Selfie: Narcissism or Marketing Tool for Your Photography Business?

Selfie: Narcissism or Marketing Tool for Your Photography Business?

Some people use social media platforms as their emotional outlet, some for vanity purposes. I use social media to brand my photography business. This approach may not fit every photography niche, but I would like to explain how it fits mine, and I am sure you will note a thing or two that you could use as well. I hope you can interpolate my experience onto the niche you work in.

Building Your Target Audience: A Bit of the Background

I am a beauty photographer with an emphasis in hair. My full time job is to make hair look desirable and accentuate the artistry of the hairstylist.  Between collaborations and commercial assignments, I had a decent body of work, which I was showcasing online, specifically on Instagram. I was hoping to attract more peers and have photography discussions, but I was surprised to discover that my page attracted hairstylists instead. It was disappointing at first, until I realized my potential clients were following me, which made me feel like I won a jackpot. They liked and shared my work, but we didn’t seem to communicate at all.  I really wanted to shrink this distance between us and make myself look more approachable, start the dialogue with my audience, and see how I could monetize it.

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Becoming a Brand: This Is When the Selfie Becomes Useful

One of my favorite definitions of branding is by Joel Desgrippes, a French designer, credited with the invention of the model of today’s design agency, a "multidisciplinary" design agency: packaging, product, commercial architecture, and multimedia. Desgrippes says:

Branding is not only about ubiquity, visibility, and functions; it is about bonding emotionally with people in their daily life. Only when a product or a service kindles an emotional dialogue with the consumer can this product or service qualify to be a brand.

Analyzing my feed as a main point of contact with the potential clientele, I realized that the gap in communication appeared due to be to the absence of personal information. My audience had no idea who created the works. My promotional efforts seemed pushy. The other interesting detail is that the hairdressing community is a very tight circle. As a photographer, I do not belong to the circle, because I do not cut, color, or style hair professionally. Though I photograph hair professionally, it was hard to prove my thorough understanding of the subject and build the trust.

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Self portrait that started my journey.

The solution was to combine my personality with knowledge of the niche and present it to the audience. The only way of achieving it was through capturing my personal experience. One Saturday morning, a friend who is a colorist convinced me to dye my hair, and I took a few self-portraits for his portfolio. As many of us, I had a bias toward selfies or posting anything personal on social media, but since the images represented my photographic work, I didn’t mind.

The vivid hair trend was growing fast; pinks and corals were in vogue. These images became viral and created unpredicted resonance with the audience. I became “that girl with the coral hair.” People would compliment and ask questions about my transition from natural to vivid color. They may not have realized I was a photographer, but they knew me as a personality, which is a much stronger connection. Immediately, I knew this was my foot in the door to the hairdressing industry.

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My photography business obtained a face. Self-portraits humanized my photography and helped me gain trust and respect within the niche. “The girl with the coral hair” became “photographer, who captures hair in motion.” In one year, thousands of people knew my face. I gained countless opportunities directly through social media. My photography business became a brand.

I think what I am trying to say is that a self-portrait or even a phone selfie is not always a sign of exaggerated self-love or narcissism. When used properly, it can be a great addition to your marketing plan.

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Now, I share even more personal information online. It helps my new clients get to know me and my regular clients stay in touch. It makes it easier for a new client to approach me or to assign a job due to a long-standing rapport and communication. Glimpses of my personal life in the feed, balanced with photography work make my brand look personable and approachable. 

Summary: Five Reasons Why I Think Self-Portraiture May Help You With Brand-Building

1.     Your brand gains a face and becomes more humanized We all like talking to a person, not to a robot.

2.     Your brand becomes more personable, charismatic, and approachable, which gains you trust.

3.     Your brand becomes emotionally charged and welcoming. It is easier to initiate a first step when you feel like you know the person.

4.     Hiring you stops being just a service and becomes an exciting experience for a client. Your relationship transitions from online to the real world.

5.     You become well known in your niche, which gains your brand respect and prestige.

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19 Comments

Justin Haugen's picture

I don't think we should involve the word selfie in the same context with self-portrait.

Rob Mynard's picture

Haha surely a "selfie" is just an abbreviation (we call them abbrevo's in Australia) of "Self Portrait"?
Maybe we can specify pro selfie vs. amateur selfie.

Justin Haugen's picture

Selfie suggests something you take with your cell phone and your arm extended out (or with a stick).

Self-portrait, well that's a whole lot more effort and thought. But I imagine "selfie" registers better with SEO for this post.

Tam Nguyen's picture

Agreed. These photos look more like self-portraits than selfies.

Google is a great tool to get the semantics of words. Google "Selfie", then "self portrait". They are not the same thing.

However, selfie is a shortcut way of saying self portrait, which is apt because a selfie is short cut/more casual version of a self portrait.

Josean Rosario's picture

I agree with this article and need to take more self portraits even if I hate them :l

Isaac Alvarez's picture

Awesome read! Great first article

A photograph of the one providing a service can be very important, look at the Real Estate industry. It's a business purpose not narcissistic. It's narcissism if a "self portrait" is taken inside a bathroom via mirror and camera phone for the sake of 'Like' button clicking.

ATOR Photo's picture

Funny you write this now. Last weekend I spend some time trying to pick a photo to use for my photography social media profile image. It couldn’t be any portrait, I wanted it to say something about my style/brand. It had to be bigger than life, a little over the top and ideally use CG.

Here on the left you can see the one I came up with (there’s a bigger version in my Fstoppers portfolio). It’s a self portrait, has most of the elements of my style and works at post stamp format.

An added benefit of making self portraits is that it shows models I work with I wouldn’t ask anything of them I wouldn’t do myself :o)

Mr Hogwallop's picture

When you are in the beauty/fashion/hair biz and you look like the author, I would say yes.
For me, I look like my avatar and shoot mostly advertising and corp work so maybe selfies are not going to be a selling point....

Rob Mynard's picture

Or maybe clients would value your fearless honesty :-)

I'm with you Mr. Hogwalllop. A self portrait isn't going to help my business one bit. Might even harm it :)

I totally get this now - and agree with this article. It's about branding your product and the personal touch is key. We marketers need to let go of the fear of getting in front of camera, hearing our own voice, or being on video for all to see. I say - do yourselves a favour and get your face out there! I've done it and it's very powerful: info.pjsplanet.com

I hate the word BRANDING, but your points are definitely true. People relate more and feel more inclined to follow when they see the face behind the account. Selfie or self portrait, whichever. Some people feel it should only be done if the photographer is easy on the eyes. But it absolutely doesn't matter....

In fact I don't even think it needs to be a selfie or self portrait... as long as there are photos of the owner of the account. Even better is a BTS photo of the photographer working.....

Wes Jones's picture

Since I don't have access to a beautiful model, self-portraits are pretty much a necessity. As long as I am having fun, that's all that matters to me.

Daryna Barykina's picture

First of all thank you so much for reading my article! I am so humbled and so excited! I have noticed that not everyone was comfortable with the "terminology" I used. I was not confusing professionally taken self portraits with a cellphone selfie. Not at all. Originally I used professionally taken self portraits to introduce myself, though very fast I understood that those were considered as photography works, and didn't help to shrink the distance between me and my audience. A simple cellphone selfie showed my audience that I exist in a real world, without photoshop and sometimes even without makeup. It helped me to express my personality and establish emotional connection. This social media approach may not be useful for everyone, but I wanted to share for those, who may find it applicable.

David Vaughn's picture

I hate to say it, but it also helps if you are attractive, especially when you're in the business of photographing other attractive people. If you are, say, a photojournalist, I don't think it would be quite as relevant.

I'm not going to be racking up the Instagram likes with my mug any time soon, so...yeah...

But if it works for you, go for it.

George Perez's picture

Love this and I must agree. It's part of the reason why I take self-portraits every now & then. I want to put a face on my work, or add some personality to it