I did a talk to this week’s Ladies First Network meeting on how to use photography to benefit your business so I thought it would be useful to share the planning tips I covered.

It’s important to get your photography right, not just because you’re investing time and money into creating photos, but because the majority of people are visual learners. That means they’re going to form opinions about your business from the images you use before they start reading the text. You can’t just slap any old photo on your website, leaflet or blog post and expect it to attract the right clients. You need to do a bit of planning first.

Here’s the 4-step photography planning process I go through with my commercial photography clients. If you’ve already worked with a branding expert, you should be able to skip ahead to step 3.

Step 1: Understanding your ideal client

Hopefully, you’ve already got your ideal client mapped out, so you’ve got a good understanding of what they like to read, what they find interesting or attractive, what their main concerns are, what makes them buy whatever you sell, etc. If you haven’t, it’s time well spent. Targeting your marketing at a specific set of people will be more successful than trying to appeal to everyone. There are plenty of “ideal client avatar” templates available if you Google them. Pick one that fits your business and fill it out.

Step 2: Deciding on your house style

This is the fun bit – it is for me anyway!  You need to create a mood board of images that are relevant to what you do and that will appeal to your ideal client. You can either do this the old school way by getting a bunch of magazines and cutting out images that you think fit the bill.  Or you can use the 21st-century approach of creating a Pinterest board of your favourite imagery.  Don’t overthink it, just add stuff that you love. It doesn’t even have to be from your industry. In fact, it’s better if you seek inspiration from other types of brands, particularly those that your ideal client would be happy buying from. If you don’t want other people to see what you’re pinning, create a secret board instead of a public one.

Once you’ve got 20 or more photos, look at the set as a whole. What do they have in common visually? Have you selected light photos or dark ones? Are there particular colours that appear regularly? Do you like photos which are very stylized/posed or relaxed/natural ones? Is everything in focus or have you picked images where just a small part of the photo is clear? Organic backgrounds or crisp, clear plain backgrounds? And so on. If you’re working with a professional photographer like me, it’s an easy way to convey your taste in photography without having to learn all the photographic jargon. Then we’ll be able to work out what equipment we need (lenses, lights, etc) to achieve your desired look.

Step 3: What concepts do you want to convey?

Now we’re starting to get into the specifics of what you need for this shoot.

  • What feelings do you want to convey to your viewers?
  • What brand values do your photos need to illustrate?
  • What makes your business different? Why would someone buy the product or service you’re selling from you rather than anyone else?
  • What stops a potential buyer buying from you?
  • What do you want the viewer to do when they’ve seen your photo(s)?

Step 4: Practical considerations

The final part of the process is working out the details of the what, when, where and how your shoot happens.

  • Where are you going to use your photos? We need to know this to understand what sizes and shapes of images you need, what quality they’re going to be printed in, and so on. For example, if you’re going to be sending your images to newspapers, the lower quality newsprint may not show off subtle differences in colour in the way a high-quality brochure will so the choice of backgrounds and layout may need to be different for each use. Similarly, your blog post featured image might have a specific size ratio so your photos need to work when cropped to fit that ratio.
  • Does your house style for marketing materials have you using text on top of the photo? If it does, what space needs to be left so you or your designer can add the text? What coloured backgrounds do you need so your text is legible?
  • Do you need permission from any trademark owners to use their products? Some companies zealously guard their brand so don’t want you using their products unless they’re displayed in a certain way. For example, if you’re a gym, you may want to invest in sportswear for your personal trainers with your own logo on, rather than have them wearing a mix of well-known brands.
  • Do you need models? Or are you going to use your staff or existing customers? Are there going to be issues with getting permission to use the photos? Have you got a model release form that will allow you to use the photos to market your business?
  • What props do you need?
  • What locations do you need? Are there any restrictions on when you can use them? Are you going to have to buy a licence or pay a fee to shoot there?
  • Where can everyone involved with the photoshoot park their vehicles? If they need to carry heavy equipment, can this be dropped off somewhere close by?
  • Is the location going to look good in the photo? E.g. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve been asked to photograph the exterior of someone’s business premises and I’ve had to point out the dead plants and weeds that are spoiling the overall appearance. I’m not being judgy about this – it’s so easy not to notice things like that when you walk past something every day!
  • Does the photoshoot need to happen at a particular time of day or year? e.g. While you can fake dreamy summer evening light to an extent, it’s easier to use the real thing. If you’re selling garden services, a photo of you in a garden in full flower is likely to be more appealing to your ideal client than a picture taken on a grey winter’s day. Does the building you want to include in your photo look better when the sun’s on it – and if it does, when does that happen?
  • Is there anything else that is going to impact on the scheduling? Have you got any deadlines you need to meet?  Are staff holidays or product availability going to dictate when you can or can’t shoot? When do you need to get the photos to your designers?
  • Risks – We want to assume that everything’s going to plan but it’s worth considering what risks there are that it won’t. If it doesn’t matter if a shoot goes ahead on a certain day, then this is less important but if it’s going to derail a big, important project and/or have financial implications if you don’t get those photos on time, you need to consider what could go wrong and have plans in place to either remove or reduce those risks. Can you tell I used to be a project manager? ;-)

Once you’ve answered all the above questions, you should be on track to produce useful, relevant and appealing photos for marketing your business. If you need any further help, or you’ve got any examples of good or bad shoots, do leave a comment.

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