Brand photos are all the rage right now in small businesses. WAY more than they were even a year ago. It’s been so interesting to watch the shift happen to where now getting brand photos is on the checklist of “what to do when you first start a business.”
This is going to be a hot take for a brand photographer but…
Brand shoots are much different from headshots.
*True* brand photos are a large investment of time, money, and resources pulling together a team that will create images that will actually be used AND have the desired impact (ahem, to grow your business and connect with the right people).
Brand photos require you to have a strong foundation in your messaging. I can’t help create images that communicate a story if you have no idea what that story should be. The best photos come from when you have something to say and you know exactly how you want to say it.
It always comes back down to vision and messaging – a hill I am willing to die on.
There are often times people will inquire about brand photos and after hearing more about their situation, I am really honest and tell them I don’t think it’s quite time.
HOWEVER, there are specific instances where it is time!!! In fact, in those instances, it’s almost PAST time to schedule them.
If you find yourself saying, “hmm…yeah, that sounds like me” as you read through this post, it may be time to start considering a plan for booking your brand shoot – keeping in mind they take about 1-2 months to plan!
This reason is first on the list because well, it’s the predicament I find myself in the most. It’s why I started doing mini brand shoots for myself.
I didn’t quite understand the pain involved in trying to curate an Instagram feed that was both professional AND authentic AND created connection with an audience until I started a business not centered around photography.
(Us photographers are sometimes spoiled because images ARE our product and we always have a professional level camera in tow, so we have a plethora of things to share!)
Though even with beautiful images, I’ve found that I want photos that speak directly to the caption.
There’s nothing wrong with sharing a beautiful image of a final product with a caption that shares an unrelated personal story. There’s a time and place for that strategy.
But be real – how many times have you scrolled right past a well-written, interesting, authentic caption because you had no idea who was in the photo or it just looked like another ad…
A few examples of this:
Sure you could easily post a generic photo for each of these scenarios, but just imagine how much more attention you would hold if that same caption was paired with an image of you actually doing the thing you were talking about – so your audience could have a visual representation of what you are sharing about.
People stop and pay attention to the people they know. That builds personal connection beyond just giving the information. That’s magic!!!
The surprising thing I’ve realized about creating content in the past year is that business owners have opportunities for content literally every time they do anything.
Sitting at your desk working.
Working directly with a client.
Making your lunch for the day.
Enjoying your time away from the office.
Often though (and honestly for the best), we put our work first and completely forget to document the process.
Not to mention, we know our jobs aren’t always glamorous. We get sweaty, focused, dirty, and we’re not always worrying about how we look.
(Tbh, if I don’t have a shoot I’m not even putting makeup on that morning.)
But ultimately I want my clients to know that I care about being professional and I’m going to channel that same energy into serving them.
Brand photos are the perfect time to recreate real life scenarios so you can continue to remain in the moment for your clients and not feel so stressed about getting the perfect professional photo (not to be confused with getting behind the scene videos for reels, which should still be happening hehe).
To steal from the “Traction” world, we call this working ON the business, not IN it.
I still believe that you have to make your brand photos look as realistic as possible (you won’t build trust if they don’t), I do think it’s important to have images you’re proud of. Images where you showed up as the best, most confident version of yourself, with curated outfits and makeup and hair you love.
We as a generation love knowledge. We’re obsessed with understanding how things work.
Just the other day I saw a Tik Tok about a man upset with a dry cleaning experience because he felt like his jacket still smelled after taking it to them. The comments were FILLED with people searching and wondering what is involved in the dry cleaning process.
(Ironically no one could find any content explaining how dry cleaners work so if that’s your business, this is the time to capitalize!)
The things you may feel are understood and not unique are to the people who don’t do what you do every day. It’s not only entertaining to bring them into the process, it’s also incredibly important to make sure they understand how it works and what to expect.
I had a planner friend one time get feedback that a client’s mom was surprised the planning team was wearing leggings to set up for the wedding. Of course they changed into more professional outfits once the ceremony started, but I thought it was wild that the mom would expect them to set up in dresses and heels…
She didn’t understand the process of what they do.
Being a wedding planner is more than standing there looking cute, holding a clipboard. It’s a lot of manual labor. To everyone in the wedding world, we expect planners to be dressed to lift, carry, and unpack things in the beginning part of the day and know they will come correct when the event begins.
Not everyone knows that. That’s part of the process. That’s an expectation that has to be shown prior to the event so clients will see you in your leggings and know “yep, they’re here to work hard and they’ll look cute in a little bit.”
It’s about building trust. The more information they have about what’s involved in working with you and it only helps to also actually SEE that represented in your images.
If you meet with clients via zoom and not in person, don’t take photos of you in a coffee shop with a client.
If you know that you don’t dress up for senior photoshoots, don’t wear heels and a dress as you recreate that experience in photos.
It seems small, but everything you put out online for your business is setting an expectation and you don’t want to accidentally set your client up for disappointment by making them think your experience will be one way when it’s actually another.
This one is probably the most common reason you would think of when you know it’s time for brand photos.
I firmly believe that when you make the investment in overhauling your website that that should also include auditing and re-writing your copy (the words on your website) and making sure you have images that support your messages.
Sometimes it’s that you have a section that is trying to connect to the reader personally but it’s paired with an image of your product or a client. Sometimes you have a section that is a lot of text and it would be easier to digest if there were images to break up the reading. Other times you have really niche FAQ sections with great information that would benefit from having a visual representation of what you’re trying to explain.
Yes, it’s good to have a fresh, up-to-date headshot on your homepage but when it comes to pairing brand photos with a website refresh you should look at every page of your website and think “do I have a photo for this?”
I absolutely LOVE about pages. I think they’re the most fun and have the most opportunity for personality. They’re also the easiest pages to start with on your website audit of identifying your photo gaps.
Have a section about your favorite things? Let’s get photos of you with those props.
Showing off your most important people? Let’s include them in your shoot.
Wanting to highlight the personality traits that make you the best fit for the job? Let’s brainstorm how to represent them in a photo.
The key to this is to start with the copy first though. You can’t let your photos dictate what you want to say, just like you can’t let a website design dictate how you educate and connect with potential clients (I’ll be on my soapbox about that one over at morethancreative.co).
Why do we even take photos? …Like ever?
Because they document a specific moment in time. It’s no different in business. We grow and we change and we enter new seasons, even if they aren’t massive launches or foundational pivots – though those are also signs it’s time to get new brand photos.
It’s perfectly okay for you to look at the current photos used for your business and think “that doesn’t look like me anymore” and to simply want an update.
I do think you may be surprised at how many things may have actually shifted and changed through the years when we start to dig into the messages you want to convey and what’s the most important to you in your client relationships this season.
As your business grows and changes, your audience will too. They’re learning from you, and the communities are learning from each other.
You’ll find yourself changing the topics you talk about and the ones that need the most education. You’ll also find yourself adding in new offerings or refining the way you work with current clients…which then will likely land you right back at reason #1: You have a lot to say on Instagram but are having trouble pairing it with images.
(Hehe, see what I did there?)
Like I said, brand photos require a high level of self-awareness within your business and a strong understanding of what you want to say to your clients.
That doesn’t mean that you necessarily have to know everything about messaging but the brand galleries that I am the most proud of are when the client has a clear understanding of who they are, what they do, who their clients are, and how they want to talk to them.
My biggest fear as a brand photographer is delivering a gallery that just sits unused because the images weren’t actually what you needed…or your business wasn’t ready for them, or you took them before your website was designed and you didn’t know you were going to need a horizontal image with white space for text…
But if you felt personally victimized by any of the reasons in this list, it’s probably time, girl.
I’m here to help sort out all of the things you already know to be true about your business, organize them into concise and weirdly satisfying storylines, and then create images you can use in all areas of your business.
(PS. If you’re like “uh, Dakota…I’m not even to the point of knowing what I’m supposed to talk about but I do feel like pictures would help?”…let’s talk over at morethancreative.co – I have a program that can help set you on the right path for getting there!)
I’m Dakota, a Wilmington, NC-based photographer Helping engaged couples feel comfortable in front of the camera and creative businesses grow with purposeful brand imagery.
Looking for Something Specific?
How to Choose Your Senior Photographer
How to Plan a Proposal with a Photographer
The Conversation You MUST Have With Your Bridal Party