The how-to guide for brand photography on your website
I’m not the kind of person who poses willingly for photos. If you were to look through a photo album of me from the ages of 18–24, you’d see a lot of ducking and twisting to get out of the frame.
Even now it feels alien and uncomfortable to be photographed, but I’ve realized that if I take control of the narrative by posing intentionally, the photos come out better than when I’m ambushed with a candid snap.
So you can understand why I’d be reluctant to add a bunch of photos of myself on my website, never mind go in for a brand photography shoot. Even more than that, I’m a rebel (not in the angsty teen spirit kind of way — it’s just a quirk of my personality). When I see everyone else turning left, I’m pulled to go right. I can’t help it.
When I saw everyone else with bright shiny professional photos of themselves all over their websites, I thought, “Pssh, that’s a bit egotistical. Let me do the exact opposite.”
That’s why the first iteration of my website had no photos at all, except for a single black-and-white photo of me looking artistically off into the distance. In the second iteration of my website, I kept the small image of me on my about page and added some stock photos on the other pages.
What I realized was that, by hiding myself from my website, I wasn’t building a personal brand. I wasn’t connecting with my audience in the way I wanted to. At first, I thought I had to hire a professional photographer to do a brand photography shoot and reached out to my local Rising Tide Society chapter.
But, when it comes to photographers (and lots of other things), you get what you pay for. I learned that lesson the hard way when 98% of my wedding photos made me look like a shiny pig (double-chin and all). I don’t know how you feel about this, but the thought of spending hundreds of dollars to have someone take pictures of me felt kinda like paying to be tortured.
Then — lightbulb moment — I realized that I could take my own photos! This would put me at ease (I’m not performing in front of someone else) and it would give me editorial control (I loathe it when people say, “You look great in that photo!” when I actually look like a shiny pig).
AND, perhaps the best bonus point of all, I could do it myself for less than the cost of a stock photo.
Let me walk you through the play-by-play.
Step 1: gather the equipment
Tripod with iPhone attachment ($10 from Walmart)
Bluetooth iPhone camera remote ($8 from Amazon)
I already had the iPhone so not counting it in the cost
Step 2: plan the costume changes
First, I thought about my brand colors and looked to my wardrobe to see what would work (only to realize it’s 80% black, navy, or grey).
Then I thought about my brand tone. What kind of personality do I want to convey with my brand? Approachable, kind, but also slightly badass.
Step 3: set the scene
I wanted to shoot against a solid colored wall so that I could edit out the background and have flexibility in how I used the images. I live in an apartment with all white walls, so that was easy.
Also, you might want to take some shots of your workspace or some flat lays of common items that you use that represent your brand. Gather those things and set them up.
Step 4: lights, camera, action
I opened the blinds on the window (opposite of the white wall I was using). Natural light is the best. You could also get some daylight bulbs and put them in lamps that you use to light the scene, which would be second best.
I turned the camera (iPhone) to landscape mode, set it up in the tripod at about eye level, and then proceeded to take about 100 photos.
Make sure you get a good mix of shots in different outfits and poses. Think about where you want these photos to be displayed.
I also did a mix of long shots, medium shots, and close-ups.
Step 5: do it in post (head nod to my fellow film school peeps)
I used Snapseed and VSCO apps on my iPhone to do all the editing. Essentially just bumping up the exposure, contrast, and saturation a smidge was all that needed to be done. (I did use photoshop to edit out the light switch that was showing, but maybe I could’ve done that with an iPhone app too.)
What I learned and what I’d do differently next time:
Make a plan for the kinds of shots you want to have. Think about where they’ll be used, whether it should be a close-up or long shot, and plan which outfits are to be worn when. (Storyboarding this out would have been great.)
Use props. I did do a couple shots with a laptop but I should’ve taken the case off of it and had other props as well. Consider taking a photo of yourself at your workstation. Try taking some while you’re writing or reading or doing what you do.
Take flat lay photos of objects you use or that represent your brand. I’ve tried flat lays once before and they turned out amateur-looking. That being said, they’re definitely nice to have and since you’re taking photos already, you might as well try it.
Basically, instead of winging it, I’m going to try to be much more intentional and take more photos next time.
4 more tips for snaps that look profesh and help you stand out (even if you’re using stock photos):
Think lateral > literal
I cannot take credit for this genius insight. It comes from Paul Boag, UX consultant and the host of the Boagworld podcast. What it means is that instead of saying, “I’m a web designer, let me show photos of me designing on my laptop” (i.e. literal interpretation), to consider adjacent themes and associations. For example, when I think of design, I might think of bold color, or white space or the editorial spreads in classy magazines.
Watch crop + camera placement
What angle would best express the tone you’re going for? Should it be a widescreen shot or a close-up? Shot from above, below, or at eye-level? These are all important things to consider before setting up and shooting.
Find your focus
Similarly, you want to consider the focal point of the image. What’s the most interesting part of the image? Is it the big picture or a specific detail? What part do you want to focus on?
Cohesiveness + consistency
Above all, you want your photos to be consistent. This might mean that they all have the same colors in the frame, or the same subject, the same lighting, or the same filter applied. It could even mean you used the same camera angle and crop for all of them. The point is, whether you’re sourcing stock photos or taking your own, make sure they all look like they belong to your brand.
Before thinking that you have to spend hundreds or thousands on a professional (and awkward) photo shoot, take some time to consider your options. Now you should have an understanding of how to DIY your own brand photography (for less than $20) or how to source stock photos effectively.
Let me know how you source your site photos in the comments below (DIY, professional, or stock library?). And are you happy with the overall experience they lend to your site?