I started in teaching photography approximately eight years ago, having spent the previous ten years working as a commissioned photographer and the fifteen years prior to that commissioning photography. During that time I never once considered the idea of branding, either myself or related to the photographers I commissioned, and yet on my arrival into teaching branding was being presented to students as an essential part of commercial success within photography.
There are a number of issues with this. Firstly as any branding expert will tell you a successful branding project is not based upon merely choosing a typeface, a logo and a colour palette. Secondly typography and graphic design are art forms and choosing typefaces is not easy. Thirdly, you are not a brand, you are a photographer and you will live and die in the commissioned environment by the strength of your work, your personality, understanding of where your client base is and ability to consistently deliver work that fulfils your creative hopes and meets the clients expectations.
Many confuse branding with marketing and this is a mistake. The hard sell, that may have been appropriate in decades past is no longer appreciated and the process of marketing yourself and your work is a subtle and sophisticated process today. It is not about being slick and aggressive but professional and collaborative. I often hear photographers bemoaning the temptation for commissioners to choose those photographers with large social media followings as opposed to those who shun one of the most powerful communication tools we have at our disposal. There are many stories of purchased followers, but there are also many photographers who have built extensive communities around their work, communities that clients may well want to connect with.
A professional photographic practice is multi-faceted and an awareness of the options available to build awareness of your work is essential. You don’t have to do everything but you do need to make informed decisions in what you choose to do.
Visual identity is important as is consistency of message, but they need to be backed up with work of value and relevance to those holding the purse strings of future commissions. This is a people business and it is based upon human interaction. That requires you to be the same person you are in life as you are online, a process I refer to as being a Social Being. You are not a faceless company or corporate brand. Your work will demonstrate your passions and interests, it will provide gateways into your personality for commissioners to enter. If they like what they see and connect with you, a relationship is born.
Personal work has never been as important for photographers as it is today. It is your public face and an opportunity to explore areas of work that the commissioner may not consider you for. It is fluid in nature and will aid your evolution as a visual storyteller. This is what the commissioner wants to see, not a badly designed brand, website, logo or letterhead that is, to misquote Shakespeare full of sound and fury but signifying nothing.
Grant Scott is the founder/curator of United Nations of Photography, a Senior Lecturer and Subject Co-ordinator: Photography at Oxford Brookes University, Oxford, a podcaster, BBC Radio contributor, filmmaker, a working photographer, and the author of Professional Photography: The New Global Landscape Explained (Routledge 2014), The Essential Student Guide to Professional Photography (Routledge 2015), New Ways of Seeing: The Democratic Language of Photography (Routledge 2019).
His book What Does Photography Mean to You? including 89 photographers who have contributed to the A Photographic Life podcast is on sale now £9.99 https://bluecoatpress.co.uk/product/what-does-photography-mean-to-you/
© Grant Scott 2021
Good thoughts for those of us first putting up an online portfolio and thinking about how to promote our work – and to whom.
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