Personal branding is for everyone, and according to this professional photographer, it’s all in the eyes

By Jim James,

Founder EASTWEST PR and Host of the SPEAK|pr Podcast

Personal branding in photography is a relatively new concept, but it’s one photographer Marcus Ahmad has already mastered. How Marcus brings personal branding and photography together is through fashion, which is about making people look good, and advertising photography, which is all about selling a product through an image and focusing on that with his business clients. His background in photography began when he worked as an advertising assistant. Eventually, he got into commercial photography, in particular, fashion photography. His studio was in London, but he would often fly to New York, LA, Paris, and other places around the world for work. Later on, he became a senior lecturer fashion and advertising photography at the University of South Wales. 

One word that Marcus finds has a lot of value to it is "authentic," because these days, it’s all about being real and showing people who you are. There’s a saying that people buy from people, and no one would be enticed to buy from a website that has no personality, and so Marcus helps his clients use their personality to attract more customers. One’s authentic self and the company brand are the same, because any business owner would want the company values to match their personality, and it’s about getting across who you are and what you do in a photograph.

How to take a great photo 

Even without a professional photographer, it’s possible to get a great shot simply using a camera phone. To do that, Marcus’ first tip is to make sure the background doesn’t distract people from the subject of the image (aka you). A plain wall or a wall that has the same brand colors as you works brilliantly. Your head should fill about three quarters of the frame size, so it’s not too far, not too close up, or not too far back. Then, make a few different expressions: smiling, serious, laughing, etc. Marcus suggests trying different things out and taking a lot of shots, so there are many options to choose from. To summarise, the important points are background, frame, expressions, many shots. Also, don’t forget to have a tripod or mechanism to hold the camera.

Another important aspect in any photograph is light. The kind of light that works really well, believe it or not, is not a sunny day. Nice, diffused light is the best. Window light inside or outside when it’s a cloudy day works best. Not too many shadows or highlights is really good for photography as well. Being a fashion photographer, Marcus deals with light all the time. To keep it succinct, if it’s coming three quarters to you and it creates some shadow down one side and it’s a bit brighter, that will give what is called good modeling, or basically shadows or highlights. If you take your shots when there are light clouds, you don’t need to worry too much about the light, as it is good coming from any and all directions.

Focus on the eyes

When it comes to posture and whether to lean in or lean back or tilt your head, Marcus said it depends what the shot is intended for. On social media, display pictures are often really small, so you have to maximise that space and it’s all about eye contact. What Marcus does with the people he photographs is he gets them to lean into the camera, because he finds that it gives you an immediacy and a presence to your portraits, headshots, or profiles. This also exaggerates the eyes and brings out the eye contact, making it a subtle yet powerful style that Marcus prefers. It sounds cliche that the eyes are the window to the soul, but Marcus believes it really is all about the eyes. In fact, in Marcos’ studio, if a client he’s shooting has blue eyes, he’ll put a blue background behind them for a monotone look to accentuate the person’s eyes.

Clothing is very important, but it depends on what you’re trying to portray. Undoubtedly, it’s got to match. For women, Marcus suggests avoiding a scoopneck top, especially if you’re doing a close up shot, because it can sometimes be a little bit too revealing or it doesn’t give you a border or an edge to the photograph. For guys, Marcus has noticed that if that person doesn’t normally wear a suit but puts one on for a photograph, it never looks right, so it definitely is about the clothes you wear and what you feel comfortable in. Don’t try and be something you’re not, even with what you’re wearing. In terms of colours, neutral colours like black, grey, navy blue for guys is great, and then for women, Marcus advises not wearing too many patterns. What you wear in the three photographs doesn’t need to be the same. In fact, in some ways, there might be more value in wearing different outfits, because then it shows that it might have been shot on different days and you’ve gone to the trouble and expense of getting a photographer on different times. Also, the colour that is key is your branding colour.

The three important shots for your brand

If you’re taking a picture of yourself, the best time to take it would be when there is natural light. Midday is not a good time for natural light portraits, as the sun is overhead. When shooting, Marcus always uses a flash, so he can shoot any time of the day and it always looks the same. However, it’s more than just the profile photograph and the headshot. Marcus’ strategy involves three photographs that really define one’s brand. The first is the headshot, which is a great way to start. Next is the image on the website, as the first image people see on the website is a real crucial part as far as photography goes. In that image, you want to get across a great portrait of you, with hands included, possibly making some gesture or using a prop that suggests what kind of business you’re in. Simply put, that picture on the first page of your website should show you doing something and engaging with your audience. The third picture is the services photograph, and this should show somebody using the product or service. If you offer a service, it’s a bit more challenging, but it could be a photograph of you having a one-to-one interaction with somebody. So, those are the three important photographs every business owner needs: the profile shot, the shot that shows what you do with your company, and the shot of your providing products or services. Those three are crucial elements to defining one’s personal brand.

When it comes to post-processing images, again, it’s about being authentic, so try to put it out there without much editing. It’s about truthfulness and honesty. A bit of touching up is fine, as long as you stick to the person’s authentic self. Adding in photos on your website of your family or even with your pet help, as it builds trust, because before you even make that sales call or make that connection, people feel they know you already, and that is the great power of photography. Why a photograph is so much more powerful, in Marcus’ opinion, than a video or moving image, is because a photograph will tell you information in a second or less. From that, you can make a judgement and you can get something from that photograph. Aside from that, a photograph is open to bringing in your own personality, meaning, and story to it, so you can interpret in lots of different ways. Whereas with video, the story is already there. You don’t need to bring anything to it. It’s got a beginning and an end, and you’re immersed in it still, but with a photograph, so much can be understood without even actually speaking or hearing anything.

That’s a great way to synthesise personal branding and photography. In the end, it’s all about authenticity. If you’re getting photography done, do consider getting a professional. It can really make a difference. But in the meantime, use some of the tools and tips that Marcus has suggested, because those will make even the best start for you. To check out Marcus’ work and possibly get in touch, you can check out his website or connect with him on LinkedIn

This article is based on a transcript from my Podcast SPEAK|pr, you can listen here.

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