Last week, I was invited by Wedding Style Magazine to cover the semi-annual 2013 Bridal Market on social media. Aside from runways and private appointments, there were cocktail parties with an abundance of champagne.

As part of any cool party, the hosts gave away swag bags. Everyone got a bag, except for me (and other media personnel). “Thanks for coming! Here’s a bag. Thanks for coming! Here’s a bag. Oh … (to me) you don’t need a bag.” What if I was an invited guest who so happened to carry a big camera?

This paradigm repeated itself during conversations. Upon discovering that I was a photographer, people didn’t want to waste their time conversing with me. Little did they know that I am the marketing advisor for a number of companies. Photography is just something that I do.

2013 bridal market

Why does Our Profession Define Who We Are?

What is commonly the first question asked when approached by a stranger? “What do you do?”

As much as I would like to say dinosaur trainer or carb eater, peers need this information in order to compare him or herself to me (or you). I make it a point to never ask that question unless it is relevant to the conversation.

This brings me to my point. In a boutique industry, you can call yourself the XYZ photographer. But what stops someone else from saying that he or she is the exact same thing – XYZ photographer? Nothing. And I’m not saying that specialization is not important. I’m saying that specialization alone is not important enough.

Don’t get into the argument that quality is the veritable definer of your work. Most of the time, I don’t get half the things in museums, let alone be able to distinguish the differential nuances of copycats.

Like all esoteric items, it’s hard for people to tell the difference between good and great coffee or good and great beer / wine, but they can tell the difference between good and bad. Therefore, do not expect people to tell the difference between good and great photography. They do not cull through thousands of photos a week as you do.

Their bottom line concern is “good enough.”

dogfish head beer

How to Brand Yourself

After Bridal Market was over, Yanni Tzoumas (Executive Editor of Wedding Style), Ray Santana (photographer), Brent Cline (photographer) and I went to Faces and Names Bar to unwind.

On the topic of self-branding, Brent said that he never asked people what they did as a profession because that rarely tells him anything about the person. Instead, he asks people, “What is it that you do for fun?”

Brent’s sage advice was the pivotal point of self-branding for boutique businesses.

Anyone can copy what you do. But no one can copy you.

It’s exhausting to be something that you’re not.

As an example, we found out that Ray is first and foremost a father of two beautiful twins. Awwwww … Then he is a Red Bull connoisseur, sushi lover, celebrator of good times and lastly a photographer. With just the first section, he already built commonality with all other parents and even more so with parents of twins.

Do not get this confused with branding for your company, even though the two can get blurred into one. In fact, both are equally critical and equally autonomous.


Photography is powerful. It is the gift of memory, something woven into our existences. And quality photography is important, but it’s extremely difficult to discern the differences when so many are so good. Plus, art is subjective.

However, just as quality of photography is important, so too is experience you have with your clients. This is where you and your personality can shine.

  • You should brand yourself as … you. Your interests, hobbies, likes, dislikes and so forth that make you … you. And lastly, it just so happens that you take very pretty pictures. πŸ™‚
  • You should brand your business as the specified craft that you do.

To be clear, your personal brand cannot stand on its own. If someone asked what you did, you cannot simply say that you’re a mom who so happens to shoot great pictures. Your company brand is still very important.

However, as brands become more and more congruent, specialization in character traits are essential in conjunction to your craft. All of your individualized information should go into your About Page.


For more content strategy posts, read here.

Proudly a photographer,

Lawrence Chan
Hedonist. Traveler. Epicurean. Photographer. Author. And it so happens that I am a marketing strategist as well.

P.S. In the words of Brent Cline, “What do you do for fun?” Comment below.

This is a photo of Brent Cline at designer Johanna Johnson’s fashion show. We were testing my new 1D X’s 204,800 ISO. Pretty amazing job in noise control!
brent cline

P.P.S. Do not be shy, ashamed, discouraged or etc. of who you are. A photographer once asked me, “What if I’m not peppy? No one would hire me.”

I told him that I’m not peppy. In fact, as an introvert, a highly energetic person drains my energy. The last person I would hire to photograph me is someone who is overly zestful.

I’m the type of person who could sit with others without having the itch to say something. I prefer tranquility, which is why you will never see me at loud parties. I’d rather read a book with a glass of wine.

So, if I had to choose between a quiet, but self-assured photographer, versus a bouncy and energetic photographer, I’d choose the former. And others would choose the latter.

P.P.P.S. If you are ever in NYC, go to 53rd and 6th. There is a street cart called The Halal Guys. The food is mind-blowing good.