Around here, you’ll typically find me talking about things like words that do the heavy lifting in your business, or how to structure your workdays so you can work from a place of rest not hustle, but today’s post is switching things up a bit. I’m talking about something I recently did in my business that really helps support the conversion copy I put out into the world, how to plan a brand photoshoot for your business.
Now, I love stock photography—and for the longest time, it was the best choice for my business. But there’s just something about having your own library of personalized brand images that I can use to market my brand.
This is how I planned my recent brand photoshoot start to finish—plus the 5 factors to a killer brand photoshoot and the storytelling strategy we used in my shoot to make sure I was telling my brand’s story in a way that gives my clients and customers a feel for my personality.
Let’s do it! And make sure to grab my FREE Home Office Checklist to get your space in order for your shoot.
Step 1: Storyboard your images.
This is key to making sure your photoshoot is efficient and worth your hard-earned pennies—you’ve got to know the pictures you need to get back from your photographer after all is said and done.
Start by answering a few questions: What are your products and services? What are the editorial stories you want to tell? If you’ve followed my business or in any of my programs, I’ve totally mentioned my obsession with The Devil Wears Prada. Here’s your Miranda Priestly moment. You get to be a little bit of the editor-in-chief. When you’re the editorial or creative director of your brand, I want you to think about the things that you need to communicate visually.
For me, it was important that my three courses and programs got included, as well as my one-on-one work as a copywriter—which, to be honest, I typically have a really hard time communicating. I needed to get all of that across in addition to some more personal focused images.
For my shoot, I worked with Abby at Abby Grace Photography—she’s seriously incredible! The way we got our thoughts organized was by creating a list of the categories or major stores I needed images to describe. We did this by telling the story of:
- Ashlyn the Copywriter
- Ashlyn the Teacher (YouTube and my courses)
- Ashlyn the Wife
- Ashlyn the Mom
- Ashlyn the “Southern Dame”
As we created the storyboard for my five editorial stories, Abby also asked me to think through brand boosters—kinda like what I call “brand mascots” in THIS video. For me, this meant making sure that I had spent a little bit of time brainstorming and thinking out all the different ways that I describe and tell stories in my brand. So for me, that’s typically things like ballet, art, France, champagne, Veuve Clicquot, Auburn, my dogs, and my family.
A simple way to figure this out is through a content audit, and picking out things you tend to talk about a lot.
Now, this first step in the process needs to start WAY before the photoshoot itself, and if you’re like me, you’ll rarely be at your desk when the idea strikes. What I found really helpful, and I’m still doing it, is making sure that I have a note in my phone, and when I have an idea of something that I need to illustrate with a photo or a piece of imagery and I don’t have anything for that, I just make sure that I jot it down in my phone. For some reason, these ideas always seem to come in places like on a walk are in a shower, so having the list live in my phone has been really helpful.
I’ll give you an example. Even just the other day, I realized that I would love a picture of my hands, like an overhead shot of my hands on a keyboard. I have one from a few years ago, but it’s not super recent. So that’s the kind of thing that I want to continue to put on this list. So I have a running shot list ready to storyboard and work from later in my next brand shoot.
Tip 2: Choose the right photographer.
Next up, hiring a photographer is (obviously) important.
Before I could afford a photographer like Abby, I found photographers by going to local meetups and connecting with photographers who were interested in moving into brand photography work, and I’d offer myself as a guinea pig for them to work out their process, workflow, and bulk up their portfolio with brand images—and, oh, I’d get some good photos out of the deal, too.
Working with an experienced brand photographer for the first time was an incredible investment and educational experience for me. There’s true value in working with the experts.
Let me explain a couple of ways that I saw this play out in my experience with Abby. I was able to explain to her those brand stories and the things that I really needed to come across. But during the day of our shoot, I was able to count on her expertly trained eye to capture the little magic moments that I never in a million years would have thought of.
I was able to explain to Abby my must-have photos, but lean on her eye to catch the magical things I never would have noticed before.
I’ve always had a really hard time visually communicating efficiency and productivity, which I have an entire program about, and it was her idea to bring in a kitchen timer and use that to illustrate it. She came up with the idea of wrapping boxes with bows that I could use to demonstrate a free gift or a bonus later on when I’m doing launches. And she also came up with the brilliant trash can shot that I’ve used for SO many different purposes—and is one of my favorite shots to come from the day. It visually communicates to people how I can come in and help them write better copy for their businesses so they’re not doing this all the time. That’s the value in working with an expert.
Now, some of you have heard me tell this story before, but to make a long story short, I knew exactly which artistic director I wanted to work with to create my first library of styled images. I saved and saved and saved my pennies, and then I talked to her on a sales call. She sent over the proposal, and my jaw dropped when I saw the number, but she was totally worth it. So I said, “Hold that thought, I’ll be back one day.” I went and worked really hard to earn the money and then came back to her and said, “I’m finally ready to work with you. This is my budget. What can we do?”
So again, when I worked with Mae Mae (back to working with an expert) I really trusted her to be able to take what was in my head and get it into a photo—that’s her job as a creative and artistic director or somebody who works with different brands all the time! I could tell her non-visual things that I was trying to communicate like copywriting and she was able to help me build a beautiful brand library with images I love that really feel like ME. The problem was, I wasn’t at the shoot so I wasn’t actually IN any of the photos! That’s what I was really looking to solve when I did this photo shoot with Abby.
Tip 3: Find your supporting cast.
Gather the right team to fill in the gaps.
Find the people who can balance our your weaknesses—I have two examples of this tip!
I’m pretty comfortable with makeup and hair from my ballet days, and I painted my nails myself, but I tend to freak out about clothes and just default to my favorite, most comfortable pieces. But that wasn’t going to cut it for this project.
So, I worked with a friend who has a background in styling and retail to plan everything down to the jewelry—like, the exact hoops I’d have on or how many bracelets or what shoes. I had five different outfits in a range of dressy to casual. That way, in my closet on the day of the shoot, each outfit was laid out with a photo of how I was to style it on top and the jewelry beside it. Everything was steamed the day before so it was ready to go. You’re paying a lot for a photographer, believe me, you do not want to be throwing around clothes in your closet or running out and asking her does this look good? I’ve done it that way, too!
The other way I got the support of an expert was for the flowers—typically I would just go to Trader Joe’s, grab a bunch of flowers, and style them on my own. But the more I invested in this shoot, getting Abby in town, picking my outfits, and just *barely* finishing construction on my office, everything I was putting into it, I thought, “You know what? I don’t want to look back on this and hate the Trader Joe’s flowers and arrangements that I made myself.” So, I reached out to a local floral designer, told her my max budget and said, “Is there anything you can do with this?” And she was able to deliver. I am so happy now that I’m able to look at these photos and say I love the flowers in them. So to me, that was worth the investment.
Tip 4: Get your stuff together.
Time to gather your props.
About the same time you’re working on outfits and your other needs, you need to be gathering props—because heyo, shipping can really change things.
Props are the little nuances that make a big difference—like at a dinner party when there’s a candlelit in the bathroom or a chocolate on your pillow at a fancy hotel—what are those tiny visual cues that your client or customer will notice, kinda like a dog whistle that says, “Hey, I’m here for you!”
So, think through all of the physical tools that you use day to day in your business. Make sure you’ve got them on hand (order more if you need to) and gather them in advance and then, I found it most helpful to, on the day of the shoot, just have one corner tucked away where I had everything all spread out on the floor. It looked like a big I Spy book from the ’90s all laid out for Abby to look and choose from. Again, she was the magician behind everything, and I wanted everything spread out so she could look at it.
Pro tip here: Think about written things, maybe your planner that’s marked up a little bit or client worksheets. If you have a program or digital products, can you print out and kind of scratch up some of the worksheets? This is something I learned from working with a brand photographer is how you don’t want things to look staged or fake. Even in taking some of the photos where I was recording, we made sure to plug in the mic. Because I didn’t want it to look like the mic I use is wireless, because it’s definitely not. Plus, anybody who knows about that mic would recognize that’s not a wireless microphone. Staged things usually look staged, so take the steps to make it look authentic.
Tip 5: Dial it in.
The day before the shoot, dial in that shot list to exactly the things that you need and how you’re going to use these images.
You’re going to want a range of images with varying white space. Now, orientation really matters here. I feel like all the tips I’ve given so far, you really want to let that photographer be the artist and be the magician that they are and work through their process. But I have found at least since my days of working in magazines like Southern Living that you really do kind of have to scare the photographer and remind them of this part. How do you want to use the image? Where do you need white space?
Be attuned to how you’ll use each image as you’re working through the day. But like I said, it’s probably most helpful to go through that shot list, look at all the different storyboards, and go ahead and think about each image that you want and the ones that you’re going to need some white space, so you can pop some copy or text up over top of it.
Do you have any images that you know you need vertical because they’re going to take up more room on Instagram, but then others where you need more wide-angle to be ready for a hero image on a website?
That’s the kind of stuff that you as the creative director of your shoot need to be aware of. Here’s also where location really matters, and I’ve always just shot my brand photos at my house. Photographers are usually really great about knowing what they need in a space—and they’ll speak up if the space you have in mind isn’t quite right. Don’t let the location stress you out too much, after all my office is about 20 x 20, and I have a library of almost 400 photos all in this space.
It can be super draining to have a full-day brand photo shoot, but it’s so worth it—so make sure to have fun with it. I was so freaking nervous before the shoot that I actually took a shot of tequila with Abby because I hate having my photo taken. I’m like sweating just thinking about it. So, that goes back to choosing somebody you really like to work with and who knows what they’re doing, because I found that can be what completely puts you at ease. (By the end of the day, we had a Disney playlist blaring from Spotify and I was really enjoying singing along!)
Last but not least, once you finish your day, kick your feet up, and know that your photo shoot is going to result in beautiful photos that you’re going to be able to use for years.