Guest Interview with Photographer Donna Green

Aug 9, 2023 | Photographer Guest

“Show Notes”

Straight talking and bags of experience makes this episode from Donna
unmissable. She leaves nothing to chance with her work and marketing with
detailed research, preparation and planned execution.

Donna adds pounds to the people she photographs – pounds as in money that is!
Her niche is in branding photography and her practice is based in Edinburgh.

In this show we discuss the ins and outs of branding photography and in particular
how she gets her clients to interact with their own customers. And no surprise this
starts with research and planning. This leads to creating image that resonate with
not only the end user but the people ie customers, who are viewing the product
and services.

As Sam points out it is about creating an emotional connection and Donna
certainly builds this into her shoots. Initially having planning meetings with the
clients and filling in a workbook to identify – the ideal client, their values, USP etc.

Its all about adding value to the process. It’s not unusual for the branding
photographer to turn into a business coach at this stage in the game. The end
results a library of digital assets that will be completely in line with the client’s
business that are totally on-brand. Donna goes on further to offer a Pintrest
board to the client to make sure they images completely meet their expectations,
something that can easily be lost in translation!

The actual shoot is normally a few weeks after this process allowing time for
purchase props or clothing. Donna tends to work on her own without hair and
stylists – preferring a more natural look.

Marcus probes further and asks Donna where she finds her clients. And she goes
on to talk about how the Covid lockdown had some positive aspects for her
business. It gave her time to really nail her website’s SEO and rise up the Google
rankings to get to No.1 in her area for her chosen keywords.

Atip Donna shares is using keywords in social media posts and structuring her
website to be SEO friendly.

One of Donna’s values is “Don’t be a dick!” And works with businesses that she
likes and who like her. She also focuses on really spreading the word about her
business, not just relying on others to do it for her. Making efforts, and going out
of her comfort zone, to ensure her brand is well known. Thirdly she has a go get it
attitude, instilled in her by her mother and evidenced by teenage years spent

competing globally in bagpipe tournaments!

In short, decide what you want, think why you want it and never give up

We wrap up talking about following up with her clients and how a strategy call
after delivery is beneficial and this is something she is working on.

“Show Transcription”

Marcus: Hello again, Sam and how you doing?

Sam: Very good, Marcus. How are you?

Marcus:  I’m really good. Thanks, Sam. Really good. And especially excited this week because we’ve got a very good friend of mine on the photographer, Donna Green. She’s from Edinburgh, she’s a branding photographer and what I’m really so pleased about having Donna the show, she really knows her marketing. I’ve learned so much from Donna over the years. She’s really helped my business out and so I’m really pleased to share her and her information with our audience. So, Donna, introduce yourself, please.

Donna: Hi there, Sam and Marcus. Thanks very much for having me. So I’m going to open with saying, you know, that the saying that the camera adds pounds, well, I agree with that but maybe not for the reason you might think. So I’m Donna Green, founder of Donna Green Photography, and I photograph ambitious, service based small business owners who want to look expert, professional, current and entirely relevant to their own ideal clients. So those pounds that my camera ads are not pounds in weight, they are pounds in money that your business starts attracting with great visuals. They are the pounds that you will never regret. So I have a very strategic, methodical approach to my work with clients, and it all starts with me doing a lot of digging to find out all about them and their brand so I can translate their key marketing messages into images which really help them sell.

Sam: Amazing. So I think we’ve heard this before. Yeah. Research is really key to making use of the time you have with the customer and the camera.

Donna: Yeah, it’s absolutely fundamental to brand photography. And I actually started off photography doing family work, and when you photograph families, you’ll probably know yourselves it’s all about emotion, connection, relationships with people. But with brand photography, it is completely different. It’s not so much the emotion and the connection you’re talking about of what you’re seeing in front of the frame, but it’s actually figuring out, how do you get these people to connect with the viewers? Not with somebody else in the photograph, but with the actual viewers. And that’s where it takes a lot of work to find out all about them, about their business, what their messages are, who they want these photographs to actually attract and what they’re trying to say. So you really have to do a lot of work beforehand and it’s all about the planning.

Marcus:  I find. You’re right, Donna. With branding photography, it’s not just about creating pretty pictures. You’re there to offer a service, you’re there to offer value, and you’re there to sell the person or sell the product.

Donna: Yeah, that is so true. And it’s funny, actually, one of the things I have to keep telling clients is, okay, maybe you think your bum looks too big in that photograph, but you are the only one that’s going to notice that what other people are actually going to see is like, oh, that person looks interesting. They look friendly, they looked that they would be good to work with. I like the look of that person. Other people don’t care about the small details you do, and that’s a real big difference, I think, with brand photography and normal portraiture, you have to just tell people your pictures, they’re not for hanging in your living room and having everybody, oh, you looked really stunning. It’s not for that. It’s a completely different end result and purpose. So it is very different.

Sam: Yeah. So I was thinking with that, you were saying if you do the family portraits, you’ve got the emotional connection. Is it almost when you’re doing the branding portraits, you’re trying to get the emotional connection, but you have to make it yourself between the person you’re photographing and the person who’s going to see it. And so you kind of need to know who both people are and what they’re looking for to try and make that connection. So when somebody sees those brand photographs, they’re making an emotional connection with the person they’re going to work with.

Donna: Yeah, absolutely. You’ve completely got that right. And that’s why a large part of my pre work includes getting to know what my client’s, ideal client is, what are they into, what will resonate with them, and what will draw them in. Because if you don’t know that, you could end up taking a load of shots that, yeah, they look nice, they make your client look nice, but really, are they appealing to anybody? Are they helping draw them in and foster an emotional connection with their client? So, yeah, that’s really important. And again, it all comes down to planning.

Marcus: Could you give me a bit more information, Donna, about the process of how you get to that point?

Donna: Right, so I’ve got quite an in depth blueprint workbook that I put my clients through, and before i actually have a planning meeting with them forth shoot, I give them this workbook. And it really goes into an awful lot of detail about who they are as a business owner, what their values are, what they’re selling, what makes them different in their marketplace, and who their ideal clients are. And what I find is not everybody knows that to start with. So I’ve had a lot of people come to me and say, that was a really interesting process, because I just hadn’t necessarily thought of what my brand values are or haven’t thought of the sort of nuances of my ideal client. So the thing is, if my clients that come to me, if they’ve got that all down already, if they’ve done all that work, then they can rattle through that really quickly. Or maybe they’ve had a brand strategist or a marketer that’s done that already, in which case it’s really fast for them. But if they haven’t done that work and they’re not so clear on their own brand and their own ideal clients, then this is a hugely valuable exercise for them to go through.

Marcus: So even before you pick up the camera, you’re already adding value to your clients by giving them clarity about their own businesses.

Donna: Absolutely. And I think that’s really important. And it is just another bit of value that brand photographers give to a business owner, rather than just going to a bog standard portraiture photographer. So when they have this blueprint document, the workbook that they go through, they’ve got everything collated there in the one place. It really is a brand blueprint. It’s got all their marketing messages. Everything is in there that they’ve got together, so they can refer back to that well after the shoot is finished and when they’re using their own images as well.

Sam: That’s really interesting. It makes your job actually sound very similar to mine. In designing a website, we’re doing very similar things. We’re going in seeing who the person is, seeing who their ideal client is, asking them fundamental questions about their business, and yet often they go, oh, I don’t actually know that. I haven’t thought about that. We had one client who literally went away for a year and had a whole, like, rethink of everything because we just sort of asked them these questions and they go, all right, yeah, we need to think about that. And it’s really interesting. Some people know it, don’t they? They’ve worked on it, they’ve thought about it, they’ve got a really clear plan, and others just have kind of bumbled along and you ask them those questions and they go, I don’t know. Yes. So we kind of ended up almost business coaching them, I guess, don’t we, in some way, and being their market full marketing guide.

Donna: Yeah, that’s a good observation. It can certainly be a lot of business coaching and it can take as long as it takes, really, because I’ve had some people that they don’t really engage with the process and they try and rattle through it quickly and they’re just not clear on who they are and what they’re trying to achieve. And when that happens, I really do have to put the brakes on them and say, look, you ‘remaking a significant investment here into something digital marketing assets that are going to be really valuable. So engage with the process, go through this whole thing, analyze who you are and what you’re all about, because if you don’t, you’re kind of wasting your money. So, yeah, it’s definitely very similar to what you do yourself there. Sam

Marcus:  so, Donna, a lot of the time you’re really going in deep with these clients, really sorting out that not only their branding, but in a lot of ways, their marketing, where they’re going with their business you’re almost acting like a business coach

Donna: Is to put a pinterest board together, like a mood board. And that’s really just so I can get an idea and visuals of how they’re thinking. So a good example, right, if somebody says to me, oh, I want light and airy shots. So, I mean, what’s light and airy to them might be, not what light and airy means to me. So if they get some images together that actually convey what they mean, then it’s just an extra sort of safeguard, really, that we’re on the same page. So the pinterest board as well, it’s a  good place to keep some ideas and visual representations of ideas that they have. So after they’ve completed that and the brand workbook, they then send them over to me. And I like to kind of marinade on that for maybe a few days, a week, whatever. And then we’ll have a planning meeting, which is a zoom call that we go through it all in small detail. And after the flight, that’s the shoots, obviously, after that.

Marcus: So you’re super prepared. You just got everything laid down, you’ve got your ideas, you’re on the same page as a client, they’re on the same page as you, and you’re ready to go. How often does the shoot come after? Is that pretty quick after that process, or do you have to wait for the weather or what?

Donna: It really depends. Not a very helpful answer. But getting back to saying, I’m super prepared yet, that’s because I’m terrified I’m going to mess up. So it’s actually to help may be prepared as well as them. So by having everything down on the one spot, I think it just keeps everybody right. So, yeah, I really find that it’s absolutely vital. When does the shoot happen? Well, it really depends. I like to give at least a week, because in the planning meeting that we then have, things can come up in that. Like, maybe they need to go out and source some props. Maybe we need to sort locations out. Maybe they need to go and get some more clothes. So I would say that never have a shoot a week ,in the next week after the planning meeting. It’s got to be at least a week after that, but it can be anything.

Marcus: Do you bring in other professionals? Do you ever work the stylist, the hair and makeup?

Donna: I don’t, or rather, I never have so far. I think a lot of the clients I tend to attract are the fairly kind of natural look. I don’t do highly stylized kind of work. And I’m not saying I never would work with these people, but it’s just every job and every client I’ve worked with today, it’s never really been that interested in that kind of thing. So never say never. But it’s not a top priority for me.

Marcus: Maybe if I can just take a little step backward, and it’s just come to me. And we haven’t really talked about how you find your clients. Donna, maybe you could just talk a little bit about that.

Donna: Yeah, sure. Well,

Marcus: where you find your clients?

Donna: The main place google. Pivoted to brand photography from family two months before Lockdown, which is not very handy, but what Lockdown actually gave me the chance was to do loads and loads of sort of behind the scenes work on my business. I spent a lot of time learning about SEO as well as general marketing and branding. But I built my website myself, and I really put a huge amount into SEO and learning about it. And as a result, I’m number one for quite a few of my chosen keywords at the moment.

Marcus:  Wow.

Donna: At the moment, these things never sort of no.

Sam: So when you say number one in Edinburgh

Donna: yeah, well, I think I’m number one for brand photographer Scotland and brand photographer Edinburgh. So that’s the two I was kind of hoping I would.

Sam: That’s pretty impressive. So do you think maybe you could give, like, some SEO, if you’re willing to give a few some SEO tips to some other photographers out there,

Donna:  I think. It’s not one tactic. So I didn’t just concentrate on, say, getting the right keywords on each web page. It’s not just that. A lot of it is using keywords in your social media. So LinkedIn posts are great for getting your keywords in. I’ve also tried to structure my site in away where the categories of different posts are. You know what, I’m not going to go down this rabbit hole because it’s kind of hard to explain

Marcus: it’s a lot.

Donna: It’s a technical SEO on your website, I think. So I’ve looked into that a lot and also basically trying to get your URL out there in as many places as possible. So I think my number one hint would be just get it out there as many ways as possible. Don’t rely on one tactic.

Marcus: Yeah, I mean, Donald, that’s a lot of great information. Gosh. Maybe I could push you to give maybe three top tips that you could recommend to photographers.

Donna: Absolutely. No problem. Right, first one, define your own version of success. So, for me, one of my personal and brand values is, don’t be a dick. Right. So that means I don’t like working with dicks. Excuse me, I hope that’s not offensive, but it is what it is. So, for me, my sort of definition of success is to work with people I genuinely like. And I think that’s a difference between being employed and being your own boss, of course, because if you’re employed, you sometimes have to work people with people you just don’t respect and don’t like. So, yeah, define what your version of success is. Second one, it’s something that a lot of people still, even nowadays seem to think in marketing, and that is build it and they will come. That is absolute rubbish. I don’t know who said that to start with, but it’s just wrong. So what I would say instead is build it, talk about it, talk about it some more, never ever stop talking about it. And then if you’re talking about it in the right way, to the right people, then they’ll come. But the trouble is, after that, then you have to keep them coming. So, yeah, it’s not just a matter of build and they will come. It’s a work in progress. For me, my default setting is to be comfortably invisible. So I need to sort of constantly battle with myself for that. And my final tip is something my mother used to say to me quite a lot, actually, and that was, you may have very good reasons why something isn’t possible, but don’t be surprised when someone else goes ahead and does it anyway, because she thinks it is possible and she has very good reasons why. So, in other words, if you want something, just go for it. So a quick example of that is not photography related, but when I was about 27, I decided I’d learned to play the bagpipes and play in a pipe band. And this wasn’t entirely out of the blue because my we brother was a prolific solo Piping Prize winner and he traveled the world with various pipe bands. He’d been in all those free jaunts abroad with free beer. Oh, yes, I wanted me some of that. They’re fiendish so many times when I was really struggling with I was struggling to get my fingers round particularly tricky movement, or had to force myself out of bed early enough Sunday morning after being out the night before to go to a band practice. I nearly jacked it in so many times. But I didn’t give in because I just kept my eye on the prize, which was lots of free trips around the world and free beer. By heck, I got them because I stuck in. But then what happens in the beer tent stays in the beer tent. So here end of that particular tale. But the thing is, your business is the same. It can be really hard and everybody has days that they’re just like, oh, for heaven’s sake, I just can’t be bothered with this. I want to go and work in Tesco’s or something. So what I would say is, decide what you want to achieve, why you want to achieve it, and constantly remind yourself why you want to do it and why it’s possible. Be stubborn as hell and never, ever give up.

Marcus: Oh, man, that’s gold, donna, that is gold. Don’t be a dick. Keep on working it and keep your eye on the prize. Absolute gold.

Donna:  Absolutely.

Marcus: Okay, maybe just start wrapping up the show. Donna, obviously we’re not going to go into the shoot. That’s maybe for another show, but what about any follow up you might do with your clients after the shoot? Any tips out there?

Donna: I’m actually working on refining that process at the moment, because when I first started doing this, I noticed that I could deliver a set of brand images which work really well, but maybe the client wasn’t entirely very sure on how to use them. So I’ve now started offering a follow up session, a kind of strategy call into my package. So I deliver the images and they’ve maybe got them for two, three weeks and they’re sort of sitting mulling over what to do with them, where they’re going to put them. And then we have a session that we basically go through the whole collection and I give them advice on. These ones would go great here. What about that page on your website? We’ll quite often look through their website and I’ll suggest, right, I think this one works really well here because of whatever reason, and sometimes they are not very adeptat using their photographs on social media. So I’ll offer advice with that as well. But that’s something I want to develop a bit more. Yeah, that’s what I’m going to be working on in the near future.

Marcus: I mean, at the top of the show, I said, Donna, is that you add incredible value to your clients. And I think you’ve just really shown us, that all, that very kindly sharing your process with us, exactly how you add that value. No wonder you’re such a sought after photographer and in such great demand. Brilliant. And that’s what I can say.

Donna: Thank you very much.

Sam: It’s interesting almost the photography is actually quite a small part of all of this, isn’t it? Which is, we think, photography, right, there must be a camera and you must be going click or in front of the laptop. But actually, when you’re looking at the whole picture, that’s actually not that big a part of all of this process you’re doing.

Donna:  You’re right. There’s some I’ve out there, Sam. I’ve never actually really broken down the hours or minutes of what I spend doing what, but I think there’s more other work in this than actually my clients being in front of the camera, because my standard sort of session is three, three and a half hours. I don’t like going more than that without a break, so I find people’s energy just tanks. But yeah, I mean, if that’s 3 hours in front of the camera, there is a lot more work other than that that goes into the whole thing.

Sam: Yes. So while we’ve been chatting on LinkedIn, Donna, you said when you started doing photography, you used to sort of dive on the floor and get all sorts of interesting angles of your clients. I understand that ended in a bit of a mess one time.

Donna: Yeah, that really did. Let’s just say that every time I’m photographing outdoors now, I always look at the ground before I throw myself down on it. It was really embarrassing. I just didn’t realize that dog had been there. It was horrible. And you get that moment where you’re thinking, do I actually pretend this hasn’t happened or do I just.

Marcus:  Donna. Donna. Oh, man. Brilliant Donna, thank you so much. And a brilliant friend as well.

Sam:  Yeah. Been amazing to have you on.

Donna: Thank you so much.

Sam: I’m saying if you want more from the podcast, sign up to the newsletter at website4photographers. That’s the number four co UK podcast. You can get the newsletter there. You’ll get the latest podcast delivered to your door. All sorts of extra information, photos, bits and pieces, so that is definitely worth signing up for. Make sure you don’t miss the next episode.

Marcus: I’ll put in a where our viewers, listeners can get hold of Donna and her website, which details she wants to pass on. So you can find all that in there. Yeah. And I’ll see you next week, Sam. Goodbye.

Sam: Yep, see you next week. Bye.