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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.

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What’s The Difference Between Headshots And Brand Photos?

February 21, 2023

What’s The Difference Between Headshots And Brand Photos?

I want to start out this post by saying there is a time and a place (and a budget) for everything.

Starting a business is hard.

Running a business is hard.

Marketing and finding your people is hard.

Knowing what will be the best investment for your business is HARD.

It’s starting to become an expectation that photos are a necessary part of marketing your business. At the very least, it’s important to have a good, professional headshot. 

Now “brand photos” have entered the scene and I’ve seen some confusion between headshots and brand photos. I mean, I get it – they kinda look like the same thing?

As the industry itself continues to figure itself out more, here are the key differences in how I approach and view brand photos vs. headshots.

Headshots are generic.

Brand photos convey specific messages.

Honestly sometimes we just need an updated photo so we can stop posting the same image over and over. I’m totally down with that.

I love the idea of a “headshot mini day” where you can come in, grab a few updated promotional style images, and keep it movin’. We don’t always have to reinvent the wheel and get into the weeds when it comes to photos.

However, those photos can only get you so far when it comes to standing out from the crowd.

Brand photoshoots are based on defining key messages within your business and then crafting detailed storylines with images that communicate specific concepts. We spend a lot of time upfront during the pre-planning understanding the ins and outs of your business, your personality, and how you want to connect with your audience.

Brand photos of life coach sitting on bed zooming with a client

Brand photos are a much more tailored experience than headshots, which why…

Headshots are best for starting out.

Brand photos are best when you really know your business strategy.

Like I said, there is a time and place for everything. Just like with most things, when you’re first getting started you’re still very much figuring things out – and that’s okay! 

I look at it like this – if you were told at 15 years old to build your dream house, what would it look like? Do you think you would still be happy with those design choices now that you’re older, have lived in different rental properties, have seen your friends build houses, added onto your family, changed your priorities and interests, etc.?

Some of the foundational things may be the same but you don’t truly know the way you would like to move and function in a space until you spend some time in it. 

Business is no different – and frankly, brand photos are a large investment. I believe in order to get the MOST out of the images (and avoid ending up with an unusable gallery that ran in the complete wrong direction) it’s important to fully understand your business and marketing strategy before scheduling your photos.

Your brand photos should not dictate how you market.
Your marketing strategy should advise what photos you need. 

When you’re just getting started (or you’re pivoting or adding something new to your existing business) but you know you want a personality-driven business, it’s okay to start off with a smaller session to just get some basic headshots. That way you can practice and see what feels right as you build up your budget. Then when you’re ready, you’ll feel confident that your brand photos will make the impact they’re supposed to.

Brand photos of wedding photographer styling details in a bridal suite

The times I’ve walked away from a brand shoot thinking “YES. I KNOW WE CRUSHED IT.” is when the business owner came to me with a very clear understanding of who they are, what they do, how they do it, and who they want to attract.

Your job is to know the answers. My job is to turn those answers into images. 

Speaking of strategy…

Headshots can be taken by photographers.

Brand photos should be taken by marketing strategists, who happen to also be photographers. 

Portrait photography is relatively universal. It’s pretty common to know someone who is a portrait photographer in any field who feels confident in delivering a good headshot. Afterall, it’s really just a portrait. 

But just like you wouldn’t necessarily ask your wedding photographer to photograph your newborn, and also your home that you just listed, and also your new puppy, photographers have niches that all require different talents and perspectives. 

Like Liam Neeson, your brand photographer has a very particular set of skills.

I learned very quickly that just because I photograph seniors and weddings doesn’t make me a good brand photographer. Sure, there are some transferable skills like understanding lighting, keeping a timeline, and how to build up someone’s confidence in front of the camera.

But the posing is completely different. The lighting can be completely different. The goal of the end result is different. The prep work is WILDLY different. 

Brand photo of a real estate agent coach looking longingly out the window while holding phone and computer

Most of the photography I’ve worked in has been more documentary style. My job is to capture the story as it unfolds in front of me. 

Brand photography is backwards. My job is to CREATE the story. 

Brand photographers are literally directors, setting the stage for a scene to convey a specific message. The posing is less about capturing someone at their best angle and more about communicating a feeling or a concept.

Let me tell you, it takes a lot of practice to make a shift like that!!! 

Luckily I live for the marketing side so I’m able to go super in-depth on the front end with research and making sure the storylines are well-thought out and every image has a purpose before we even set up the shot. 

While I do believe that all brand photographers should have a marketing brain, there’s also another layer of finding someone with different skills within that skill. For example, some brand photographers come from a creative direction approach and are able to curate detailed set designs (super jealous of these!). Some really like to create a year’s worth of content in one day. Some like a quarterly schedule. Some are really awesome with products and food. Some are best at directing people.

It’s all about finding the photographer whose work and style you feel like resonates most with your brand. Not just the person you know with a camera.

(PS. I work best with people who want to connect with their audiences by sharing their personality and educating on their process.)

Brand photo of business coach drinking coffee in the morning while ignoring phone

So…headshots or brand photos?

It truly just depends on the final goal of what you’re working on. 

I personally believe the ideal situation would be to do at least one big brand shoot a year, where you can really dig deep into your brand as a whole and have a gallery that speaks to the overall strategy.

Then if you’re a person that gets inspired by new content, signing up for a headshot mini day or hiring a photographer for a specific content shoot to fill in the gaps that you weren’t aware of or didn’t have time for when you did your brand session is a perfect happy medium.

If you’re feeling like you need something beyond an updated headshot, I’d love to strategize with you.

You can get the process started here 🙂


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?

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