Building clients’ brand means working with them before and after their pictures are taken
By Meg Fry
Danni Siminerio said people are not swapping business cards anymore.
“They are swapping Instagram handles,” Siminerio, an independent commercial and theatrical photographer in Manalapan, said. “Especially with photography, but also in almost all other creative professions, you need to make sure you look good online.”
Mallika Malhotra, founder, photographer and brand strategist at MikiFoto in Short Hills, said that shouldn’t be difficult advice to sell.
“But, if people simply want a headshot and cannot see beyond that, I have to work hard to partner with and educate them on what brand photography can do for their business in helping them to stand out, get noticed and position themselves as leaders and experts in their industries,” Malhotra said.
Brand photography — what is it, how is it different and why does it matter in this ever-evolving world of social media and technology?
Siminerio and Malhotra, both successful self-made entrepreneurs, said they have the answers — and the skills — to make one’s business not only look good, but also grow, using visuals.
But first, they had to learn the basics themselves.
For Siminerio, entrepreneurship was the only option, she said.
“I like being in control, which is part of why I became a photographer in the first place,” she said.
Siminerio attended Communications High School (in Wall, NJ, part of the Monmouth County Vocational School District) to specialize in photography before attending and graduating from the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City in 2017.
“I worked a lot to prepare in college, building my portfolio and creating my website and marketing materials,” she said. “I also really worked to define and hone my style.
“Everything feels very cohesive, and even if two different clients want two very different looks, you can still tell when an image is mine.”
Siminerio said that, since graduating, she has learned firsthand the importance of networking and developing a great reputation.
“Someone who I knew in high school and had not spoken with since saw my senior thesis project from college and said, ‘That styling is exactly what I am looking for at my company now,’ and hired me for her company’s shoot,” she said.
It was one of her most favorite jobs to date, she said.
“Keep Shopping is a website that runs similar to Pinterest, where you can pin articles of clothing from various other sites to create an outfit and someone can then purchase that entire outfit through Keep,” Siminerio said. “The company was rebranding itself and relaunching its website, so I photographed their entire campaign.”
At the age of 23 and just one year into business, Siminerio is now earning thousands of dollars from single projects and working with clients such as Threadfast Apparel, Brother International and Diverging Elements Theatre Co.
Siminerio said being a brand photographer in New Jersey has allowed her to stand out, but she still is working on strengthening her online presence and finding collaborative partners in which to build an audience in the state.
“Most of the clients interested in my style are based in New York City,” she said. “And, while it is close enough to commute to, there is a bit of a disconnect in my target audience and the audience immediately surrounding me in New Jersey.”
Malhotra began her career working in advertising and marketing agencies in New York and San Francisco before leaving corporate America to balance an entrepreneurial career with starting a family.
“I manufactured handbags and then moved on to creating a T-shirt applique line,” she said.
But her family would relocate each time her husband, a specialized pediatric heart surgeon, would accept residencies and training opportunities across the country.
“I realized I could not continue to start labor intensive businesses that required sourcing and partnering with manufacturers,” Malhotra said. “I needed to find something I could do on my own.”
Having used photography as a creative means in which to stay in touch with her family, Malhotra said she began learning as much as she could about photography to move on from taking photos of her own kids to creating MikiFoto, a full-fledged small business specializing in child and family photography, in 2008.
However, when she and her family moved to New Jersey nearly eight years ago, she once again had to rebuild her brand.
“So, I joined networking groups, including Believe, Inspire, Grow, and was introduced to a network of like-minded, passionate, entrepreneurial women,” Malhotra said. “And, as I began to learn more about their businesses, I wanted to use photography to start revealing the true essence of their brands instead of simply taking two-dimensional headshots.
“Once I began telling visual stories for these women entrepreneurs, I saw the impact it had on their businesses.”
MikiFoto now retains clients across industries, from health and wellness coaches, including Tasha Blasi, a woman who went through in vitro fertilization multiple times and now works as a coach in Bergen County for families going through the same process; to interior stylists, including Décor Whore, a cheeky home decorator and lifestyle brand; and even family law firms, such as Lesnevich, Marzano-Lesnevich, Trigg, O’Cathain & O’Cathain in Hackensack.
“What I loved about that firm is that they came to me to help update their website design, wanting something fresh and different rather than much of the outdated and stuff versions you often see out there,” Malhotra said. “That is what enticed me to work with them.”
Make no mistake — brand photography takes work, on both the photographer’s and client’s sides.
“A brand photographer should start by understanding one’s business and how they want to be positioned in the marketplace in order to continue growing and attracting clients,” Malhotra said. “What is their vision and mission? Their values? Their personality? Who are their ideal clients?
“The photographer must then be able to creatively and visually bring their story to life through images.”
Malhotra said this typically results in her shooting a combination of headshots, work processes, workspaces and stock photography that is customized to a business, such as books on a shelf or a quote on a bulletin board.
“For me, it is about revealing the many layers to one’s story to give their brand some soul and depth,” Malhotra said.
Siminerio said her experience is opposite, with clients often knowing what they are looking for when they call her.
“My work is highly stylized with very defined, typically monochromatic color palettes,” she said. “So, when it comes to commercial photos, I will bring in a lot of the theatricality and intense styling behind my more personal work and bend it to work for the brand.”
It is therefore important, Siminerio said, that a brand photographer be direct and communicative with clients in order to get out of a photoshoot what exactly the brand is planning for.
“Yes, you have to have the technical skills to make a product look good, but what makes you different from other photographers is the story you are able to convey with the images,” she said.