Mood boards for personal branding photography

Pinterest mood board - personal branding photography - collage

Mood boards for personal branding photography - why and how!

Personal Branding Photographer Edinburgh - Donna Green

As a personal branding photographer, one of the really important things I ask my clients to do before we meet for a shoot planning session is to create a "mood board" on Pinterest.

But first, let’s look at ...

What is a mood board?

A mood board is simply a pictorial collage of ideas that work together to create a visual representation of an overall feeling, impression, or vibe. You can read more about mood boards on Forbes and Canva.

For our purposes, it’s a collection of photos with a certain “look” that you’d like to inspire your own personal branding photography photos, because you think it’ll make your audience feel a certain way and think certain things about you and your business.

The photographs I take are all designed to convey specific messages to those who see them, to make them think and feel certain things.

You probably chose me partly because you like my style of work, but you’re not hiring me just for that - you’re hiring me to take photographs which represent you and your brand.

If you’re a “light and airy” brand, I’ll give you light and airy photographs.

Personal Branding Photographer Edinburgh Donna Green Portfolio 27

If you consider yourself and your brand more “dark and introspective”, I’ll give you dark and introspective photographs.

I have a preferred style, yes, but I do add in the element of style that suits YOUR business and gets YOUR marketing messages over.

What messages?

Well. That’s the big question, isn’t it?

And that’s one of the reasons you go to a photographer like me who specialises in personal branding and translating your marketing messages into unique imagery, and not a bog standard portrait photographer who only concentrates on making you look good. 

I concentrate on making you look good AND showing your prospective clients why they should book you or buy from you!

Brand clarity workbook

Before our shoot planning session, my clients complete my brand clarity workbook which digs deeply into what we want your images to say about you and your business.

Brand photoshoot in Edinburgh Scotland - workbook cover

We then spend time going over all your answers together, when I often draw out a lot more useful information and thoughts from you which will shape how we design the shoot and the resulting photographs. Then we decide together how to proceed.

This process is soooo important! I’ve had clients tell me it’s made them examine their business so much more closely than ever before, and think about vital aspects of their brand which had never previously occurred to them. It’s an immensely valuable exercise both for me as your photographer and you as my client.

But. No matter how good with words you are and I am, sometimes there’s a fundamental gap in understanding in the concepts we discuss at our planning session.

The "light and airy" example

Personal Branding Photographer Edinburgh Donna Green Portfolio 31

For example, you say you want your photographs to have a “light and airy feel”, “to convey freedom and positivity”. Brilliant! I LOVE light and airy! And freedom and positivity, yippee, yes please, let’s have us some of that.

But is your “light and airy” the same as “my light and airy”? Do I REALLY know what you’re envisaging when you talk of “light and airy”?

For all your images, do I overexpose them a little when I take them? Or when editing them afterwards, do I brighten the highlights and leave the midtones and shadows alone? Or do I bring up the shadows, and leave the highlights alone?

You can’t tell me this, and why should you? That’s my job! But in order to do my job, it’s really helpful for me to see some visual examples of what YOU think is “light and airy”.

I’ve probably got a good idea what you think it is. But it’s a significant investment you’re making into personal branding photography here, and you want to end up with a collection of photographs you love and - vitally - that will work for you. I want to deliver a collection of photographs you love and that will work for you.

And as well as definitely not wanting to disappoint you, I really don’t want to have to re-edit your photographs several shades lighter because of this fundamental misunderstanding between us as to what the hell “light and airy” actually IS!

Enter the mood board.

The personal branding photography mood board you’ll create 

When you work with me, this will be a Pinterest board of exactly 25 photographs picked by you which, viewed as a collection, exemplify the kind of look and feel you’re going for.

What's the overall aesthetic which will suit your brand? The concept? The colour palette? The FEEL? Are you going for dark, light, romantic, serious, bright?

As well as being viewed as a collection, the individual photographs should show details of things that appeal to you like:

It’s really common to come across photographs which really resonate with you but you don’t truly know why until you show them to someone else - like me! - and talk them over. 

Why specifically 25 images?

I ask that you pin exactly 25 images on your mood board for personal branding photography. Why?

Because fewer than that doesn’t always paint a clear picture of what appeals to you.

Because more than that just isn’t focused enough and there’s a temptation for people just to go pin daft, not really thinking through what’s appealing to them and why.

You don’t want to agonise over this or over-think it, but neither to you just want to chuck paint at a wall and see what sticks.

So that Pinterest board you started ages ago which is up to 2,329 images? (Can you even GET 2,329 images on a Pinterest board?) Pleeease don't send it to me! Just pick the 25 top images which cover a good range of the above points, like locations, outfits etc.

How to create a mood board for your personal branding photography session

Start a new Pinterest board called “[your name] brand photography”, and share it with me. (Keep it secret if you like.)

How to start

Just start by pinning some general shots first. Search in Pinterest for “head shots”, “personal brand photos”, “brand photos of business women” etc.

After you’ve got into the swing of that, then try narrowing it down. Search on Pinterest for “brand photographs for [your profession/business/niche]”.

Your content pillars

Then have a think about your content pillars. What are your most common "talking points"? Try searching for images related to those topics. For example, a dog trainer's content pillars could include "the best ways to exercise your dog", "how to feed your dog healthily", that kind of thing. So she wouldn't just search for "dog trainer photographs", she'd search for things relating to her content pillars too. 

Then on your travels around the internet in general, pin photos which resonate. It might be from someone’s Instagram, or someone’s web site. Anything goes.

What draws your eye? What sort of images can you see working for you? Are they practical to execute?

Much as though I’d love to photograph you on a beach in Bali, let’s keep that for the next time.

Are you drawn to pictures with snakes in them? You freak! So long, it was nice knowing you.

If there are there lots of cakes in the set-ups? Just be aware I sometimes have a habit of eating props …

Mood board for photography - flatlay image of Christmas props

I found it painful, styling and photographing this ... But it was easy to clear up afterwards - VERY easy!

Things to consider when pinning

Cakes and snakes excepted, you should consider pinning:

  • Images that speak deeply to you on a personal, emotional level - they’re just “you”. You can’t necessarily explain why you’ve picked them, and it might not have anything to do with your business, but you just love them.
  • Images you already use or created previously which you’re really happy with.
  • Colors and patterns you love or that are part of your existing brand which you want to keep.
  • Screenshots of websites you love.
  • Any brand elements which are specifically yours. For example, do you have a certain type of plant or animal or THING in your logo? In your business?
  • Photos where the clothes someone’s wearing looks like it might be on brand for you.
  • Photos taken at locations or settings which might work for you. Your kitchen? Your office? Fields? Woods? A park? An alley-way? The beach?
  • Poses or facial expressions that feel on-brand or somehow resonate for you.
  • Objects or props which show details of what you do. Your laptop? A specific book or magazine? Particular items of job-related clothing or uniform? Tools of your trade?

Make sure these images represent who you want to be, and where you’re heading for in your business. They should be aspirational, not retrospective.

Don’t overthink it! If it speaks to you, pin it.

If you know what you love about it, make sure to note that under the image.

Cull it down to 25 pins (sorry!)

Then whittle them down to a collection of 25 pins which covers a good range of all the things I’ve suggested above.

Yes, this might be painful. If you're a digital pack-rat like I am, you might even cry. But this forces clarity onto you, unpleasant though it may feel when you start purging pins. Just keep the best of the very best … Because that’s what you want from your brand photographs, isn’t it?

And don’t over-think it! A lot of this exercise is based on gut feel. So it honestly shouldn’t take you too long.

It’s probably not a good idea to do this all in one night, however.

I recommend you spread this out over at least a few days, just so things can percolate in your sub-conscious and you’re not rushing to complete it.

Even better, if you know you're going to want a brand shoot at some point but don't know when, start now!

Your prep for our planning session

If you're a client of mine (hello!), complete your brand clarity workbook first before diving into Pinterest.

The workbook brings the important facets of your brand together, and it's vital to be clear on this "what" before looking for ideas on Pinterest for the "how".

How we use the mood board in our planning session

First of all we'll go through your answers in the workbook together so we're both really clear on the messaging your brand photos need to convey, we'll then look through your Pinterest board and come up with ideas on how we'll do it.

You'll be amazed how much clearer your feel on everything once you've done this exercise!

Oh, by the way, you might find my post on "6 ways to prepare for your headshots" useful too.

Laura's mood board

Personal Branding Photographer Edinburgh Donna Green Portfolio 23

Laura came to me for her own personal branding photography session, and at my request she made up a collection of 25 images on Pinterest which resonated with her.

She pinned images which she felt would be good representations of her brand and conveyed the thoughts and feelings she wanted her ideal clients to have when they came into contact with her online.

Did the things she pinned on  her mood board align with what ended up being her favourite images from her own personal branding photography session?

You might be surprised ...

But we'll get back to that, so read on!

So how did Laura's pinning pan out?

Getting back to my client Laura’s pinned images …

She pinned lots of images of women business owners looking everywhere but at the photographer; in fact, I don’t think she had one single pinned photo of someone looking directly into the lens!

However, as I know a very wide variety of shots is best for a brand shoot, and that she’d need “direct to camera” photographs for her social media profiles and website main images, I took some anyway.

She ended up saying she liked them much better than the original ones she’d pinned and was glad I’d used my own judgement there.

So do remember, your Pinterest board is a great guide for your photographer, but it’s not there to be stuck to slavishly. I'm using it for inspiration, I'm not trying to copy or recreate the pinned images on it.

Brand photography in Scotland showing woman with spider plants in hall window

A note on expectations

Remember, mood board images are for inspiration, NOT for copying or replicating. 

Keep in mind, your brand images are likely to look a quite different to some of the images you pin if:

  1. The shots you collect were taken in a hot, bright place such as parts of the US or Australia, etc. The light in Scotland is VERY different: often bluer, and more diffuse and soft. Oh, and there's often less of it. 
  2. You've pinned pictures of a six foot tall 20 year old skinnymalinki and you're five foot nothing, 40+, and a bit on the solid side.
  3. The beach shots you love on Pinterest are calm, tranquil, and exceedingly bright, but you're on a beach in Scotland in your winter coat and wellies with the wind whipping the hair in your face - and it's a heavily overcast day.
  4. The interior shots you've collected were taken in huge and airy modern mansions with massive windows in a hot state in America, but you're being photographed in your home which is small with low ceilings and lots of "stuff" everywhere. 

Remember, brand photography is about showing the best version of you, your business, and your life. It's not about turning you and your locations into something and someone they're not. 

There is latitude in editing, yes, but this should be regarded as "polish" rather than bending reality to the extent that it's actually untruthful.

So go ahead, let your imagination run wild when you're pinning, but keep in mind that your mood board is to provide inspiration and spark ideas, not for exact copying. 

Before you start ...

Why not have a read of my blog post on locations for brand photoshoots here which should help?

Edinburgh branding photographer


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