how to make your photos instantly recognizable
“I’m always humbled when people compliment my photography and feel emotion from it. But when they tell me that they instantly recognize my photographs before even seeing my name, I know I have succeeded in communicating my style.” Bethany Deschamp in The Styled Photographer
There are some profiles or brands online that just immediately stand out and you recognize them right away. You may not be able to understand what about them makes them so prominent or powerful, but the subtlety in the imagery is actually very carefully planned for big impact. You see, just like Bethany Deschamps, who is a mom and lifestyle photographer with a lovely, bright and clean style, you can develop a style that instantly resonates with your audience and makes you recognizable to all the right people.
So how do you do that if you’re not an amazing photographer and you’re just struggling to figure out ways to take your own business photos? It’s not as hard as you may think, although it will take a bit of trial and error on your part to find what truly speaks to you and your audience. Anyone can just piece together a bunch of random pictures about what they’re up to or how their day is progressing. What you actually want is to become a curator of your content. Carefully select what you want your audience to see and how you want them to see it, and your ideal customers will love you for it.
When I was first starting to develop my photographic style, I actually used Bethany’s e-book, The Styled Photographer, to help me in being more consistent with my photos. It helped me to gain more clarity about what I actually wanted to convey with my images and why. Now, Bethany’s e-book is geared more toward lifestyle family photography than commercial or blog photography, but in general the ideas transfer beautifully to any medium.When it comes right down to it, it’s all about evoking emotion more than anything else.
As I’ve developed my own style and tried out lots of different techniques, I’ve found that I always come back to a 5-step process to making sure that all of my visual content is in line with the emotion I hope to achieve for my audience. This process is a combination of what I learned from Bethany’s book along with photography courses I’ve taken along the way and my own creative practice. It’s something that I know works through teaching it to other business owners and watching it all come together in brands DIYing their own content as well.
So let’s dive into what you need to do to start being more consistent with your images and put out content that your audience immediately knows came from you.
1. Understand your brand’s unique position clearly.
Before you even start to consider what kind of photos you’d like to create, you need to understand exactly how you’re going to position your business in your niche. Specifically, you need to decide what makes you different from your competition and how your uniqueness will attract your ideal audience to you instead of someone else.
To figure this out, take the mission of your business (your purpose or big why) and go a bit deeper. Determine exactly HOW you accomplish this for your audience in a way that’s unique to your niche. What tools, strategies, or materials are you using that are different and make you stand out? Is there a specialized approach, perspective, or character in your business that no one else has?
Once you clearly know how your brand is positioned in a way that makes it look totally different from everyone else’s business in your niche, then you can start to pull some elements from that to incorporate into making your visual content your own. Not only that, but that unique position will provide you with the feeling that you’re hoping to achieve with your brand. You can determine some adjectives that best describe that unique branding position and use those to guide the direction you will go in for creating all of your imagery.
2. Find 3 of your own photos that resonate with you the most
Even if you’ve only taken a handful of images or quick iPhone snapshots for your business so far, you can still do this step as a precursor to the next one. Go ahead and search through the photos you’ve taken and choose the 3 that you think best resemble not only what you want your brand to look like but also speak to you and what you love. They don’t have to look polished or professional. They just have to evoke the feeling that you’re looking for.
When you’re flipping through your photos, try to ask yourself how each image makes you feel. Think about if the photos are action shots, lifestyle images, head shots, or even just nice still shots of products. Which 3 photos make you want to know more or really connect with you? Does a particular photo have a nice angle or is it cropped in a way that peaks your interest? It’s okay if you can’t really discern specific reasons why you like the images right now, but start to hone in what it is you like about them as you look at them a little longer. For now, just identifying your 3 photos gets you headed in the right direction.
3. Search on social media for similar images
Now you’re going to do a bit of fun research. This is actually my favorite part because you get to check out tons of amazing photographs from others. You’ll want to keep your favorite 3 images that you’ve taken handy in this step as well. The idea is to look around the web (and I suggest Pinterest and Instagram specifically) for photos and brand profiles that give a similar vibe to your 3 photos that you chose as your favorites.
You want to look for people posting images that use similar lighting, color saturation, type of photography (e.g. lifestyle, action, street), props, and backgrounds to what you liked best in yours. If you can look at their overall profile and see these elements repeated in their photos, then you can start to see how they create a feeling by using these same things over and over again in different ways.
For example, if one of your favorite photos that you took includes running outdoors, then you might find a runner’s Instagram feed that shows a variety of ways to take running shots outside. Don’t approach it as if you’re going to do the exact same thing as someone else because you’re not. You’re finding inspiration here which you’ll repackage as your own with lots of other elements that you love.
Once you’ve sorted through similar brands or profiles, you need to go through images outside of your niche. So if you’re a food blogger, then you need to start looking at photos in fashion, home design, technology, or anything else that interests you. Get away from what you would normally look at online and find new profiles and feeds that use the same elements that you love. This will broaden your perspective and give you completely new ideas.
4. Start practicing & combining elements
After you’ve taken a look at previous photos you’ve taken that you love and also other people’s photos that speak to you, you’ve gotta start putting it all into practice. You should have a clearer idea of why you chose those photos as ones that best suit you and your brand. If not, go back and look at what might connect them all together in feeling, color, lighting, and other elements. You’ll need those specifics laid out for yourself not that you’re gonna start shooting photos according to these elements.
What you’ll need to do now is make a list of each component you want to include in your brand’s images from now on. You’ll mix and max the components to create images that evoke the feeling you’re hoping to create for your audience in different ways. For example, if you know you want them to feel excited and happy, then you might mix and match bright sunlight with bold colors, scenes filled with happy people, and activities that look like fun. You can build each image you create around using at least 2-3 elements you’ve chosen and make each photo unique while still correlating to the photographic style that you’re creating for your brand.
5. Review your practice shots & make adjustments
This last step is really important even though a lot of people forget about this one. You’ve got to review the shots you’ve taken and make adjustments based on what you like and don’t like. It won’t really do you any good if you just take a bunch of practice photos and then don’t go back to really see if they make sense. You’re being a curator here, remember?
As your brand’s curator, it’s critical that you evaluate if the imagery is actually working the way you want it to in getting your message across. Compile the photos you’ve now taken and decide if you can in fact see a theme carrying through them. Do they all seem to fit together and evoke that same feeling that you were hoping for? They don’t all have to hit on every single piece of your business, but they do have to show a connection to what you do and use at least a couple of the photographic elements that hit home for you.
It’s your job to have a critical eye here. Don’t worry if your photos don’t match up nicely right away, though. Your style will become more polished over time, but you want to make sure that you’ve got a direction that you’re headed in from the start. If it’s too hard for you to tell on your own, then enlist the help of a friend. Ask them to look at your images together and tell you what they say to them. If your friend hits on a couple of the elements for feelings that you had on your list, then you’ll know you’re on the right track.
Developing your own photographic style is gonna take a bit of time, but let me tell you that the time you spend to figure it out will give you a significant leg up on establishing a connection with your ideal customer and getting them to love your brand. You don’t wanna let that go when you have the chance to make a really great impression on them from the start.
Before you go off to explore what elements you can incorporate into your own style, head down to the comment section and tell me what it would mean to you if you had beautiful, cohesively styled images to use on all your sites and profile pages.
You’ve got a system now to start making all of that possible. Enjoy.