It’s an enormous part of your brand. Yet most brand guidelines for major corporations, universities, and non-profits focus almost exclusively on logo systems, brand colors, and typography—with little to no mention of brand photography.
Unlike any other element of your brand, photos can immediately capture the essence of who you are, what you do, and why your organization exists. They have the power to forge emotional connections. They humanize your brand. They drive social media engagement.
The organizations that get it right all have one thing in common—they put just as much weight on photography as they do every other brand element. They include it in their brand guidelines. They define it. They show examples.
Whether you have a photographer on staff or you’re hiring someone external, it’s crucial to focus on both technical composition (lighting, distance, focus) and context (how images will be used, what message they should convey, how they reflect your mission).
Review your brand guidelines to see if brand photography is included. If it is, compare your current catalog of photos against the photography guide to see how closely they’re aligned. If you don’t have a formal brand book or your brand guidelines don’t include anything specific around photos, it’s time they had a seat at the big kids’ table.
Start with an overall statement about the critical role of photography in helping to define and communicate your brand. What message should your photos convey? Are there any aspirational qualities you hope to capture (possibility, hope, etc.)? How will the images be used? Although any professional photographer will be familiar with general guidelines, that doesn’t mean they always follow them. In our experience, these are a few things you should consider as you think about your brand photography:
Capture interactions in a more candid style. The scenes generally shouldn’t look staged, so avoid having subjects face the camera.
Shoot at 3 distances: close up, medium wide, and super wide. This will give you more flexibility when incorporating images onto your website, via social media, etc.
Don’t center every shot. Ensure some have the subject on the left or right third of the composition. Similar to the above, this will give you more flexibility in terms of usage while also creating more visual interest.
Be mindful of your background. For example, if your photographer is shooting against a very dark background and your subjects are all wearing dark suits, their suits will likely blend into the background. Similarly, if there’s too much going on behind your primary subject, it could take away from the primary focus of the shot.
Use natural light whenever possible, no studio lighting. If a flash is necessary, make sure it doesn’t wash out the photo.
Focus on quality. If you’re cataloging photos, the last thing you want to do is waste time uploading images that aren’t up to your brand guidelines. This is where it’s really important to be aligned with your photographer to determine which shots you keep, and which ones get cut out.
Next include a small sampling of photos that you believe best represent your true north—the place you want your brand photography to be—so your photographer has concrete examples and you’re able to maintain a consistent look and feel over time. If you don’t have any, not to worry. You can reference stock photography from sources such as Stocksy.
It can be incredibly time consuming, but if you’re outsourcing you absolutely must look at a broad section of a photographer’s work to make sure you’re aligned with them on both technical composition, context, and creative direction. If you find examples where the photos look too dark, washed out, or the subject/purpose isn’t clear, keep looking. Just like hiring any employee, fit is going to be absolutely crucial. When you review their work, you’ll know right away when you find a photographer that aligns with your organization’s brand.
Brand photography can be a huge investment of time, money, and resources. Don’t blow it. These photos will be on your website, in your emails, and at the heart of your social media content strategy. Make sure you clearly define your expectations in your existing brand guidelines or create a quick reference guide to use with any internal or external photographers. When you do, you’ll be much more likely to capture brand worthy—and customer worthy—photos.
I’ll share the first “11 out of 10” images with my subject. For pros, 10 out of 10 isn’t good enough anymore. I have to shoot 11’s. As soon as my subject sees an 11, I have their full attention. I have them. I work super quickly, on location I move a lot, and I continue to show only 11’s and I’ll keep pushing for the highest form of the idea, shooting through the picture. I don’t stop on my first banger. I keep going. It’s how I’ve created my most iconic images.Photographer Steve Carty in an interview with MOO.com