A ServerWise five part Series

Delete Those Stock Images If You Want Real Branding And My 5 Tips On Working With A Pro Even When You're Not

Whether you’re coaching one-on-one, building an e-learning brand or booting up your niche membership site to share with the world, take my advice and spend a little extra on the imagery that represents your final product.

A new brand is an accomplishment. You poured countless hours and untold investment dollars into creating your vision, and you want to appeal to your buyer persona as quickly as possible. Starting out with stock photos is possible, but spending a little extra on original photos, not found anywhere else, will elevate your brand.

Stock Photo Blindness Is Real

Some of your competition uses original photos and some use stock photos. Which do you think is going to get more attention when shared on social media? Facebook’s users that follow your niche have seen similar photos from the stock giants all over. Consumers recognize the same photos and subconsciously disassociate from them. Consequently, they don’t absorb them because they already have. 

Upgrade Your Brand Using Original Photography

You can take your headshot with your iPhone, but nothing compares to professional profile photos. A quick trip to a photographer will yield you a few years worth of original images that will persuade your soon-to-be clients and members that your brand is financially successful (meaning they can join without the risk of it shuttering next month). If you’re providing a business-class coaching service of a relatively high cost, you must use a professional for your imagery – the more successful you appear across your brand the more credibility you will build.

Design your brand identity with real photos

The Rough Lesson I Learned About Unique Professional Product Photos

When my wife and I first started her niche membership site, we relied on open-source images and a few stock photos we paid for (and are used by many other sites). Our logo was unique. Our brand color palette set us apart as well, but we didn’t extend those practices into our photography. I snapped a quick headshot with my phone to use as my wife’s profile photo. It looked okay, but not professional.

We used stock photos to represent the core lessons, community engagement spaces (online forum and private Facebook group) and the three original products at launch.

Eight months later, we had paying members, but we weren’t growing as quickly as our market research suggested. Therefore, it was time to take a hard look at what we weren’t getting quite right. 

Most importantly, I contacted a professional photographer and for $2,000 he reshot everything for us including our product images. We uploaded our unique photos to Facebook and membership took off. Users on social media can identify photos and imagery they haven’t seen before, and that means they’re more likely to share it. Consequently, due to our new original imagery, our social shares increased over 70% within the week.

Before & After Product Photo Example

Let’s take a quick look at two different product images for a niche beard oil brand. The first image was the original product image painstakingly posed by the brand owner, while the second image was taken by a professional photographer with experience in product photos.

Product photography before example

We can see what the brand owner was going for here. Natural with a focus on the ingredients while trying to portray the handmade small-batch manufacturing process.

Professional photo before and after example

Take a look at the same beard oil photographed by a professional. As a man who frequently has a beard, I can say that this product image appeals to me. This product image is enough to convince me to click Add To Cart and complete the purchase.

The brand owner wanted natural and this delivered without the unnecessary visual complication of the ingredients. The photographer staged the product in a forest setting and blurred the background to give it depth and make it visually interesting. I’m sold.

5 Tips for Working With A Photographer For Your Business


Do Your Research

Photography is not something you can or should outsource overseas for a cheaper price. You need a local. Someone you can use time and time again as needed. 

Ask co-workers, family members and friends for recommendations. Search Google for local photographers to read the reviews and view their online portfolio. These days, you can find some amazing photographers by searching on Instagram – the new online portfolio of choice for many local photographers. Keep an eye out for photos that are similar to your brand identity.

You have an idea what you need and are looking for, so ask questions.

  • What style of photography do they frequently shoot?
  • Do they have experience doing on-location photo shoots?
  • What equipment and software do they use?
  • What are their terms and pricing?
  • Do they have any experience shooting products?


Ask for Lifestyle Photos

Most entrepreneurs request business style photos for reference the first time out. Take if from me, ask to see lifestyle photos. Lifestyle photos are harder to shoot than the boring image of an accountant sitting behind an impressive desk. Strong photographers can make lifestyle images look professional.


Be Specific & Explain Your Buyer Persona

Write up all relevant information as it pertains to your brand identity, products and services, members and describe your ideal client. Share everything with the photographer. Make sure to include your current photos, website images and ideas you have to replace them with a more professional and original look.

Please don’t simply send the photographer your website URL and expect him or her to do all the work for you. That’s not their job.


Scout Your Locations In Advance

You may choose to do some location shoots and depending on your chosen niche these are very helpful from a marketing perspective. If you’re a coach or running a niche e-learning or membership site, a different location or two can add creditability and a new layer of interest to your photos. Oftentimes, that can quickly translate to more social media shares and additional paying members.

If you do choose to go on-location, I suggest you take up the mantle and act as your own location scout. Get a few firm ideas in place, visit each of them, find out what arrangements would have to be made (if any) and write up some ideas to share with your photographer before the shoot begins.

Not all locations will work out. A professional photographer may explain that a particular location won’t work due to the lighting or accessibility. Trust your photographer. You have your opinions, desires and goals for these shoots, but you’re hiring a professional to help guide you. Listen to that guidance.


Plan Everything Out In Advance Including Accessories & Props

Most photographers charge by the hour. You want to maximize their time spent taking high-quality images for your brand.

Get everything put together, planned out and cataloged before the shoot. 

Every wardrobe change, time spent tracking down accessories or getting more props you weren’t sure you wanted to use carried to the location is money wasted.

Try on all outfits and plan the entire wardrobe for every scene at home. Match all jewelry, accessories and props days in advance and write it all down. Send your photographer a detailed list of every scene including all accessories you chose and what the overall purpose of the scene is and ask for his or her professional feedback. Strongly consider any changes or suggestions your expert provides.

Fully pack your car the night before the shoot. The last you want is to look stressed, tired and sweaty in your original photos.

There you have it. The culmination of everything I have learned over the years, operating a successful niche membership site with my wife. We’ve made many mistakes, from choosing the wrong color to represent our brand to depending on stock photos. That said, the ride from idea to creation to success has been an adventure and one I’m grateful to have experienced, hopefully, with more to come.

Good luck on your membership or coaching business endeavor. Follow what I’ve written out for you and avoid my mistakes, and you’ll get your brand off to a strong start.

In case you were wondering, yes, we do host our membership site with ServerWise and couldn’t be happier.


Picture of Charles Wilson
Charles Wilson
Charlie is a classic coder from the Northwest who loves all things retro, vintage and vinyl and has spent the last 15 years at a data security firm. After retiring, Charles fell into a second career helping his wife start her niche membership site that now boasts over 12,000 monthly members.