How to establish a photography style-guide for your brand

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In today’s age of branding and identity, commercial photography does more than simply sell a product; it also sells the personality of your brand, reinforces values, and increases your company's visibility. If you run a business, large or small, chances are you've hired a designer to create a brand for you at some point; a logo, colour palette, a set of fonts, and possibly a set of icons. This set of graphic tools act as your brand's bible and serve to give consistency and authenticity to every client-facing piece of communication you distribute, post, or advertise.

However, what business owners should be focusing on to supplement their brand guide in the age of content marketing is also the style, content, and consistency of their images. Just think about it: If 80% or more of what your posting on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter are pictures to promote your company, shouldn't there be some kind of...rulebook for how they're supposed to look? The answer is yes.

So, what is a photography style-guide? In simple terms:

A photography style guide, or brand photo guide, is a framework to follow when creating images for your brand. It defines the criteria for images to abide by so that all associated works possess a definitive visual vernacular. 

Now let's take a look at how to make one.

1. Develop the photography style guide alongside your brand guide.

logos, icon sets, and colours should be reflected in the imagery

If you can, include the designer who developed your brand and if this is a service that your company out-sourced then use your brand guide as a core reference. The photography style guide and the brand guide should be complementary to one another, not at odds. This means that if your logo is a hipster, rough-textured circle then the photography style guide shouldn't be directed at glossy commercial images with supermodel look-a-likes in a studio. Make sense? Below is an example of how photography works to complement a brand guide - even so far as to incorporate the same patterns and graphics into the images.
 

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2. Decide on an environment for your images

Define whether images should be taken in studio, natural light, outdoors or indoors

Where you take the images for your brand is as important as what content is in them. If your a jewellery company, will you showcase your products in a studio environment or using natural light? If you're a boutique hotel, are you showing guests enjoying your hotel space and its amenities or the city at large. Get specific on what kind of environment you're going to shoot in and stick with it. This will establish consistency and brand recognition.

Tiffany + Co. 2016

Tiffany + Co. 2016

3. Set some guidelines for composition

Positioning & framing: Centre, orientation, spacing between elements.

You don't have to be a photographer to notice composition. Some brands have images that are "busy" or "complex" with lots of elements from products to models, backgrounds, and colour. A big part of creating consistent imagery for your brand is coming up with some composition guidelines. Should images be minimal? Layered? Symmetrical? This is one of the best things you can establish in your photography style guide that will help build your brand and create instant visual recognition from your audience. Moreover, you don't need to be a photographer to see the difference. Take a look at this successful example of a travel company that decided on a minimal composition below:

4. Give your images a colour palette 

this is the most obvious, yet also the most difficult guide to follow

If your company already has a comprehensive brand guide, then a colour palette will no doubt be part of it. Syncing your images with this colour palette however, is admittedly a difficult guide to stick to. Let's just say, you need to plan as much as you need someone who will recognise opportunities for great shots. If your business has a storefront or physical location, then sticking to a colour palette is much easier as the products and environment you sell in likely incorporate these colours. If your company is strictly online or service based or has several different locations than the task becomes more difficult.

Here's a trick: Try using neutral backgrounds ( grey, white, black, beige) and incorporate your colour palette as accent colours. It's a hell of a lot easier to find a concrete background or a white wall in everyday environments than an orange one in a specific Pantone colour. Am I right?

5. Match your photography style with your audience

Is your audience luxury, casual, industrial, eccentric?

I recently did a branding project targeting millennials which was all about diversity, informality, and colour. So it was a no-brainer to develop a photography style-guide which emphasised just that. A 20 year-old in a black evening gown against a minimalist background just wouldn't have fit. Instead we opted for bright colours, casual content, and lots of emotion. When developing a photography style guide for your company, consider WHO your audience is and WHAT kind of content would fit their tastes and their style. Make sure to develop image content that represents their characteristics.

Summary

In conclusion, putting some planning into a photography style-guide for your business will help extend your brand guide beyond your logo and into the world of content marketing. This will help to make your brand easier for audiences to recognise and build your company's value online.

Here's a helpful checklist of what to include in your photography style guide:

Genre (conceptual, editorial, lifestyle)
The Environment (outdoor, studio)
The lighting (natural, artificial, harsh, high key, backlit, flare)
The models (lifestyle or professional) (sex, height, ethnicity, age, facial features)
The wardrobe (unbranded, casual, formal, patterns)
Positioning & framing (centre, orientation, spacing between elements)
Colour palette (normally matches the established brand-guide)
Treatment (DoF, retouching, filters)

For more information on visual brand strategies and building your brand through photography visit my site.

Related articles

Planning image content for your business in 2017
Curating Images: How compelling images build your brand
How to create a shot list with your photographer

 

 

 

 

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