INDUSTRY ADVICE: Finding Your Personal Brand

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© Holger Pooten

Recently we introduced you to our sponsors LIoP (London Institute of Photography) in this blog post. We’ve created our Annual Sponsorship Programme to invite businesses to get involved with the work we do, and offer support and exchange. Our goal is to develop networks, strengthen connections, provide relevant information, and make more good things happen! Building these connections not only helps with funding, but enables us to widen our horizons and bring people together from all sections of the industry for a positive impact.

We invited LIoP director Holger Pooten to talk at our Professional Development Day in London and share his views on finding your own brand as a photographer. It was a great session (it was a great day!) and so we asked Holger if he would share his knowledge here, with everyone who wasn’t able to join us on the day.

 

This is a sponsored post in collaboration with LIoP.

 


 

How do I find my personal brand? To answer this question it helps to look at the two main purposes of branding: to provide predictability and create trust.

Providing predictability to a potential client will enable them to assess what they will get when they book you. That’s the reason why a Pizzeria actually says ‘Pizzeria’ on the sign outside the restaurant – to help you assess what type of food you will get when you enter the place.

The other element is trust. Your clients are not photography experts and they want to have the assurance that they get the best possible quality if they commission you.

 

© Holger Pooten

© Holger Pooten

Let’s forget about photography for a moment and follow the example of the pizza restaurant; or in general, how can you set up a successful restaurant?

First of all, if you offer lots of different and unrelated types of food you will not be perceived as a first class restaurant. Would you go to a convenience restaurant that offers Fish’n’Chips, pizza, Doner Kebab, Indian curry, Spaghetti Bolognese and Chicken Sweet and Sour, all at the same place, if you were looking for a great dining experience? Probably not, and the problem is obvious: how can a restaurant that offers lot of unrelated dishes be good at anything they do? It is safe to claim that this restaurant has a problem with branding when it comes to high quality food!

 

To establish a high quality restaurant we have a couple of options:

1. The classic cuisine

One option in opening a successful restaurant is to stick to a classic cuisine. Make it as good the originals and even adheres to certain cliches: a tapas bar that’s as good as in San Sebastian, with neon light and paper tablecloths; a pho-noodle soup restaurant that’s as good as and looks like the one you’ve been to in Hanoi; or a sushi bar that looks like the ones in Tokyo, with half length curtains and a chef that looks like Mr Miyagi from Karate Kid!

2. The fusion cuisine

The second option is to create a fusion restaurant. For this we can mix two styles or cuisines that customers like AND that they can image will work well together: a Spanish-Portuguese fusion restaurant; or take a look at the success of Franco-Manca: everyone likes pizza, sourdough is all the rave and of course customers will love a sourdough pizza. Or how about the Cronut, a mix between a croissant and doughnut?

 

But when we mix different elements we need to be careful that these styles are perceived as a good match: would you go to an Italian-Chinese restaurant?

The chances are very high that this restaurant will go bankrupt within the first year as customers usually place these two cuisines on the opposite side of the taste spectrum.

 

© Holger Pooten

© Holger Pooten

Now let’s switch back to the original topic of this article. We’re not chefs but photographers but the same principles of branding apply to the photography business.

If you show too many unrelated types of photography on your webpage then potential clients can’t assess what they will get if they book you. If you present wedding photography, a few new born photos and street photography alongside some pretty decent landscape and still life images, you will not be perceived as a master of any of the styles you show.

Comparable to the strategy above, we have different options to establish a successful photography brand:

 

1.The classic photography genre

Specialise on a classic photography genre, become really good at it and compete with the best out there: fashion photography that’s as good as Nick Knight’s, still life photography that’s as good as Dan Tobin Smith’s or travel photography that’s as good as Steve McCurry’s.

 

2. The fusion style

Choose two styles that people appreciate on their own and create a new type of photography out of it: mix landscape, still life and car photography or combine sports photography with CGI.

But at one point these styles might be too different to be able to work them into a new a new style. For example, it will be difficult to mix advertising photography and photojournalism as they stand for completely different concepts within photography.

 

But what if you are very passionate about two types of photography that you want to develop into a business but that simply don’t match?

The best option in this case is to create two independent brands that are not related by name, address or any other details.

In fact many photographers do this, you can work as a fashion editorial photographer while at the same time successfully run corporate headshot business under a completely different trade name.

 

© Holger Pooten

© Holger Pooten

But, there is a third option:

3. The ‘Chili’ restaurant.

You can successfully run a restaurant on the basis of a particular style or flavour alone. Let’s call it the ‘Chili’ restaurant for now. Here the customers know exactly what to expect, every dish contains chilli and if you like this taste you will be satisfied: chilli starters, chilli cocktails, chilli main courses as well as chilli desert and ice cream.

Similarly, one can create a photography brand based on a specific style alone but it has to be very distinctive and applicable to different occasions. For example a specific type of lighting and colour grading or a specific type of special effect.

© Holger Pooten

© Holger Pooten

Now that we understand why branding is so important for professional photographers the next question is ‘How do you find your own brand?’

You might feel you are interested in so many different types of photography and styles that it can feel overwhelming and confusing.

The idea is that no one is equally interested in everything, everyone has certain preferences and genres they find less engaging.

 

A simple exercise that we perform with our students straight at the beginning of the Professional Photography Course might help you on your way to define your own brand:

– Select your 10 most inspiring images by other photographers from memory alone. 10 is just a signifier for being very selective, anything between 5 – 15 images is okay. Don’t select images that you find just so-so.

– Think about how these images relate: do they have something in common? Of course they have something in common: you!

– There are usually 2-3 themes or topics in your selection. Try to spot them with the help of a friend as other people might find it easier to see the common themes!

– Now you should have a general direction for your next few projects.
Try to repeat this exercise every 6 month to 1 year.

 

Branding is never static, the world around you changes and so do you and your branding.

 


 

This is a sponsored post in collaboration with LIoP.

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