July 2018: Depictions of ones ‘self’ and my theory on how brand photos can turn you into the person you want to be.
Brand Photo-shoots are all the rage right now, especially amongst female entrepreneurs, experts and personalities of all sorts. Why? Because brand photos have the secret power to turn an ordinary person like you and me into the extraordinary person we want to be.
Entrepreneurs around the world are already using this identity up-stepping phenomenon to transform themselves into modern age celebrities and thought leaders helping them build an online career and attain the life of their dreams. This is the exact same reason why Instagram is currently the #1 social media platform for fun but also for business: images are more often than not more powerful than words in building online perceptions.
Not many people understand the magic behind this madness and scratch their heads whilst trying to crack the code behind this new age phenomenon.
In this month’s journal, I’ll explain how to transform yourself into the business person you want to become, step-up your career and grow in confidence using brand photography as a tool to shift perceptions — both your own but also those who are gazing at your photos.
Brand Photography is a new genre that emerged recently and very quickly became the most sought after career path for photographers amongst us. Why? Due to its demand and transformative powers.
I am not sure exactly when and where this style of photography first originated, but when I first came up with an idea for my brand photo-shoots in 2015, I had not realised they were going to be such a hit. My approach flowed naturally and was inspired by my university artistic work as part of my final year thesis (more on that later). I wasn’t sure how to call what I was doing, so I initially settled for ‘photographic branding’. Broadly, the idea was to approach a photography shoot in the same way that a designer would approach a graphics design project of an expressive or personable brand.
Brand photography is therefore a hybrid between traditional business photo-shoots and conceptual artistic photography often used in advertising to communicate targeted messages to specific audiences. What this means is that brand photography is essentially a blend of photographic art and strategic marketing, the aim here being to showcase the subject in their everyday setting of choice, while telling the story of who they are in life and in business whilst also capturing their authentic yet aspiring personality.
Seeing is believing, they say
If we pose in a certain way, in a carefully planned outfit and location while performing our desired self, then we are able to communicate a certain impression of who we are and what we’re about. Brand photoshoots are therefore a very powerful way to build personal brand profiles, trust and credibility on- and off-line. At the same time, by embodying this person for the duration of the photoshoot and performing as if we were that person, we ourself soon become it. It’s a bit like setting yourself up for what comes next.
Such was the demand for brand photoshoots that my business exploded. Within 4 months from launching my brand photoshoots, I became one of the most sought after photographers in Bristol and worked with more than 50 business owners that year. In 2015, you could not get a brand photoshoot from many photographers. I was one of only three photographers who offered those transformative photoshoots in the UK, and the only one in Bristol.
Today, many photographers who come from other disciplines (e.g. wedding or corporate) have re-branded themselves as brand photographers to capture their share of this pixie dust. To be a brilliant brand photographer you need a very specific set of skills as epic brand photoshoots don’t just happen. Strategic planning and creative genius come together to make them happen; the left-brain logic and the right-brain magic must work hand in hand to create carefully choreographed stories, ideas and identities of the subject in the photos. To that end, I’ve developed the following approach: I use a blend of design thinking alongside the photographic process, and combine it with strategic discovery questionnaires in order to understand one’s personality and aspirations which I later re-construct (or design it if you like) at the photoshoot through body styling, props, intentionally picked locations and carefully staged performances that communicate who my clients are and tell the story of their life and business. It’s a bit like creating a narrative and costumes for a film, but instead of filming it, the scenes are being photographed.
This month, I had my own brand photoshoot (see pictures below). To create my brand story and communicate who I am, I closely followed my own strategic branding process, blending my knowledge of cultural theories, conceptual art, human psychology, personal styling, symbolism, colour psychology, identity archetypes, visual storytelling, business and marketing strategy.
Visuable’s signature branding process derives from my degree in Media and Cultural Studies. As an example, here are two of my early days photographic art projects dated 2010 and 2011. Those projects mark the beginning of my creative explorations into theories of identity, performance and ones self.
This project explores the fictional world of TV drama and the ways in which it portrays women in emotional situations. The project brings together photography and performance creating a unique juxtaposition in what seems like real emotional encounters that are in fact carefully staged performances, which follow the conventions of television drama. The project questions whether emotions can be communicated non-verbally through standarised codes and conventions.
This project explores the relationship between personal and public image that each person projects. It portrays people in their private spheres in the same way they would normally exist in public spheres. By creating temporal installation in decontextualised space divided into two stages by white canvas, the artist aims to examine to what extent our real self is being transformed by putting on the uniform and performing our acquired professional self.
Those early photographic art projects correlate with the way we approach brand photoshoots at Visuable and were influenced by Untitled Film Stills Collection by a photographic artist Cindy Sherman and theorist Simone de Beauvoir who claimed that ‘one is not born, but becomes a woman’.
Following Sherman’s and Beauvoir’s line of thought I strongly believe that our embodied identity is not fixed but fluid and can shift and change depending on our mindset, surroundings, body positioning and styling.
The concept of embodiment and how we can convince our brain to accept, own, and control our body and psyche has recently risen to interesting new heights in emerging fields like immersive Virtual Reality — something I’m currently fascinated about and might write about in the future. For example, how will embodiment affect narrative story telling in VR, and how will that be realised in branding and in business?
The ability to choreograph your business personality brand through photography is super powerful as it enables any business owner to appear as if they were already an established personality and create any brand story or narrative they desire, thus helping them build credibility within their audience much faster and as a result drive sales and grow organically in a competitive marketplace.
It really works. Following this philosophy, I was able to establish myself as the go-to visual branding expert within 4-months from launching my business. I now use this exact approach to help my clients define, create, and grow a brilliant brand and speed up their journey to success.
My signature branding process allows me to pin-point and extract my client’s vision and brand story and recreate it digitally through photos and websites.
I help my clients see their brand identity as something innate that can be externalised and up-levelled, rather than just a set of fonts and colours. By helping my clients dream big and envision who they could become, and by providing a tangible, visually striking and perfectly aligned translation, I help them step into the business person they aspire to be and live up their vision. My clients often mention “Visuable magic” which refers to the effect we have on them.
For my own brand photo-shoot, I worked with my friend Venetia Norrington who is an awesome photographer and also offers branding shoots. I met Venetia not long ago but we got on so well that I felt we’ve known each other forever which is why I wanted to work with her on this project.
I had a vision for my own brand photos for a very long time but no time to make it happen. Finally, I pulled myself together and spent pretty much a week of full time preparations to bring all my identities to life. My team worked tirelessly to create my vision of ‘Visuable Inspiration Wall’ which was a visualisation of who we are, what we do and how it’s like to work with us. We made a life size artistic wall installation Moodboard filled with our client’s brand photos, website and design printouts, inspirations, Pantone cards and brand archetype personality cards.
Showcasing what we do
My vision was to be photographed at the front of that wall, doing what I usually do behind the scenes at Visuable as a Creative Director for my team and a Brand Expert for my clients — planning, learning, replying to emails, consulting, leading my team, designing and taking photos. I wanted to pay tribute to all the great brands and people we had the pleasure to work with.
This kind of expression of who I am and how I go about my daily life as a business owner will help my future clients further understand how it’s like to work with Visuable, develop the feeling of familiarity and trust and envision themselves as one of our clients. I believe that if they like what they see and are inspired by who we are and how we work, they will want to buy our service.
This is what I call visual selling and is the strategy that’s at the heart of our brand philosophy and one that I’ve been using to step myself up on the career ladder and attract my ideal clients since I started in business 6 years ago.
So far, it’s worked a treat every single time.
Showcasing who you are, not just what you do
When it comes to other parts of my brand photo-shoot, I’ve planned for a few lifestyle parts showing who I am when I am not working and what I do on a day off — sitting around cafes journaling, strolling through the city with my camera or having a cocktail at a chic bar. For the culmination of the shoot I planned a personality portrait of me dressed Greek-Island chic style drawing inspiration from and representing my Mediterranean side of life. I imagined a photo of myself sat by the roses wall @thefloristuk which says ‘Go wild for a while’, perfectly capturing my free spirit attitude and a little wild personality.
It is very important to inject who we are into what we do and show our non-business self to our online audiences. Hobbies, passions and how we spend our free time, or even where we travel create a narrative around us and help others understand who we are as a person and form an opinion about us.
This is great news as you have full control over it!
Lifestyle and personality photos will help my audience understand who I am on a human-to-human level, not just business-to-business and will sparkle meaningful conversations and deeper emotional connections. This is how I humanise the brands that I create on the web!
Take a look at a few of my photos below — can you understand how I’ve choreographed the locations, outfits, props and poses to tell you who I am?
Photos speak thousand words as they say — it’s true, and it’s even better when you construct your photos to say exactly what you want people to know! This is exactly why popular stock photos or random selfies are not recommended for business! The former have no meaning at all in relation to your business and the latter might give out a very bad impression of you, so better not use them!
But Lidia, you ARE the person in those photographs…
Am I, or am I not? And… have I always been this person? Definitely not. Throughout my professional life, I had many careers and identities. I’ve had countless set backs and fell flat on my face numerous times. I slowly but surely got straight back up and have grown and shifted myself into becoming the person I wanted to be.
I think this is a great opportunity to use my own personal brand story as a case study and really drive the point across and prove my theory that our embodied identity is not fixed but fluid and can shift and change depending on our mindset, surroundings, body positioning and styling. We are in control of that. Let me elaborate. Throughout my career, I’ve been:
A Restaurant Supervisor
A Sommelier (food and wine matching expert)
A Marketing Executive
A Brand Photographer
A Web Designer
A Brand Expert
A Creative Director
A Company Founder and Owner
Talking about some serious identity shifts here!
When I first started Visuable, I was a “creative girl with a camera”. I wanted to become a brand photographer, so I organised a photoshoot which showcased me as one. Here are my first brand photos:
(few months in, I was fully-booked for brand photoshoots)
I then wanted people to see me as a brand designer, so I organised a photoshoot which showcased me as one, here are some photos from that shoot:
(few months in, I was flooded with enquiries for branding projects)
My latest one showcases me as a Brand Expert and Creative Director as this is how I want people to see me right now. This is why my brand photos feature me directing my creative team and advising my clients. Here are a few again:
(I now get enquiries for creative direction and strategic branding advice)
It goes without saying that my brand photos did not turn me into an expert. To establish myself within each of my roles I had to work really hard, repeatedly delivering high quality results in a consistent, recognisable style. My brand photos however helped me see myself in all those roles, thus assisting me in making an internal mental transition whilst also allowing the world to see me as such. I therefore believe that my brand photos helped me get where I wanted to be much faster by reinforcing my desired identity onto myself and others.
You too can use my branding strategies and photographic methods to transform yourself into the person that you want to be. I’ve worked with many business owners who have not yet identified themselves as the person they wanted to become when they first came to me. They lacked self-esteem and struggled with imposter syndrome. They were worried that people will not see them as credible experts and will “find them out”, despite being 100% capable of delivering amazing results to their clients.
Through working with me, they were able to visualise themselves as their desired future self whilst also embodying that person through the photoshoot storyline where we had arranged for personal styling, thought-through props and had chosen locations that reflect their aspired lifestyle. During my brand photo-shoots, I get my clients to imagine and act to the camera as if the situation is happening for real, thus helping them make that difficult mental leap into the persona they want to become. Here is what they testify to experience as a result:
Back in the days, when women were considered subordinate to men based on the fact that their brain weighted less, Simone wrote a book entitled ‘The Second Sex’ to prove that it’s not biology but psychology that defines one’s self and identity.
Cindy Sherman is a conceptual photographic artist.
“Since she became renowned as an artist in the late 1970s, Cindy Sherman played with the slipperiness of identity. In Untitled Film Stills, but also in all her later series, it is always Sherman herself who is in front of the camera. Yet these images are never really self-portraits. Sherman uses photography as a tool to deceive, and evades her own personality by taking on different identities. With vintage clothing, wigs and make-up, she creates an entire range of personalities. Sherman takes on many roles, also behind the camera: photographer, director, hairdresser, set designer and stylist. In conducting herself to working with only her own body, she is capable to explore the endless possibilities of this seemingly limited subject. The different personas Sherman depicts are stereotypes; they represent a series of clichés: career girl, bombshell, fashion victim, schoolgirl, society lady, etc. — all characters deeply embedded in our cultural history. They resemble publicity pictures made on movie sets, adopted from female roles in magazines, advertisements and especially movies. All Sherman’s personas in Untitled Film Stills project the constructed idea of the women’s image, pointing out the arbitrariness of the female stereotypes”
— Written on September 21, 2017 by Josephine Van de Walle.
Identity is not fixed, but fluid and your mind is super powerful.
You can become whoever you envision yourself to be— and you can use brand photography to help others see you as such.
Thank you for helping me bring my many identities and stories to life:
Photographer — Venetia Norrington
Stylist — Samantha Costi
Company Owner — Gabi Cox
Designer — Inka Simola
Designer — Karolis Rusevičius