Process 068 ☼ How To Create Your Personal Brand
GIVEAWAY: a bagggg of expired film + zoom session! Thank you BuyMoreFilm
This week’s letter is about how we can build our own personal brand as a photographer, what that means, and why it’s useful.
This week’s PROCESS GIVEAWAY is a bag of expired film courtesy of the good folks at BuyMoreFilm!
To break up the text below I included a few portraits I was fortunate to take of Kathy Ryan, the legendary long-time director of photography for the New York Times Magazine, which in my opinion represents the pinacle of editorial photo editing and design.
I had a great conversation with photographer Kyle McDougall for his podcast The Contact Sheet. We chatted about taking action and committing to the process and you can listen to it here. Kyle also has a new book out on pre-order.
I am looking for an experienced freelance editorial assistant to help me with Process duties including managing the publishing calendar, partnerships, and more. If this is you drop me a line and tell me about your editorial experience and your interest in photography.
NOTICE is now available at Foam, the internationally renowned photography museum. I’m a regular visitor and it’s a big honor for me, especially being sandwiched between Martin Parr and Alec Soth. <3
What Is a Personal Brand?
As a photographer, or any working creative person for that matter, we can set ourselves apart by properly defining what we’re about and tell that story to the world.
Whether you’re an artist making photo books and prints, a commercial photographer shooting fashion, or a wedding photographer, knowing who we are and what makes our work different is key in helping us find an audience and clients. More in issue 060.
In a nutshell:
A personal brand is a unified expression of who you are, what you do, and how you are different as a photographer.
Let’s start with an example of one of my favorite contemporary photographers, Andre Wagner. In 2017 I curated a set of Andre’s work for an exhibit at the International Center of Photography as part of the ICP Projected series. This work revolved around black and white street photography documenting African-American life in Brooklyn.
When we take a look at Andre D. Wagner’s website today we’re immediately hit with a bold statement: “Exploring the poetic and lyrical nuances of daily life.”
Wow! That’s a powerful and evocative one-liner. He expands on this in his bio:
“He explores and chronicles the poetic and lyrical nuances of daily life, using city streets, neighborhoods, parades, public transportation and the youth of the twenty first century as his visual language.”
This is excellent descriptive language that immediately tells you what you can expect. It’s also accompanied by a well-designed website that feels properly aligned with classy humanistic black and white photography, before you’ve even seen any photos.
Why is it so helpful to have a properly communicated personal brand? That’s next.
Why is a personal brand valuable?
A photographer’s working life is only partially about taking pictures and being creative. Marketing and telling your story is at the very least equally important because if you combine this with good work that’s what actually helps you create opportunities to be creative and do so while getting paid, if that is your goal.
Even for artists who aren’t concerned about getting paid having a personal brand helps you tell your story. Telling your story can provide context for your work and helps people discover and appreciate your work.
Having a concise personal brand also helps you find your niche. Rather than trying to be everything to everyone, you can instantly make it clear what it is you do and why you’re the one for the job. Chances are very few people will think of hiring Andre Wagner for a food photography gig if they’re looked at his website and I will venture to guess that’s a-ok with Andre because and his website reflects that.
Knowing what you’re about helps you know where to find your clients and how to speak to them. A wedding photographer knows that being published by The Knot will help them reach potential clients and that their language should have an exciting and romantic tone. A chronicler of skate culture might dream about shooting the cover for Trasher Magazine and your tone will be more raw and thrilling. A food photographer might dream of shooting a story for Bon Appetit and knows it will help them get to the next level in their specific field of photography.
Each niche has a different language and congregates in different places.
How to hone in on your brand
Whether you’re just starting out or you’re a seasoned pro it’s never easy to speak about yourself in a concise and convince manner. To get started ask yourself these three important questions:
Who am I as a photographer and what makes me tick?
What kind of work do I make?
How am I different?
I cover these questions more extensively in issue 060 when I talk about pitching but for this issue let me just answer those questions using myself as an example.
I am deeply curious about people and what they’re passionate about.
I specialize in straight portraiture and environmental portraiture which are pictures of people in their spaces.
I am unusually good at casting interesting people anywhere in the world who are a great match for a story and/or client and I can make them feel comfortable and excited while on set thanks to my genuine curiosity and interest.
If we do this exercise for Andre Wagner it might look like this:
Andre “explores and chronicles the poetic and lyrical nuances of daily city life.”
Andre’s work “fits into the lineage of street photography that investigates the American social landscape, often focusing his lens on themes of race, class, cultural identity and community.” (taken from Andre’s website)
Andre is a persistent an exceptional observer with quick instincts and he connects beautifully to the people he photographs.
Now that we’ve figured out what our personal brand is, how do we express it?
Six Ways to Communicate Your Brand
Have a strong and concise portfolio that showcases the kind of work you want to be hired for. Read more about how to make a portfolio in issue 002.
Add a credibility boost in the form of a client list, testimonials, and press.
Have a unified and targeted approach to social media with the same username and visual branding in place, and be where your customers are. If you’d like to be hired for corporate work make sure you’re active on LinkedIn, for headshots Instagram might be your best bet, for tech marketing campaigns Twitter works too, for your fine art maybe you’d like to be on Glass, and so on. Also make sure to use social media in moderation and make sure you don’t get addicted.
Consistently publish the kind of work you want to attract. Read issue 052 on self-assigning projects and why it’s the most important thing.
Have a short and convincing bio that speaks in a personal but professional voice on what you’re about and how you’re different. More in issue 060.
Have a solid website that unites all of these elements in one place.
Sure there is other stuff like having a great logo, business cards, a client newsletter, run ads, network on and offline, but all of that is extra and the above six are key.
Building a personal brand, similar to finding your creative voice, takes time. Don’t get impatient with yourself.
Your voice and brand will evolve over time and you will need to update your materials.
It takes consistent effort to tell your story to the right people at the right time in the right places.
Be true to yourself and the stories you want to tell, rather than trying to be someone else. Find your voice. You are already the perfect person for the job that is perfect for you in this moment.
That’s it for this week!
Next week: A deep dive into the oldest corner of my archive as I re-discover a series I made in Warsaw, NY, population 3473, using my first digital camera way back when.
Keep shooting and take good care of yourselves and others.
Example: Portraits made in Tokachi Millennium Forest with head gardener Midori Shintani and assistant Shintaro Sasagawa. Shot on Kodak Portra 160NC (expired in 1999).
To enter this Giveaway visit the Process Flip page and record a video answering the following question:
If you could go back in time to photograph a moment in history, which would it be?
ENTER THIS WEEK’S GIVEAWAY [HERE] before 11pm EST on August 6th.
As a bonus I will schedule a Zoom session with the winner once they finish shooting the film to go through their results and give feedback and tips since it can be tricky.
The process of recording and/or uploading a video is easy and fast, either on mobile via the Flip app and on desktop in your browser. Hundreds of Process readers have done so over the weeks, including lots of shy photo folks, so don’t feel nervous, it’s a safe community to share and learn from each other. <3
The winner will be randomly drawn and notified. This giveaway is for Process subscribers only. Subscribe by clicking the button below:
Shout out to the team over at Flip for partnering with Process to make this new Giveaway system possible. Make sure to check out BuyMoreFilm for all the expired and fresh film too!
PS Fede who won the Hasselblad 500c from issue 062 just got the scans from his first roll and I had to share with you the first ever shot he took, right at Fotohandel Delfshaven when we presented him with the camera.
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