Photography and personal branding

Violet and I met in Kampala, Uganda, in 2013. She was working at 32º East Ugandan Arts Trust as a project manager at and I was staying there doing some photography. We got along instantly. Violet is fucking fantastic. Cut to 2018 and we're both now living in Berlin. She’s in school for her MA in curatorial studies and I’m here on a freelance Artist visa.

Street shooting and personal branding

When she reached out to me for some headshots, I suggested we do a street shoot around her flat in Shöneberg plus a few indoors. Violet has modeling experience and a larger-than-life personality. She’s clear on who she is, with no desire to conform to tradition.  She is sexy and confident and a bit of a wild card. This makes her pretty much a dream to shoot. We paraded around the streets like they were our personal set. 

I think these images say a lot about who she is. Much more than a ‘normal’ headshot.

And it’s a good example of how photography can enhance – and, really, help to create – your personal brand.


What to think about when hiring a photographer

When you’re hiring a photographer, pick someone who matches your vibe and vision. Violet’s an art curator; I happen to understand that world pretty well and, more than that, I’m passionate about it. We share a similar outside-the-box p.o.v. on things and I know and like her as a person. These things all add up.

You definitely don’t need to know your photographer well ahead of time and they don’t need to understand your passions or job. But they do need to be able to see your beauty and feel energized by who you are, what you do, and how you do it. I think the best photographers are able to feel love for everything they photograph and have that love show in each image.

How to choose a photographer to work with

When you’re thinking about hiring a photographer for headshots – or any shoot, really – ask yourself:

  • What message do I want to convey with these photos?

    Your answer will depend on who you’re hoping to connect with. Some ideas: smart, intelligent, intimidating / beautiful, attractive, sexy, warm / artsy, innovative, non-conformist, unique / professional, trustworthy, respectable, reliable / Anything else under the sun that you can dream up
  • What does your brand identity look and feel like as a whole?

    What are your colours? Your fonts, your website, your packaging, your aesthetic vibe?
  • Do you want to shoot inside a studio or outdoors?

    Different photographers will specialize in different things
  • Where are you planning to use these photos?

    If they’re for Facebook, Instagram, or Pinterest, some images should have some white space that you can put quotes overtop, and certain sizes to fit for a cover photo, etc.
  • Do you want a watermark or no?

    Whether you want the photographer’s watermark, your own, or none is a personal choice. Just make sure you and your photographer are on the same page.


Have you ever had a great or terrible experience working with a photographer?

How to stay motivated when learning something new


practice / play

I learned to play guitar at 19. My dad taught me. I spent about a year practicing, learning new chords, understanding how to transpose music, building calluses on my fingertips. I stumbled through songs until I finally learned how to sing while playing (which was probably one of the most awkward learning experiences I’ve had in my life).

And after a year of making pretty consistent progress, I plateaued.

I’ve played off and on since then. And somehow have managed, amazingly, to not really improve. At all.

Because after that first year, every time I picked up the guitar I would do exactly what I already knew how to do. It was fun, easy, relaxing. And it was the one hobby I had where I felt zero pressure to ‘be’ a certain way or achieve a certain something. I just played however I felt and that was that. That was the entire point.

The flip side is that, objectively, I still sound pretty shitty! I’m okay with that, for the most part. Sort of.


Know your intention behind whatever you’re investing time and energy in.

Is it to give yourself a break and just enjoy being like a kid again?

Or is it to improve in some way for some specific purpose? What purpose? Why? What does it mean to you?

When you learn something new, there are two parts to your experience:
Practice and Play

Practice is outside your comfort zone. It feels uncomfortable. And also awkward and frustrating, if you’re anything like me. It’s not necessarily ‘fun’ – though can be, depending on your definition of the word. The thing you’re doing or making will be ‘bad’, if you’re doing it (the learning) right.

Practice thrives, usually, within some sort of structure. Time limits, specific settings, tracking outcomes. A manual or teacher or guide to sponge off of and challenge you.

Play is fun, 100%. There’s no other reason for play. It’s doing whatever the hell you wantmaking mistakes with no looking back, experimenting, being loose. It’s a break from your mind and the chatter of everything.


How to learn

This is where motivation comes in.

You can’t be in practice mode all of the time or you become too rigid and too perfectionistic and lose sight of the point of it all. The humanness of it, the magic, gets cut off if all you do is Practice.

When you bring Play into the equation, you give things time to percolate and simmer in your subconscious, melt into something new, something you, something Worth It.

Time + space + energy = serendipity. Magic.

If you have a good balance of Practice / Play, you’ll need to try less. You’ll feel more. Your practice will be more ‘you’ and your play will be deeper. This feedback loop creates motivation.


The ratio of Practice and Play is entirely up to you.

My cousin plays violin at a very high level. Her Practice to Play ratio is usually around 90% to 10%.

My photography comes in at about 50 / 50. I’m so clear on needing to keep a large part of it light and loose because, for me, that’s where the art and humanness come in. Wildlife photographers or commercial photographers I’d guess would have a much higher Practicing ratio.

And I do want to improve my guitar playing at least a little, so I’ll probably aim for 50 / 50 instead of my past track record of 0 / 100... 

Think about your own Practice / Play ratio for the things you love to do, have to do, and want to do.

How can you make it work for you?