McCosh

      Sorry Brandon,

      Were now miles away from my original point in that most one person photography business would be hard to sell as a going concern as it is the photographers skills people are hiring not their equipment. Therefore I don’t think that if these photographers were going to name their business using there name it would make much difference when they decide to sell it.

      I agree with what your saying, but it was not the point I was trying to make. Good luck with your new business plans.

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    • AJ Luna

      One factor to consider if you intend to use your own name in branding is if your name is very common (e.g. John Smith Photography, Sam Jones Gallery ).

      On my part, I didn’t use my nickname because it sounds boring. And I didn’t use my full name because it can easily fall to client’s misconception.

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    • Brandon Perron

      What a great point Aj…thanks for bringing another perspective. My name isn’t very common, so I haven’t really had to share it with anyone. However, i can totally see how this could be an issue not only from people googling you and having trouble, but even buying a domain name…could prove to be very challenging.

      Thanks for reading and commenting.

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    • AJ Luna

      @John McCosh, there’s a studio in my area named after a person (Reyes* Studio). They have no photographers. They have staffs who shoot the pictures. I haven’t even met Mr. or Ms. Reyes. But that studio is the go-to amongst unsophisticated clients, for some reason. They’ve been operating for decades now, I believe, but they are now operating inside a mall. If they ever decide to sell the business, the name is already famous, hence, can expect the same clients that the studio attracts. But remember they have no photographers. It’s really sad to think about.

      (*name changed because I don’t want to get sued)

      @Brandon Perron,
      Funny thing is, I named mine “MoonHouse Productions”. Then I found out that there’s a “MoonHouse Productions” operating in Washington, and other photography-related establishments in my country with the name “MoonHouse”. I thought “MoonHouse” is already unique. So I changed it once again to “MoonHouse Productions by AJ Luna” so there won’t be any confusions. lol

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    • Matthew Saville

      I think that “selling your business one day” is one of the things that photographers need to come to terms with NOT being their best option. Talent is talent, and unless your goal from day one is to build a multi-photographer studio that completely supports its own reputation, your best bet as a one-man-show is to build your name up as big as you can, make your fortune, and then get out. This was the pattern that many big-name wedding photographers followed, and while it’s true that a few of them were simply good salespeople selling mediocre work, many others were talented photographers who rose to fame, generated a well-deserved chunk of cash, and then used that cash to invest in other things.

      Both are GREAT business models, that’s my point. It mainly depends on your charisma, talent, business sense, etc. With the same amount of talent, who’s to say which business model would earn you the greater income?

      =Matt=

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    • AJ Luna

      @Matthew Saville,
      By reading your comment, I immediately thought of two photographers.
      There’s Annie Leibovitz who, despite having a lastname that can be easily misspelled, is a household name. She’s a one-woman-band (discounting her army of assistants and retouchers, of course) who’s been shooting for decades now. Yet, she’s come across financial woes that she’s willing to put her copyrights as collateral, which may affect her legacy and, thus, her brand.

      Then there’s Gary Fong, who I admit I only know as the creator of a modifier until I discovered that he’s actually a wedding photographer who now mainly attends to his photo gear business. The Gary Fong brand is not for photography but for equipment. I’ve never seen any of his work so I can’t comment on how talented he is. But as a “photo-preneur”, I think he’s on the lead.

      I guess my point is in addition to the things you listed, one should also possess an unbreakable spirit — one that is *very* flexible, resourceful and eager to outlive so that “selling the business one day” will never become an option. Especially in this age when technology is throwing wave after wave of changes that shake up the field and equips multitudes of new photographers everyday that it’s not getting any easier to survive.

      Anyway, to end with a cheerful note, I think one’s branding should be built based not on how much money you want to generate, but based on the kind of job that you want to do that won’t get you sick and tired of the thing. :)

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