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Visual Identity

Lesson 6 from: The Business of Commercial Photography: The Survival Guide

John Keatley

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Lesson Info

6. Visual Identity

Next Lesson: Marketing

Lesson Info

Visual Identity

So, within brand, we're gonna start talking about visual identity and visual identity is not everything but it is important and it's a good place to start. So, the visual items of your brand could include your logo, a website, it could be the treatment form or the treatment template that you use, it could be your invoice. It's any of the visual items that you're putting out in front of clients or anyone else to see. When you're creating your visual identity, again, as with most things I'm gonna talk about, it's important to do this from a place of honesty. You don't wanna be reaching outside of yourself. So you want to be creating something that lines up again with that seven word exercise from last course, or some of these ideas that I'm encouraging you to think about that are true to who you are. You want to consider your target market. So again, you have to balance who you are, but you also have to balance it with who it is that you're actually trying to reach. So, a good way to thi...

nk about it is you want to speak the language of the locals. Who is it you're trying to reach? For me, I learned this example a number of years ago. I sent out an email newsletter quite frequently, and that's something we'll talk about here in a little bit. But typically, I'd send out whatever work I have and I sent it out to this list of people that I would like to work with and you're just hoping that it does what it does. That was about the extent of what I thought about it. And well, there was this one particular time when I was starting to get more and more into advertising, and it was the first time that I had done a number of advertising jobs kind of in a row, where in the past, I had maybe some editorial and an ad job here and there. And sometimes my newsletters would look like a little bit of everything. Editorial, advertising. So this particular newsletter, it was all advertising work. And one of the images in one of those campaigns was, it was called Wild Child. It was a picture of a kid going crazy and it was kind of built around these different character profiles. And so, from that I think I just thought, oh, let's title the email, Always Wild, Never Mild. And in general, I also did try to keep my subject lines interesting. I try to keep them non-literal. So I don't say, New Work By John Keatley. That's not really that exciting or no one's really that, gonna be as willing to open that if they think they know exactly what it is already. So we sent out this newsletter. It said, Always Wild, Never Mild. And it was all ad work. And we had an in house designer at the time and he designed this really great newsletter that looked also like an ad. I mean, the copy and everything about it felt like it fit in that world. And I was surprised to find out how successful this newsletter was. We got a significant increase in our response and opens and click throughs from the people that we sent it out to. And at first I was like, oh my gosh. Why is this so much better than usual? And then as I started working backwards and looking at it, I realized, I'm targeting people in the advertising world and I'm using a tag line, Always Wild, Never Mild. I'm using that, that's the type of language that's used in advertising to draw people in. You're not necessarily force feeding people things. And then again, the content was all specific to what advertising, people in the advertising industry do. And so, I learned from that, again, the importance of intentionality. The importance of speaking the language of who you're trying to reach. If I want to do advertising and I'm trying to reach people at an ad agency and I'm sending pictures of my magazine covers and talking about editorial things, it doesn't mean that there won't be some translation. But it's largely gonna miss. That you're just, you're having an inappropriate conversation for the people that you're trying to have a conversation with. So, consider your target market when you're putting together the visual identity of your brand. Be intentional about what, again, not what you think they want but what parts of what you want to represent your brand will connect in the most authentic ways with this audience. You can do this, you can then begin to collect inspiration. Again, in the same way that we did the exercise of putting together inspiration or your own work in a grid and looking for patterns. Gather inspiration. Gather logos or color in other visuals from other brands and start to study what it is about these things that you're drawn to. There's all kinds of charts and stuff you can find online. There's a chart that gives you the kind of psychological breakdown of what a color means. Pink is festive and fun and black is timeless and trustworthy. You can drill down and identify those kinds of things too so that when you're picking black, it's not just because I like black, which is okay, but what does black say? Be very specific about those kinds of things. There's all kinds of website that are dedicated to kind of curated content of websites. SiteInspire or Designspiration. Those are some great sites we use. I am also a huge fan of Pinterest. I love Pinterest's ability to kind of curate and catalog various grids. I'm obviously a fan of grids. And so, for me, that's a great one. But whatever works for you. Start to study brands that have stood the test of time, that are doing things that you are drawn to, and see how you can incorporate some of those things into your own visual identity. Work with a designer. That is really, really important. I know sometimes people say, oh, I am a designer, and that's fine. Maybe you are capable but in most situations, I'm a big advocate of specializing and doing what you are best with. And probably, if you want to be a photographer, your time is best spent creating imagery and marketing or meeting with potential clients and sharing the work that you've created. That's where you're gonna get the most value from your time. It's much better to hire a designer who can focus on what they do best. But you need to be able to communicate with them what it is that you want them to create. Remember that bad design can compromise your work. Just because someone has a job doesn't mean they're good at it, so take your time. In looking for a designer who's gonna create exactly what you want. In the same way that I was talking earlier, there's kind of another lesson to be learned here. When people look at our portfolios, they want to know exactly what they're gonna get, which is why I was talking about looking into that one thing that you want to do so people know what to expect. Do the same thing with designers. Chances are, you probably already do this anyway. When you want to hire someone to fix your car, you're looking for the best mechanic in your price range for that car, and probably, you're looking for a mechanic that fixes that type and that brand of car too. You're not looking for someone who's like, well, my friend, he repairs refrigerators. He's never done a car before but he's really handy. He'd probably do a great job. That's not a risk most consumers are willing to take, and that's not a risk that anyone is willing to take with us either. When they're looking to spend a lot of money on creating images, they need to be calculated in what they're gonna get. So do the same thing with the designer. Make sure they've already done literally what it is that you want, because that's what you're gonna get. And if you can't afford to hire a designer, get creative. Work for trade. Remember that what you do is also a great value. So, there may mean that you can't hire the best design firm or the designer that you have long admired. Doesn't hurt to ask, but chances are, you might need to find someone you can grow with, someone who's in a position where you can create something for them that's of great value. Maybe they need some work for their website or something. So, no excuses. You need to get this done. You need to find the best possible person for the job. And be creative in making it happen. Any questions? How many of you here have visual identity locked in for your brand that you're super excited about? Yeah. It's kind of two part, but it's based on your newsletter that you were talking about and kind of, are you finding people that you want to work with and unsolicitedly sending them what you want to do for them? Or how are you cultivating that list of people to market to? And also, I'm doing, for magazine work, wanting to transition from sending in editorials to getting paid by the people that pay for advertisements, type transitioning from doing fashion work that way but getting hired by brands. So you're looking to move out of editorial into advertising kind of thing? Well, we do have a section that we're gonna get to that talks about identifying and targeting clients, but yes, to answer your question though, you absolutely do want to market yourself to the people that you know, to the people that you've worked with. But it's also really important to grow your customer base, and you can't do that if you're only focusing in on the people you already know. So you do have to find ways to grow outside of your current market and to educate people about what it is that you're doing. There are specific things that we'll talk about here coming up pretty soon, yes. If you have multiple niches, would you suggest having one website for all of it, or would you suggest separating it into different websites with different identities-- That's a very good question. We just were working with someone in our last workshop about that. And they had, they wanted to do more creative portraiture and they also did head shots for actors and business people and things like that. And what it really boils down to is, what is your goal? What is it that you want to do? You have to also balance, do you depend on this one thing for your living, but this other thing is what you want to be doing? And you have to kind of look at, what are these two industries and what's the crossover? So if you're, let's say, doing head shots for actors and you also want to get into more commercial, or sorry, conceptual portraits and things like that, there might be a good way, because they're both portraits. They're both a little different. There might be a good way to tie those in together. But eventually, what you have to do is you have to start putting the work that you want to do upfront. You maybe want to put yourself in a position where you don't lose the money that you need, but you want to start slowly funneling your business over into this other direction. What about if like, personally for me, my work varies depending on the season. I might do more events in the winter, where in the summer, I'll be doing more lifestyle, corporate type of things so I do like to keep, not to focus on one because I find that I get clients for different things and it makes up my whole photography. Well, I think, well I'll answer that. Before I get to that, I think the other thing is, for anyone else that might be watching that maybe, let's say, that what they do is different. Let's say the head shots and portraits. Maybe you're doing weddings and you want to start doing conceptual portraits, which is where I was at one point when I started out. 18 years ago, I was shooting weddings and I wanted to start doing editorial portraits. And for me, I did have two separate websites. And because looking at the industries, I knew that if someone in the advertising or editorial world viewed me as a wedding photographer, which there's nothing wrong with, it's just kind of one of those things where you have to understand what each industry values. If they saw me as a wedding photographer, it'd be harder to get jobs in that end of it. So I did have to separate those. To answer your question about being seasonal and things like that, that's basically why I'm advocating for people to find a niche and to do that really well because once you get to that point, you do that one thing and you don't have to be a whole bunch of things to different people. One thing that has changed for us is when we started, when we were doing editorial and corporate things for various small businesses, I think at the peak, we were, I had, we keep an assignment list of everything we do and I think at the peak, I was doing 140 jobs or shoots a year, which seemed pretty normal to me at the time. Now, I think that's insane. But I was shooting almost every other day. Now today, we do maybe 20 shoots a year, which is a lot less obviously, but the shoots that we do are much bigger. So our business is actually doing better now than it was back then. Quantity is not king. So the jobs we do are fewer and far between. Much more time goes into one of those. But even still, sometimes my jobs just, sometimes the fall is crazy and I have a really slow winter, which is part of this industry. But you have to be able to live into that. And then now, when I have those times, I'm really excited because I start shooting, I start creating more fine artwork, which is something that I want to be doing. So for now, long answer to your question, I'd have to know a little bit more about your business and what you're doing now. I'd want to have you figure out, how do you continue to make a living doing these things that you're doing, but then you need to start figuring out on the side what it is that you truly want. And you might say, look. I really want to be doing what I'm doing. The problem is, that type of photographer is of no value because basically, if you're just filling a bunch of different needs for someone, you can be easily replaced. Something that we've heard even recently from clients and something that I just know and hear from business in general is, it's a business and if I can get it done cheaper somewhere else, that's what I'm gonna do. So, that's why, unless you are known for something very specific and ideally who you are, all of us are totally replaceable. And that's not a place that you want to be. It doesn't mean you couldn't make it for a little while, but it will catch up eventually. And so, hopefully that answers your question. I think, again, you've gotta make money and keep doing whatever it is you're doing, but you've got to have a plan to start phasing some of that out and filling it in with that one thing that you really want to be doing. Does that help, does that answer? I know it's hard, it can be hard to grasp but we'll hopefully keep hammering home on that point in some different ways throughout. Was there another question or someone else, yes? Could you just talk a little bit about your personal brand identity and how it came to be? If you've changed it and how that went for you. Sure, that's a good question. So, my personal, the visual identity of my brand. Things that are part of the core of who I am and what I built my brand around is bold, simplicity, timeless, confidence. Those are things that, again, I won't get into a deep explanation. They all have varying meanings and things like that but I make sure that those things are present not only in my work, but also in my brand, and then, also in my visual identity. So, again, a lot of the lesson I've learned have been in hindsight. Sometimes I'm like, whoa, that was wrong and I need to change it. Sometimes, thankfully, it worked out. It sometimes will work out that way but my logo, for example, I was going by John Keatley Photography. I was being very literal, which I don't think is a good idea, especially in the creative field. But I was going by John Keatley Photography, and again, I was trying to reach more individuals as opposed to companies. And so I was, I had more of a Yellow Pages mentality, like someone looking through a book by name kind of thing. You need to have photography in there so you know what you do, which I don't want anyone to take away from this. So, I hired a designer, and a good designer. And I said, I need a new logo, and I gave some parameters and I said, I go by John Keatley Photography. Thankfully, my designer was very proactive and very, they wanted to do the best work that they can, so they did what I asked. They did John Keatley Photography and they provided me several different options. And then they also presented this logo that just said Keatley, and it looked, I mean, it's funny. In my limited understanding of brand, I said, oh my gosh, it looks like a brand. That looks a snowboard company or something like that. Not even making a connection that I am a brand. You better start treating yourself like one, which is again, we mentioned earlier, like oh, I'm just an artist. I'm not a business person. There's no room for that. So, my complaint was, I was like, it looks really cool. I might actually print some T-shirts off just for fun. But I can't really use that. And thankfully, he pushed back and he said, I would really encourage you to think about this because, he said, look at any other brand that stood the test of time, and they're not literal. You begin to associate them with something specific. That's their job to tell that story. But once people have that association, there's no doubt in your mind what Nike does or what Burton is. Burton's probably someone's last name. But now you hear it and you think specifically about snow sports. So my logo is, it's black. I mean, occasionally it can be used as black or white, but it's very, it's solid. Which for me, bold is important. It's a logo that I can live with for a long time. It's a Helvetica font that's been, it's got some kerning and adjustments to it. Which you never, if you're doing a logo, you never want to just do straight up typeface that hasn't been adjusted. I'm not a designer. That's the most design advice I'll give you but. (laughing) So it's bold, it's simple. It's confident because it's not desperate in trying to let everybody know what it is. You have to learn the brand story to have an association there. But again, timeless is something that hopefully that will be something that I don't ever have to change. Doesn't mean I won't but I want to make sure now that if I did have a new logo where I was starting now, it would be something I could live with. I don't think it's a good idea, at least for my brand, to be constantly changing because it's outside of those core values that I hold. I think I mentioned simplicity. It's something that can live with my imagery in almost any capacity. It's not overly flashy or trying, it's really, it's about the work. It's just, it's a confident, simple way of letting someone know who this is attached to. Hopefully they can even tell that without the logo. Hopefully the images themselves are a big part of the brand because people just recognize it. So hopefully that answers a little bit about that. Yes. What are your tips for finding a graphic designer? Finding a graphic designer. I mean really, asking around, doing research. Again, we talked about earlier, looking at brands that you're drawn to. Sometimes it's finding something that you really love and working backwards. Who designed it? I love this book, who's the designer? Or I love this logo, who's the designer? I would really encourage you in all roles that we'll be discussing, designers especially, don't hire the first person that comes around. That goes for accountants or crew members, whatever it is. It's really easy sometimes to just want to be done. You just, I don't want to be looking anymore. Great, I finally found someone. Just because it's the first person or because a friend knows them, which a referral is great, but again, do your research, do your homework. Look at their portfolio. Don't expect them, I've already said this. Don't expect them to do anything other than what they show in their work. I learned that the hard way a couple times where I hired a designer that I loved, but they did something very different from what I wanted. They were very colorful and illustrative, and I wanted something more vector text based. And it came out more colorful and illustrative. And I was like, that's not what I wanted. Well, that's not their job. Their job is gonna be to do this one thing every single time. It was on me. I should've known that. So, do your research. Ask around, study brands. Look at portfolios. I mean, look at Instagram. It sometimes takes time but it just, really what it boils down to is research. Yep. I actually have the word photography in my name because it's trademarked that way. And I don't know if that made a difference. But also, the initials of my name don't necessarily make proper etiquette without the P. Right, right. So, I kind of, because it would be like VD instead of VDP, so. There are some issues there, yeah. So I wanted to bring that up in case somebody out there in the world was putting photography in their logo for something of that reason. I think there's, I mean, I think again, it's just gonna be problem solving. I really do think in all cases, it's better to not say photographer or photography in your visual identity. I think that it might be fine on certain cases, but depending on your goals, or eventually, there is a certain point in your career where you will be identified as a certain type of photographer. It will limit your growth in clients' minds, to some extent. So, just know that it is a bit limiting. Not saying you can't start with it or but I'm gonna always recommend not doing that. And no doubt, in your particular case, your brand and your name might pose certain complications but I think there's always a solution. It just might take some creative brainstorming with others. Working with a designer even. They might have a, maybe it's more of a visual. Like mark that you use instead of a name or something like that. So there's always a way to work around that, but I would really encourage people to not be so descriptive. You can say, in other cases, in your email signature or whatever, I'm a photographer and director. Or I'm a photographer, put that on your business card. But don't make it part of your visual identity, your brand.

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Bonnie Aunchman

John & Creative Live - Thank you - Best. Class. Ever.! This is a GREAT class! If you are a photographer, this is definitely a MUST GET class, but even if you work with photographers as part of a creative team - you have to take this class. (I'm a Photo Stylist) John covers it ALL in this class - it really, truly is a Survival (Success) Guide. John is so detailed, honest, and generous in his knowledge/experience/wisdom in the commercial photography industry in helping you understand the business and really succeed (& stand out). When I see that John is teaching a class on Creative Live - I'm in! (I have his other valuable courses as well)

a Creativelive Student

I was lucky to be part of the studio audience for this course. John is an awesome teacher and did an outstanding job of making sense of a very difficult side of photography for a creative to understand. He shared his 18+ years of experience, including the good and bad he has gone through. The "special guests" alone are worth the cost of this class. John has an amazing team working beside him behind the scenes. Their perspective on his business was priceless!

Joseph Brewster

John gave an enormous amount of insight and practical advice in this comprehensive course. I really enjoyed a course focused more on commercial and editorial rather than wedding and family, which is more common. Great info and great work all around!

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