As a former PR person, the importance of branding was always a topic I was harping on with clients – from individual authors to multi-million dollar corporations and non-profit agencies. How a business presents itself can be the difference between success and failure. Photographers are no exception to this rule. How you brand your business – from logo to business cards, website to social media pages, portfolio to promo piece – all affect a buyer’s decision whether to work with you or not.
Let me caveat this entire series first with a contradiction. Branding is irrelevant in context to the quality of your images. No amount of money that you dump into amazing branding will make a difference if your images simply aren’t where they need to be for a particular client. Your images always come first.
That being said, photography is an incredibly competitive industry, and there are many shooters out there with comparable levels of work. This is when branding comes into play to help give you the advantage over another photographer. A buttoned up package and production shows a client that you value every part of your business.
The first post in this four part branding series dives into logos, chronicling my own journey developing a new brand and highlighting other commercial and wedding photographers branding.
What’s in a Logo?
It’s hard to argue against the importance of a logo. In non-visual fields it’s often what buyers first identify with in a brand. In the photo industry it plays second fiddle to your images, but it’s still an important visual cue and tie-together for your clients.
A logo is best when it is a written or designed representation of the style of your work. Whether you’re an edgy fashion, luxury travel, flirtatious lifestyle or classic wedding photographer your logo should have a distinct connection with your style. Think how silly it would feel for an edgy fashion photographer to have a Comic Sans font as their logo. Apply that same font type to the flirtatious lifestyle photographer, and it just may work.
Different font treatments and designs evoke a certain emotional response from us. I can’t say I know the science behind it, but I’m sure you could easily point out a design that had a classy feel to one that had a whimsical feel without any training either. You don’t have to be a typophile to know how a font makes you feel when you see it.
Logos can be as simple as your name in a certain font or as elaborate as a multi-font, multi-color, iconographic and artfully designed branding display. The choice is up to you, but generally you’ll find logos vary a bit between the commercial and wedding industries. The reason for this is because different audiences prefer different styles. Commercial photographers usually have logos as simple as their name in a specific font, with perhaps a design element or two thrown in. Wedding photographers often vary from simple fonts to elaborate graphics and designs.
Check out this list of logo examples from both commercial and wedding photographers. Notice how their logos closely resemble the feel of their style of photography and come together to emphasize their brand.
The DIY Logo
Chances are when you’ve made the decision to get a bit more serious about your photography and start branding yourself, your first logo is going to be a do-it-yourself (DIY) creation. You’re probably not too confident about your images yet (or even know what you want to really shoot) but think they’re good enough to maybe throw a watermark on them or put them on a website – which of course you need your name on at least!
Almost everyone starts here. It’s where my branding journey began as well. For those of us without a design background or very little familiarity in Photoshop or Illustrator, the first incarnation of your logo will probably be pretty simple. When I first started I had no idea what I was doing. I picked a font I liked that was already on my computer, opened up Photoshop, made a logo on a white background to match my website, and saved it as a jpeg. I didn’t even know about PNGs, transparent backgrounds or anything else! You can see the first incarnation here.
But just because you’re making it yourself, doesn’t mean you have to be as limited as I was. A simple way to spruce up a logo using just your name is by find a great typeface. Sites like FontSpace, Fonts, and dafont all offer a great variety of free or low license rate fonts. You can find thousands of different fonts organized by themes, styles and use. All you have to do is download, add to the font folder on your computer and start creating! If you have a bit more skill in Photoshop or Illustrator, you can even add graphics, icons or other elements.
Make sure you select a font that is licensed for free commercial use and not just personal use if you intend to use it on your website or business cards and are making money with your photography. If there’s a personal use font you really like you can often email the original designer and get it for a small license fee. These fonts range anywhere from $20 to hundreds of dollars, but can really add a great look to your logo.
DIY Pros: free or very low cost
DIY Cons: personal design time investment; often look hand-made or lower quality; may not be consistent across several mediums
Freelance Designer or Friend
If you’re stuck in that in between point where you want a better logo and brand identity than you’re capable of making yourself but don’t have a big budget to invest in a full service design or ad agency, a freelance graphic designer may be the best route for you.
Often the people who take this route have a friend who is a graphic designer, or know a friend of a friend (of a friend, etc) that is one. Sometimes it’s the neighbor’s kid who is going to school for graphic design, other times it’s the freelancer you met at a networking function. There are resources online too such as iFreelance or Etsy to cruise for graphic designers and post a job to bid on or find someone you like. There are some great pros and cons to using a freelancer that often vary greatly depending on the designer that you use.
There are all sorts of arrangements that can vary the cost when working with a freelancer but principally involve around; the quality of their work, the speed of delivery and the hours of design time. It runs similar to the old marketing saying, “You can get it fast, good or cheap. Pick two.” You might get someone to make you a logo incredibly cheap… but it could take months before you see anything (if at all) – or you could get a great logo right away, but it’ll cost.
Whatever the case may be and whether you work with a professional from a recommendation or your friend who happens to be a graphic designer, you need to get a signed contract that details the scope of the project, deadlines, design rounds and any penalties for breaking contract. There’s nothing worse than paying someone several hundred dollars for a logo and then having them flake out on you. Friend or not, treat this as the serious business transaction that it is.
Freelance Pros: could be well-designed, cost effective, minimal personal time investment
Freelance Cons: could be poorly-designed, excessive personal time investment, tardy delivery, risk factors with flakes
Agency Designed Logo
For photographers really looking for the full treatment and a well-thought brand design, the best way to go is with a professional and reputable design, marketing or ad agency. These are companies ranging from three to hundreds of individuals who specialize in creating identifiable brands. It does come at a cost though, but in my personal experience I’ve found the investment to be absolutely worth it.
There are a lot of benefits to working with a design agency. First and foremost is working with a team of professionals who are constantly creating branding for a variety of clients. Even if your work is designated to a less experienced or newer hire at an agency, it passes by several eyes and receives input a few times before it ever reaches you. If you can, try to find an agency in your area that has worked with photographers in the past, or other creative professionals. Agencies often specialize with clients in specific industries. Those who work with photographers usually know better what we’re looking for (and what attracts clients) in our industry.
When you’re shopping around, you can talk to multiple agencies and receive a few estimates to compare them. Don’t just look at the final price tag each quotes you, but also pay attention to what comes along with it. Things to look for are how many design revisions you get before you’re charged for extras, what the final deliverables are and any consultations. I recommend working with an agency that sits down for a consultation before working with you, to understand the direction you want to take your brand and any ideas you may have.
When I finally made the decision to work with an agency, I went with the creative team over at The James Agency. I’ve known people there for a few years, had seen a lot of their fantastic recent work and was happy they were willing to meet for an initial consult. I wanted a new brand clients could identify with that was fun enough to fit the style of my images, yet simple enough not to dominate. Together, they honed down just the right look for me that I could use across a number of mediums (website, biz cards, promos, etc). The feedback I’ve gotten has been tremendous, and it has really helped tie together my brand. Definitely a big improvement over my DIY logo.
It doesn’t just happen on the first try though. We took several revisions to get just the right look. Take a look here at the options and progressions we worked through when designing my logo. From a variety of looks to narrowing down the right style and then working through color treatments. Expect to go through the very same process.
I also asked a friend of mine (Lizzie Kimball) her experience while working with an agency in creating a new logo for her wedding photography. Here’s what she had to say:
When I started Lizzie Kimball Photography, I wanted branding that was fun, simple, and appealing to brides. I created a logo on my own, using a fun font I found on my computer and a flower decal that was included in the font. However, after looking at my logo I felt it was too whimsical and childish; not very appealing to the modern, sophisticated bride that I wanted to attract.
So, I made the decision to hire Becky from C1 Design and told her that I’d like to make a logo that was simple, clean and sophisticated. She presented me with my new logo that’s been in use since the spring of 2009 and it has served me well. With my new brand I still show my fun personality through my name, but I’m also able to present clients with a professional, simple branding that enhances my images rather than distracts from them.
I also made the choice hire a professional blog designer, Loverli Creative, to shape my blog around my logo making it clean, simple and appealing to the modern bride. Hiring a professional logo and blog designer are some of the best business choices I’ve made – yes, they were expensive investments, but it allowed my images, branding and blog to blend together into a cohesive design to appeal to my ideal client: more importantly, during this processes I was still able to put all my focus on doing what I do best: taking photographs.
Agency Pros: consultation, multiple revisions, experienced professionals, on time delivery, superior quality, customization to multiple mediums, better brand identification
Agency Cons: lost in the mix of other clients, higher costs
So whether you’re working on your first DIY logo, hiring a freelancer or collaborating with an agency, make sure you do your homework and know what kind of feel you want your brand to project alongside your images. First and foremost, keep working to make your images as good as possible. Remember, great branding only helps give you that little extra edge, it can never take the place of the quality of your images.