In 2015, moose antlers dominated wedding photographer branding. It probably had honest, authentic origins: a PNW local, chopping wood in a forest Mon-Fri, and shooting weddings on a Saturday and Sunday, had an illustrative brandmark made, that hadn’t yet been seen in the industry. A few years and hundreds of similar brands later featuring antlers, and i’m not sure if many of the folks with antlers on their shopfront had quite considered what it was about their newly-antlered moose or deer, that represented them and the work they made.
And so we saw how quickly something different can spread, without being questioned.
This is a post for those wanting an insight into photography business branding: some tips, things to avoid, common mistakes, but most importantly – how to stand out and make an impactful brand in a time when as much as everyone’s a photographer – everyone’s a designer: and because of that, a professional designer will protect you from looking like the person next to you.
This is a post for photographers who are about to drop a whole lot of money on a rebrand, and want it done right.
While you’re here, download the Wedding Photography Brand Trends Report 2020.
So, you’ve started a photography business, the runaway train of the first few years of business enthusiasm has propelled you gloriously into a steady stream of work, and now you’ve finally found the time to put the brakes on, and seen that your brand doesn’t represent you.
Or is a little rough around the edges.
And now, you have to rebrand.
If you’re about to drop thousands on branding, this article will save you doing it twice, and help you stand out.
This article is primarily for photographers who are DIY’ing their own brand. Or perhaps you’ve hired a designer, and will be in charge of continuing the roll-out of the brand that’s been created for you: either way, we need to show the same respect to the intricate craft of design as we expect is shown to our own craft of photography.
This doesn’t mean we need to become designers: it just means that there are advantages in having a better understanding of the craft of design and some of it’s foundational concepts, so that as a sole trader, when we’re tasked on then taking a brand we’ve developed or had developed for us, we know some of the rules that exist within design.
And that also means we know when to break the rules, and how to break them!
What this article is:
This is an article for those who are at the point in developing their brand where they are focusing on the aesthetic side of things, and either in the process of finding and engaging with a branding designer, or doing it themselves. It’s an article for those that want their brand to stand out and stand the test of time (brands don’t have to stand out or be different to produce an income, if that’s your only metric for success).
What this article isn’t:
This is not an article diving deep into the holistic or esoteric side of branding. We’re not going to be discussing all of the elements that actually make up your brand: which includes who you are as a person, what you wear (!), how you build your email marketing, and how you curate the images you show to elicit an emotional response.
Those are all really important (actually – they’re way more important) things, but this article will focus on just the design of the presentation layer: your website, how you lay out text and image, and the type of elements you choose to represent your business.
The stuff people see.
The stuff people think is your brand!
The tip of the iceberg, if you will, and often their first touchpoint with your brand.
And the part that is really easy to get wrong.
The problem with photographer branding in 2020
Why I wrote this:
I wrote this so that there is an exhaustive resource that equips photographers with knowledge of the craft of design and how wide it is: i’ve seen photographers go through the process of rebranding, only to come out the other side unhappy, and not standing out from their competitors, and then wanting to change it two years later.
I’ve been that person myself, despite having a ten year career in design before my photography career, because I didn’t respect the craft of design in my own brand, and it’s cost me having a solid, consistent brand, for the entirety of my photography career!
And I’ve seen that understanding design, and building a wide vocabulary in design, can solve this problem, where woo and #manifesting is one of the biggest current distractions to the genre, and template shops are opening up left right and centre with the exact same, derivative designs and approaches to branding that are doing more harm than good to photographers, and the status of design as a craft.
I wrote this also because of that moose-antler conundrum: a point in time where moose-antlers dominated photography branding around 2010-2015, and what followed, was the realisation that photographers had been taken advantage of by negligent design practice: design practice that didn’t protect them from their own inexperience, or do what design should do: pull out the unique brand that exists in every one of us.
Where were the damn turtles when we needed them?
There needs to be an exhaustive resource on how to navigate design, and how to interface with your new designer, so that you can develop and love your brand in a way that lasts: and I hope this is that resource for you.
Load yourself up with wine, weed or wonder (or all three).
This is a highly detailed (or unnecessarily verbose – take your pick) article: firstly because I reject the trend of short-form soundbyte culture, but also because I believe that approaching your photography brand design should be a highly detailed, thoughtful process. I know first hand what it’s like to not respect it and just “bash it out” – and it looks like this: resenting your own brand, and changing it every 12-18 months.
In fact, as I write this, I am in the process of updating my own brand, properly, for the first time since I began photography, and about the 6th time in total within that period.
If you invest the time into learning a little about the branding industry, a little about the brand marketplace itself, I promise it will pay off in a brand that connects properly with your audience, is cohesive, and stands out from your market.
And that means trustworthy, and that means more conversions, and that means a better business for you.
The craft of branding design is as democratised as tools become available that allow everyone access. And as we’ve seen with photography, there’s a difference between having a 20megapixel phone camera, and having a deep, nuanced understanding of light.
Why listen to me?
Great question. Maybe you shouldn’t. And if you do, definitely get a second opinion. It’s always recommended. But for what it’s worth, I do have a background in design, and spent about a decade working in design agencies on award-winning projects for websites for small businesses and up into multimillion dollar websites for private and government sectors. As well as that i’ve been a branding designer, user experience designer, illustrator, animator, and e-learning designer, and i’ve got an enormous passion for the intersection of all these crafts, and in drawing from different things to stand out.
I designed cartoon characters for the largest beverage brands, made a game with racing Ponies for Atari with nothing but one other friend and some late nights around my day-job, used design to sell hamburgers, cars, help teenagers navigate elections (and we all know how wrong THAT can go… Cambridge Analytica anyone?) xx and xx, all through design.
I’m far from being a great designer, but I know what design should do and I was fortunate to be hired for some neat projects along the way: and I know that sole-traders, when commissioning brand design, are at the whims of a designer that hopefully knows what they’re doing.
And I’ll tell you now, a lot of them out there, don’t know what they’re doing.
Elements of Branding 201
This is called Elements of branding 201 because this is a bit of a freestyle on the concept of branding elements, and there are better articles out there for that. So here, i’ve made my own. When you are considering a rebrand, you don’t really need to know all the technical bits and pieces, however I think these ones here are important to get a grasp of.
dfsdfds performance as in language speaking clothing etc
When putting content on a page – whether it’s a flier or a website – the rules are all the same: one of the goals is to not confuse your audience about the flow of text, and what is important. go into science about rate for leaving pages here
An introduction to era’s in design
Think back to
One thing we don’t see spoken about in our industry, is the concept of eras in design, and I think it’s really important to get a handle on, as it can help us consider them when branding our photography business, and have an enormous effect on the end design and feel.
What a design era is
A design era is a period in history where specific typefaces, colours, shapes, and layouts were, more or less, “on trend”. If we think of the 1950’s, we can immediately imagine what a 1950’s poster might look like.
How design can define an era and a brand
Design is the powerful trojan-horse that if used correctly, can have enormous implications on defining an era. I want you to look at these images of the New York Subway signage, where the brutalist, simple forms were almost a rebellion against the
How we can use eras to our advantage
As time marches on and we leave one decade for another, every typeface, colour, or shape that we’ve seen doesn’t just have it’s own inherent character: it inherents character from the time in which it existed. It is impossible to separate the brutal, beautiful simplicity of Helvetica from the New York subway systems, and it’s impossible to separate the flowing, rich shapes of Coca Colas logo from the 1950’s.
What this all means, is that design is also a conversation. If we use a typeface that had a great amount of saturation in the 1950’s, then when we use that, we create a conversation between that decade, and our usage of it now. A really great designer can pull away from that connection, but it’s often impossible.
This has it’s advantages though.
Currently, there is an enormous trend towards 60’s and 70’s serifed typefaces. I believe this will reach it’s peak in 2021 and 2022. Pair this with mustards and terracottas, and we have the pretty much the main trend for 2021. If we imagine that around us we have the 1800’s through to the 2010’s, suddenly it becomes clear that in each of those, are distinct flavours of design that were used. If we lay out what was found in those decades, suddenly we have an enormous vocabulary at our fingertips to draw from: the challenge is simply doing the groundwork in laying it all out.
3 Tips for using eras in our branding design and research
- Do your market research, and see what design era most of your competitors draw their inspiration from.
- Create a map containing every era, and begin to fill it with designs found within those eras, so you can see the design languages used.
- Identify what era you’re drawn to, and then ask yourself how it would feel to you to swap specific parts of your brand to another era.
Five Important Design Theories to be aware of as a photographer
Top 5 tips for your screen and print design
- Build a vocabulary in design
- Be mindful of competing elements
- Lead your designs to a conversion
If you have no idea what a grid is or think it sounds like unnecessary design-lingo, this is how I would personally put it: grids are the single biggest thing in design that will make your work easy for your audience to consume and trustworthy. An understanding of grids is the difference between good design that converts and bad design that confuses. You can have the most revolting typefaces such as Comic Sans, but if they are used carefully in a beautiful grid-structure, they can take on a new life of their own.
Recently, I saw a photographer celebrating that the web platform they were using allowed them to put content anywhere, and freed them of needing to use grids. This is kinda terrifying, because they didn’t know any better and were just excited that they could move things wherever they wanted to on the page.
Not using grids harms your design, harms your work, and harms your chances of connecting with your audience (the people paying you to do what you love).
This isn’t a know-the-rules-and-break them scenario, either – grids are the bedrock of all good design. No if’s or buts. The phrase is actually this: know *grids*, and you can break them – a little bit here, and a little bit there.
In music, “keys” are used to create a sense of consistency and grounding, and, at some point in the song, a “return to home”. Music is probably the greatest manipulation of all! If we want a listener to feel a certain emotion – happiness, sadness, stability, or instability, it’s a simple case of using keys and melodies strategically.
There’s a reason a lot of pop music seems formulaic – because it is, and it works.
Design is the same: you can create work that is as risk-taking and abstract and rule-breaking as King Crimson, but it’s going to be a very delicate exercise, and potentially polarising if it’s not done properly.
In design, a strong grid underneath your website is that “Return to home”. It creates a bedrock of familiarity for where your content sits. This generates trust, and it creates ease for your couples using your website.
Your designer needs to ensure they’re creating your digital brand – your website and any other collateral – on a grid.
No ifs or buts.
Top 5 tips for devising your brand
- Build a vocabulary in design
- Build a picture of your ideal customer
- Design for your ideal customer
- Steal like an artist
Bringing your brand online
Branding design as a whole, and especially web design, has seen a beautiful renaissance in the area of templates. A template is a pre-made design, that you can tweak to your own needs and audience. Templates are great, until everyone in your market is using them, without modifying them to stand out separately to the person next to them. This isn’t always a negative though – remember what’s in this article is all “best practice” stuff. It’s entirely ok to lean less on market separation in your design, and invest all your energy into word-of-mouth referrals (which you should do as well anyway).
I’m currently building my own new website on a template – it cuts out a lot of the work. The important thing, is ensuring my own language weaves through it.
I want to direct you to this photography design marketplace on Etsy, and I want you to consider whether this might all be the work of one designer, or multiple. https://www.etsy.com/au/market/photography_branding. As beautiful as they all are – if we squint – we cannot tell them apart.
What to look for in your branding designer
You might not know it, but when you engage with a branding designer, you’re giving someone the task of representing you, and bringing you to life, through the wide and deep craft of design. They’re not there to make you pretty stuff and do as you tell them, because that’s not a designers job: they’re there to lead you into standing out in your market, and be proactive.
When hiring a professional, let the professional do what they are trained to, and don’t just get them to duplicate a set of Pinterest boards you’ve found.
A good designers job is to do the following three things:
- Design for you and your audience, not for themselves
- Guard you from your own inexperience
- Build a brand that you love (and make you love it)
Let’s dive into each of those.
A good designer designs for you and your audience, not for themselves
A designers job is to serve you, not their portfolio. Much in the same way that as a photographer, our job is to serve our couples, and make images that connect with them, not serve our own love of dark and moody or weird compositions. I constantly have to remind myself with this in my own business and keep my ego in check, and, it’s a pain in the ass. It harms my chances of connecting to my audience and booking work if I forget that i’m serving them, not me.
There is always, with anything, a natural angle that contradicts that: the beautiful tension that lies at the intersection between making work for “us” (the experts) and making work for “them” (our clients). What I mean by that is this: I know that if i’m on a photoshoot, and making images that i’m drawn to, I know that, in theory, they will be good images. It’s me trusting my gut, and not letting myself be influenced by someone who is outside of my craft, and might not be aware of the nuances of what i’m doing. Trust your gut and you can’t go wrong, right?
With that said, my job is also to do what i’m told, and get the damn group shot. Because they are worth their weight in gold, quick to do, serve them and their community, and in many ways, are arguably worth much much more than any magnum-esque stroke of photojournalistic brilliance that my ego might place on a pedestal above it.
Doing great work always lives at the tension between serving our clients, and, as a professional who knows what they’re doing, serving our gut.
Design works in the same way. If you see a designer, their portfolio might all look the same, but click through to their own clients brands, and see if that same-ness is carrying out through the brands they’re designing for.
If their entire client-side portfolio looks the same (it’s ok if their instagram does, that’s their curation point), then you’re not hiring a designer, you’re hiring an artist, and that artist is serving their own vision over their clients brands by making work that benefits the consistency of their own portfolio.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, IF you have done your competitive market analysis, and come to the conclusion that A: that style will match your audience, and B: that style will separate you from your competitors.
There is something inherently wrong with that, if the designer is falling back on a particular style because that’s all they know. And this means two things: they are not there solving a problem for you and for your market, and it means they might not be trained and have an updated vocabulary in design themselves.
To reiterate – hiring an artist is perfectly fine and is often the best way of coming out with a potently brilliant stroke of genius. Just make sure that you’re doing your market analysis, and are sure that you gain a competitive edge by employing that artists style: a designer will solve your problem with your competition in mind, an artist will (by nature of the role an artist plays – a narrow, single-minded voice in their practice) skip that step, and assume you have already done that legwork before you approached them.
Both are valid, just know what you’re getting into, what role the person is that you’re hiring, and why they are the right fit for you and your photography brand.
Here’s where hiring an artist goes wrong: when a broad cross-section of your industry niche hires the exact same artist, as we saw with a very distinct white-on-black illustrative style around 2016 onwards.
Hiring the same artist that your industry peers hired, will dilute and hurt your brand.
Hiring the same photography brand designer, on the other hand, wont hurt your brand: if they are a branding design professional, then they will protect you from looking like their other clients, as part of your competitive market analysis.
A good designer guards you from your own inexperience
Imagine this: someone has enquired with you to photograph their wedding: the first meeting has gone great, and now they’re enthusiastically presenting shot-lists for each section of the day. You know that this isn’t the way for them to get ideal coverage, and it isn’t the best way for them to use your services: because you’ll be missing important moments all day, trying to reconstruct someone else’s vision, instead of doing justice to their day as it it. But this question can often get asked because they’re inexperienced in having a wedding (it’s often their first time) and some magazines tell them they should do it, and because of that the photographers job is to guard them from their own inexperience and present a better way (which is – no shot-lists for each part of the day, and instead trusting you as a service provider).
Design is the same.
Design is not about creating pretty things. Design is the act of problem solving, with a specific end goal in mind. And that end-goal should always have positive implications for us as humans, our clients, and ideally the planet. Anything else is a flaw (the idea isn’t to be totally devoid of flaws, by the way, but instead just to minimise them).
Design is not the act of making something pretty, or making something we get addicted to (hello Facebook, you poorly designed platform).
This is worth saying again. Design is not making something pretty: that’s called art and craft.
Sidenote: this is why Instagram, Facebook, and Apple, employ, fundamentally, as much bad design as they do good design (believe it: in fact, they systemise bad design!). Ever gotten the Apple dialogue that gives you two options for updating – “not now” and “remind me tomorrow”?
Those aren’t options, they are coercion, and that is bad, by design.
I don’t want to be reminded tomorrow – I want to not see that dialogue ever again! They are bad design, and don’t actually give the user the options we think they do. Instagram and Facebook? Those companies employ engineers who’s job is to create more addiction in it’s users.
Good design does good for the world, it doesn’t lead astray, and it doesn’t take advantage of every cheap trick in the psychologists handbook.
A good designer builds you a brand that you love
This one is a little less obvious: you should love your brand, because if you don’t love your brand, you wont be an advocate for it. And if you don’t love it, people can smell it a mile away.
Here’s the tricky tension though: you don’t have to “be” your brand. A lot of the messaging around authenticity I feel has missed the mark, and leads folks into the false idea that our business has to double as our personal outlet.
Nope – it just needs to be the fullest version of itself: a service that a specific target market is hiring.
Something i’ve spoken about at conferences for years, is the art of separating your business from yourself, and letting your brand be a character.
In fact, that’s pretty much all we did with my arbour company The Arbourists, which as much a test of being characters on social media rather than a business, which no-one else in the wedding space was doing. For us it was a success, as it contributed to a bizarre amount of hype, front-page on newspapers and an inbox full with a higher ratio of interactivity than anything else i’ve seen. That’s the power of stepping into character, and giving people something that snaps them out of what they normally see on social media (also file this under – invest in a copywriter!).
What’s the takeaway here? A good designer should leave you feeling in LOVE with your brand – even if it’s an animal entirely separate to yourself that you’ve grown together.
Because THAT’s worth buying into.
The difference a good branding designer makes
Finding a designer is TOUGH. It’s tough, because unless you have a vocabulary in design and have done your research and invested the correct amount of time in understanding their craft (which again – is what we should expect of people engaging us – respecting our craft!), it can be tough to understand whether the designer is a great fit, and it can be tough to get a good understanding of whether they have the tools and the capacity to properly understand your audience and the heart of your business.
It’s hard, because it means engaging with a marketplace we are unfamiliar and inexperienced with.
Ringing any bells?
It should be – this is exactly what couples deal with when looking for a photographer: putting “photographers near me” into google, and trawling directories of wild wanderlusting authentic photographers, with no real idea on the things they should be looking for. If nothing else – this should make you place importance on the branding process and treat it properly.
Unfortunately though, i’ve lost count of the number of times where i’ve heard first-hand stories of photographers spending between $2k – $10k and ended up- unhappy with their brand, and re-engaging a designer shortly after to go through it again. Granted, what we actually think of our brand is secondary to the most important goal: It working for our customer and talking to them. When we separate ourselves from our brand, we understand that the brand exists primarily for our audience. Not us. But with that said, i think it’s important to love your brand.
If you love your brand, you’ll wear it with pride, champion it, and that means more visibility, more conversions, and a brand you’re less likely to want to change in 2 years.
Three exercises you can do to build your design vocabulary
When you engage with a good designer, they’ll spend less time referencing Pinterest boards, and more time actually diving into who you are and what your business is, so that the end result is more unique, and future-proof.
With that said, there are some great exercises you can do to widen your own design vocabulary, before engaging with your designer. Doing this will ensure that you have more context to the things you’re being shown, and can take a more educated role in the conversations you’re having.
- Build your market analysis grid
Top 3 design resources for branding
Creating a brand that stands out in your market of photographers is
The “search” area of Niice.co is an intelligent library of branding.
A quick three steps for branding yourself:
Work out your target market
Work out what you love doing
Identify where those two overlap
Hire your designer or do it yourself. If you hire a designer, they might have their own discovery process – which is great, because you’ll already have thoughtful talking points prepared ahead of time.
Plagiarism and brand-theft: protect your photography business branding
When you create a brand, you merge all of the pieces of “you” together, into a unique formula that exists to connect with your target audience, and you present it to the world so that you can continue to do what you love, and pay your rent in the process.
What a beautiful thing!
This is worth protecting. Not in some antagonistic way, but gently protecting, because it’s better for everyone involved, including the folks that think imitation is a shortcut. Copying someone else’s brand doesn’t make our brand as good as theirs – it halves the potency of both brands: theirs included.
Given all the tools we have available now, brand-theft and imitation has never been more prolific or easily attainable. I consider my traffic to be low in my niche, yet I have to issue takedowns every other month for stolen content and design. Gaining inspiration from colour palettes is one thing, directly stealing copywriting, for example, is another. Read on to see how this is easy and pain-free to track.
I can also think of a specific photographer who’s Contact page, where they spoke gently about finding the photographer who’s work speaks to you, became directly copied, word for word, by hundreds of photographers – and remains that way. Cutting and pasting the text they crafted and putting it into google, reveals hundreds of other photographers using what they wrote. And when the same couple sees that on multiple web-pages, it’s bad for everyone.
When someone rips off your brand, not only do they dilute both your brand and theirs, but they skip the queue: they skip all of the things you learnt that make you, you, and they potentially skip the exhaustive process of either doing a brand yourself or hiring a designer.
Corporations protect their intellectual property through use of lawyers. We’re (most likely) sole traders, and so don’t have that kind of infrastructure to defend our brand honour.
So how can we ensure people aren’t stealing out work?
Identify things that are unique to your brand, and find ways of automating them being checked. For example: I love writing, and go to great lengths to ensure my copywriting is different in tone and in the arrangement of words to what is around me. Not better: different. Some photographers emphasize beautiful intricate design, where my tool is a specific style of writing.
I want their to be no illusion to potential clients that they’re speaking to me, and not the person they just looked at. Because of this, and because of the countless late nights spent crafting this, I protect it. I have a small handful of key phrases and terms in Google Alerts, and I get an alert if someone has duplicated my content for their own brand. This has occurred several times, even in my own local neighbourhood, in one case with a past workshop attendee (don’t be that… person), and this simple trick took all of 10 minutes to setup and then have the problem corrected.
A nicely worded email to someone afraid to use their own voice and using theft as an alternative is a good solution for your brand (as the duplicate is removed) and a good outcome for them as they’ll then be encouraged to find their own way with something authentic to them.
Best Branding Designers you might not know: Top 3
In a world of sole-traders and democratised education, a “qualification” is sometimes a dirty word, while being self-taught (which doesn’t exist) is celebrated. I’ve seen it championed at conferences. I’ve championed it myself! Then I realised, no, i’m not a self-taught photographer, i’ve drawn my education from other areas, and leaned very heavily on my formal design education.
In design, there is nothing to be celebrated by being self taught. There’s no such thing as self taught, anyway. It doesn’t exist (but it looks great on a t-shirt).
In design, you want someone who has had an education: be it formal, or informal. This is important because in design, context is important! If a designer doesn’t understand where a typeface has come from, or by what era or trend a shape was drawn from, then they won’t be creating a cohesive language for you, and you’ll be hiring them to make work that will damage your brand in the long run.
If a designer doesn’t understand the depth to which a rebrand needs to reach via all of the points in a rollout, then they’ll get you a nice shopfront, while everything else that comes after it falls apart.
Demand that the designer you hire has had an education of some sort, and isn’t simply throwing together tired, derivitive design elements on a DIY, build-your-own-brand template system.
They don’t need to have had a formal education, necessarily, but they need to have done their background work, and be in the business of being a designer, not someone who throws pretty things together to a mood-board you created on pinterest. That’s how you create a brand you end up wanting to move away from in 18 months.
Three of the best Wedding Photographer Branding Designers
Finding a good branding designer is hard. Finding someone that will respect your niche and do the job properly with sensitivity to who else they work with, is even harder. Here are three brilliant, educated designers who have done their homework, and are educated in the complex, layered craft of design.
Both is a design studio in the purest sense of the word, creating brands
If you haven’t seen her iconic work for wedding videographers Bottlebrush Films (check out their brand), you might have been under a rock (or perhaps you have your Covid mask pulled up a little too high). Her beautiful, varied, and highly detailed work aside, Leelou does what a lot of designers are probably afraid to do – that that’s drastically limit the amount of jobs she takes on. I know at one point early on, she was backed up for 12-18 months! I know this, because I asked if she was available for a referral. That’s bad for your instant gratification, but good for your brand: because you know off the bat that you’re given the attention and percolation time that good design requires, but other designers might be afraid to make space for. A good designer will be responsible in gifting the photographer with the proper percolation time required to develop a thoughtful brand.
Three things your photography branding designer must provide you when developing your brand
Your photography branding designer will provide you with three things
Tone of voice document
Three of the best wedding photographer websites and brands
Beck Rocchi’s photography brand is one of the more enduring examples of an innovative website shopfront that’s stood the test of time. I’m such a fan of her website, and it’s held it’s own for about half a decade now, through it’s use of typefaces, colours and design sensibility that’s different to anything else out there, and scaleable. Gorgeous wedding photographer branding
James Moe’s wedding photographer branding reminds me of some great food and beverage brands i’ve seen: strong typography, and a simple, beautifully blunt nature to it, with a unique photo-stack interactivity that invites exploration. Brilliant, timeless, understated, stands out from the pack and an incredible example of great wedding photographer branding.
Sorry, but this spot is reserved not for a wedding photographer but an industrial designer: Daniel Polevoys portfolio is one example of a totally different approach to portfolio design that exists in other design disciplines. Innovate use of full-screen, and zero clutter.
The Photography business branding glossary
When you’re engaging with a branding designer, you want to have a little bit of an understanding of the language that will be used. Not so that you can jump over the table and tell them that you know more about waving a pencil around than they do, but so you have a little bit of a head start in the conversations and can keep things on a juicy track to the heart brands-ville, rather than learning about these key things for the first time.
Audience / target market
All good brands start with having your ideal audience in mind, front and centre. Every branding decision you make needs to be informed by the audience you are aiming to connect with. Who are they? Where to they live? What do they like doing? What music do they listen to? Do they travel? What do they eat and drink, what are their spending habits?
This exercise isn’t kitting you up to be the perfect stalker – it draws you the perfect picture of your ideal client, so that you can make decisions that are relevant not to you, but to them. From there, you can get a better idea of what they will connect with: in terms of aesthetic, tone of voice, pricing, and more. Knowing your target market will directly influence your decision of typefaces, colours, and more.
Thoughtfully mapping out your ideal buyer will save you tonnes of ambiguous research when designing your brand. Your brand shouldn’t speak to you – it should speak to your audience.
As an extra tip, remember that you don’t have to “be” your work. Want to reach luxury clientele draped in Louis Vuitton bags? Then put your hipster ego away, and design your brand for those people, in honour of what we are: a service provider.
In an industry where we love what we do and don’t like to use words like “client” or “conversion” or “consumer”, it can be tempting to think these words conflict with delivering a human service.
But they don’t! In fact, I think they support it.
A conversion is someone in your target market who came to your website, liked what they saw, and you converted that thing – which they were going to buy regardless of whether it was from you or someone else – into dollars. Those dollars mean your rent is paid, food is on your table, and you get to continue serving people you love by doing what you love: the most human thing of all!
So we make sure that our brand and user experience is crafted with conversions in mind.
Every piece of real-estate on your website, every thing you put in front of another human, needs to be with the end goal of serving a conversion (unless you’re being bankrolled by royalty and doing it just for kicks). Bad examples of this include modern sales funnels on facebook with “limited” webinar seats that coerce people using false-scarcity (real scarcity is good – false scarcity is shit, and bad design leaking out of an insufferable hustle culture).
Good examples of this include using your work to elicit feeling and connection with you as a human – so the end user is buying into you from a genuine place, and not from having their anxiety levels raised by false scarcity.
A conversion is you being chosen to solve someones problem in a beautiful way, instead of someone else.
Design is the act of solving a problem through something that’s better for the world than what was there before it. Design is often confused with art, pretty things, and people wearing turtleneck sweaters.
True design, is far less sexy.
Good design solves a problem that your target market has, makes someone feel loved, and makes the world better. That’s about all that good design is.
In practical terms, design ties these goals together with the elements of your brand that people see. How your page
A bad designer puts the elements of design and sexy stuff first – AKA every high-school essay I ever did, drawing dragons and medieval be-headings in the page borders before I bothered to write a single word. A good designer works to understand your target market and the incredibly important pieces of yourself, and uses their knowledge of the craft of design to solve their problems in a way that is different to your competition.
Just as you have a wide photographic vocabulary and know about aperture, shutter speed, and know the difference between photojournalism and portraiture, a design vocabulary is a knowledge of the elements of design, and how they relate to creating a brand that’s impactful, and converts.
A design vocabulary is also about understanding how design has changed over the decades, and the ability to understand using past context in modern designs.
A shallow design vocabulary might only think of one era when thinking of “old” design. A deep design vocabulary will be able to draw from more influences, and create something more unique, in your market. A deep design vocabulary is also one that is aware of the state of the market and what trends are currently being used.
By building our own design vocabulary as photographers, we can more closely understand our own brand and where it sits within the broader language of branding design, across both past and present.
And this means we’ll hopefully avoid having moose antlers in our logo.
A font is the digital file that contains your typeface. The typeface, is the design of the characters themselves. When people say they are looking for a font, or want a font similar to another one, what they actually mean is they want a Typeface.
For example. Comic Sans is not a font, Comic Sans is a Typeface. Comic-Sans.TTF however is the font. The font is simply the digital file that contains the typeface. This might seem like a technicality, but your designer will be over the moon if you use the correct terminology.
The act of researching your competitors. I know community over competition is a thing. I also know that by not treating your business as a business, people that are treating it like a business, will book your clients, instead of you. The community over competition movement is great, until just being a great member of your community while being on the back-foot in regards to the business side of things doesn’t result in food on the table. Sometimes community is enough to get plenty of work in the door, and sometimes there are other market factors involved that will require other avenues – this is fact.
It can be both community, and competition (and, well, it is, whether we like it or not – competition isn’t a dirty word, when did that happen?).
There are a finite amount of jobs, and there are an even more finite amount of jobs that fit within my ideal customer profile. This isn’t scarcity mindset, it’s basic laws of economics and market density. If you don’t believe me, then look back to 1950, and try to imagine the wedding photography industry then being as full, thriving, respected and accessible as a trade as it is now.
We’ve got it good.
So, I want to book my people. If I don’t book them, someone next to me will – and deservedly! But, I happen to believe I can make beautiful stuff for them. That’s all part of the game. So, I need to work for my seat at the table, and that means creating visibility within my market, and a point of difference. This shouldn’t be dissuading, but a positive, exciting step in helping you reach your market and lead them in how they can think about things.
That means working out who my competition is, analysing them head to toe, and making sure what I offer is just as good, and is an attractive option for a client looking at both of us. My aim is for there to be no confusion between myself and the person next to me.
Bonus tip: what other industries do this: A: every single one… Don’t fall for the kumbaya-woo – you can serve your community, share, exercise openness and be a great human on one hand, and on the other, also future-proof your business in a fast market, by doing a competitor analysis, and ensuring that your branding design itself has a strategic relationship with what you’ve discovered about other operators within your market. It’s such a shame to see the value of a market analysis go out the window in service-based professions, but that’s born out of both privilege, and photographers confusing what we’re doing with art, when we’re in the service business, not the arts.
We do a market analysis so that we can make informed decisions on how we can bring art and strategy into our brand, to stand out in the market.
Do a market analysis!
A brand rollout is the application of a brand design onto all different elements that are needed. For example: you get a logo done, a colour palette, and a basic style-guide. At some point, you might need to “roll this out” onto a new application, such as a piece of email marketing.
You know in the news how there’s often people causing a fuss about a government logo costing $2million in some shitty tabloid? Preposterous! How could they spend so much money on a logo! The phone lines run hot, the opinion columns are full of thought-pieces on the tragic misuse of spending.
Well, “that logo” cost that much because there has been an enormous amount of human labour used in applying that logo and style into an incredibly long list of possible things – such as signage, websites, applications, and more.
And it is worth every cent.
You won’t have to do all of this as a photographer, but there is a natural point in the branding process where you might have to “roll out your design” onto some things yourself – and that’s where you will call on all of the knowledge of design elements listed earlier in this post.
Being aware of your designers departure point, that is – where you are no longer paying them to create things – is crucial.
Questions to ask: What am I being left with? Do I have a style guide from my designer that equips me to apply my brand to any new elements in the future? Is it detailed enough, does it cover use of colours, layout and typography?
Random design resources
Photography Brand Trends report 2020
I have created the first trends report on design and branding within the wedding photography industry. This trend report has detailed information on styles that are reaching peak saturation, recommendations on styles to avoid, and genres of design and style that have not yet been touched by the wedding photography industry. If you want some clear starting points on styles that will stand out and have done your own market research, this is the cheapest way to pair them together and begin formulating your perfect wedding photography brand.
It’s just $39, and you can download it here.
Text from Ross Flothemes to insert
In todays competitive creative market, being a general designer serves many benefits. Having a core understanding of design principles, typography and general trends will bring deep value across all external outlets for your brand be that through marketing, online or any visual aspects.
In product design and management, a vision strategy must be initially created. Consider this a business plan blueprint for what you are to create individually or as a team. This process requires you to dream and specify what the end result will be and then work backwards and fill in the middle. Imagine however that this process was started simply by comparing what others had built! While this unfortunately is common practice it stifles innovation including creativity. As Businesses that sell a creative service to customers there is a combined balance of building a brand that has trust pillars yet also allowing your brand to be memorable or distinctive. First craft your internal brand objectives, who your clients are and draft a brand story for that target client. What are the values you will provide (This does not mean great customer service, or a good experience as these should be standard). Reach beyond the standard level, for many of us being great and professional is not enough to guarantee ongoing work in competitive saturated markets. Now that you may have a general outline of what and who you aim for, you can start to plan your visual communication to attract that focused client target. In my experience the best form of brand design to communicate starts with typography and then everything else.
Tips to test your typography:
Distance Test. Ig you care about readability, make sure you can read it from a short distance from any device.
Test your elevator pitch, does your story work with the type you choose.
Many choose beautiful fonts however not all fonts work best for every business name or “description, elevator pitch”. Make sure that this part is perfected. Strong type on your main brand story is no different than an in person elevator pitch done right or poorly.
Type is communication, does it read as you speak.
In sales the laws of persuasion suggest to speak slower when others agree with you, and faster when others are unsure or disagree. Now, I am not recommending to be rude or interrupt others however if you are confident, and know your value and skill, you should be able to talk about your brand with confidence. In copywriting, your brand has to package and sell whatever service or product you offer. Some clients will skim your offering and others will read each word slowly to evaluate your offer for them. Make sure that your chosen type packages your key offerings correctly. It has been too often that brand designers package beautiful pair offerings only to find that when the client begins designing their website with copy that the chosen fonts are not the best fit.
I’m a wedding photographer, progressive photography educator, and recovering designer. I’ve designed for some of the biggest brands on the planet, and worked on projects from everything from healthcare, to military, to racing ponies. I believe in soft work over scaled work, and work that speaks deeper to less than shallower to more. I wrote this article for photographers who want to create a brand that brings something new to the industry they’re in.