A great photo can do so much to make your brand stand out – and make your personal branding memorable. One of my favorite methods of making sites feel fresh and different is to use custom photography. Wherever possible I try to avoid using stock photos – nothing worse than using the same old tired photo you see on every other site. I recommend that whenever possible that clients create their own custom stockpile of images to use for their social media, speaking events, websites, sales pages and promotional materials.
Here are my tips for getting the most out of your photo shoot.
Do your homework and plan your photoshoot before you get to set.
When I booked my first photoshoot with a photographer, I honestly hadn’t put any thought into it. I had no idea that I needed to consider what to wear or the set location. I just showed up and expected the photographer to lead the way. We hadn’t done any planning and I had no guidance on the process. I ended up having to borrow clothes that were a total mismatch for my personality or brand colors – and I ended up so disappointed in the resulting photographs. The colors were all wrong, the makeup was heavy and none of the photos “felt like me.”
With my second shoot, I only had budgeted for a quick shoot – and the only thing I really focused on was the location. I knew I wanted to be shot in front of the art museum next to my house – and we got a couple of great shots that I used for a few years.
A few years back, I booked my first real pro photo shoot with Christa Meola. This was to be a fully-fledged full day shoot for my brand. I needed pro imagery for speaking and consulting gigs and I needed “grownup” imagery for promotional materials and my website
This time there was a real collaborative process. We set-up a private Pinterest inspiration board to collect and share ideas. A few weeks before my shoot we reviewed my board and she keyed in on several looks and combos. This not only helped me plan what outfits to source, but it gave her ideas on what I was trying to achieve.
KEY TIP: look for poses, makeup and outfits that resonate with you. Just as you would design websites, you’re gonna find inspiration in a variety of places. SPEND time on this – it will help you determine outfits, colors and even makeup and hair looks. I fell in love with one image of a strong woman in a trench coat – so I went out and bought a simple black trench coat – and got one of my favorite shots as a result.
Create your ideal shot list
When planning a big photoshoot (especially if you’re working with a team to collaborate), make a document with inspirational images to share your vision and ideas with your photographer. When I plan these out for clients, I spend a lot of time searching Pinterest and Google images for inspirational shots – from poses and locations, to outfits and prop selection. I then make a Google doc with the reference images to share with the client and the photographer. Ideally, you’ll have a planning session well before your photo session so your photographer can see your inspiration shots – and you can plan out your day effectively (plus they’ll let you know what’s realistically possible).
Plan how you’re going to use the photos
I needed fresh, interesting imagery for upcoming projects and I knew I wanted specific key shots, colors and styles for my new branding.
Most website headers will require horizontal images, with space either planned to the right or left for text and content. Then I needed new pro profile shots for all of my various social media accounts (Facebook, YouTube, Gravatar, Instagram and don’t forget LinkedIn). Finally, I need great shots for conference websites, webinars and other promo materials. Those are typically more vertically oriented shots. Some photographers focus solely on vertical portrait work, so make sure you know what kinds of shots you need.
KEY TIP: Make sure to get some simple, clean head and body shots! I’ve had clients do photoshoots outdoors where the backgrounds compete with their image. If you’re going to do outdoor shots, make sure to get a few shots on a simple background for easy use in various applications. That graffiti wall might be a fun backdrop, but it’s going to look out of place on a conference website.
Do a mini pre-shoot
This is one thing I really wish I had done for my first photo shoots! A few days before my real shoot, I tried on every outfit option (including shoes and jewelry) so I could snap phone picks and share them with Christa. She could tell at a glance what would work and what wouldn’t – and how she could pose me.
Show up rested and focused
Take off an entire day – seriously. A photo shoot (especially with multiple outfits and locations) is going to take at least a few hours and you’re going to be exhausted by the end (plus you may have to travel to the photographer). I was in hair and makeup for almost three hours and the shoot itself lasted another few hours.
I have clients that think a shoot is always going to take an hour tops. But you have to plan for clothing changes, moving locations, lighting adjustments – and breaks! The more positions and changes you want, the longer it’s going to take.
Show up with your own ideas, but give the photographer creative freedom
I knew I had a few looks I wanted to get down (I thought I really wanted hard and edgy) – and Christa humored me by replicating a few of the postures I really loved – but she also insisted on posing me a few other ways. And guess what – the photos I loved the best were the ones she created.
The dark and edgy concept I liked translated into some of my favorite looks – Christa was able to capture some amazing shots on the darker backgrounds. A bonus of working with Christa? She’s worked with tons of women (and various body shapes) so she’s able to shoot the most flattering positions. I’m so inspired with the new imagery and I can’t wait to use it in my new work!
Tips from a designer for making sure you get the photos you really need
- Get plenty of horizontal photos where your body isn’t cut off. While you can fake out a lot of things in Photoshop or other photo editing tools, adding body parts can be tough or look odd.
- Consider where your photos will be used. Make sure to get at least 2-3 good headshot photos for your media page / speaking page.
- Get at least a few full body images photographed on seamless white or light background. These are the most flexible types of images so you can be “cut” out and used in a wide variety of applications
- I know it’s tempting to do do “fun” photos in front of graffiti or landmarks – but those are the hardest to use for a variety of reasons (and really annoying to designers!)
- Consider your outfit choices – bold patterns can be tough to use but bold colors are great. And when possible, try to integrate your brand colors
- Having a lot of photos of you in the same outfit (especially full-body ones) helps make for cohesive sales pages. It feels intentional rather than random photos with a ton of different outfits and color schemes.
- The more emotions the better! There’s nothing worse than 400 pics of the same outfit with the same pose and face – a GREAT photographer will know how to pose you and draw out emotion
Where to source great outfits
I love Rent the Runway for getting high quality outfits for your photoshoot. It’s a great way to play with color and texture ideas (without spending thousands of dollars on clothes that you might not wear again). It’s also great for getting fun conference or special event clothes without blowing your budget.