Branding a Photographer

We recently undertook a design project for photographer Kelly MacDonald to help her overhaul the visual brand of her photography company. After a short meeting, it was evident that we had a solid professional rapport, and this would be a great project. The most interesting and challenging part of the project was that Kelly is also a designer. Although she had struggled creating her own brand identity (a struggle we can greatly identify with), we knew our design would have to go above and beyond to please someone who had worked a long time to find a solution. So she passed the torch to our team and we hit the ground running.

Concept & Direction

It was clear from the start of our conversations, and even in the early mood boards, that we wanted to stay away from conventional photography standards in this branding. We wanted to reach, to create something more unique and much less literal. Kelly was clear that she wanted a simple solution that didn’t scream photography, and much like Focus Lab, she wanted a brand that did not pigeonhole her into a single market.

Photo of sketches in notebook

Creating an identity focused on handcrafted authenticity was going to be important to the brand. We needed to express the concept of work that was unstaged, and capture the imperfect yet beautiful atheistic that defines Kelly’s work.

Another idea that proved to be crucial was getting away from the use of her full name, Kelly MacDonald. No matter what we did with the arrangements and pairing of various marks, it still evoked the feeling of a traditional photography brand. When we noticed that spelling out her name and putting the word photography underneath it was completely working against us, it felt generic, there was no identity.

After some discussions with the client, we decided to move forward using only her first name. Shortening it in this way helped make it more unique and approachable from a design perspective. As you will see, our first round of designs had an industry standard feel, and as we progressed in the process the design evolved past that and into a final product that is both simple and unique.

As we approached the final solution, we also introduced the idea of a stamped style for the marks and type to help reinforce the handcrafted and imperfect beauty of the brand.

Art boards

The Mark / Core Elements

The mark exploration was a very thorough process. We started with some safer options like monograms and similar treatments in the first round. Round two brought a completely different approach, playing with a larger collection of both abstract and creative iconic representations like campers, retro cameras, illustrations and other totally off the wall stuff. That round proved to be crucial in the process, because it pointed us in a few solid mark directions, as well as the first rounds of isolating “Kelly” and moving away from using her last name. As we continued evolving and pushing through the process, we actually ended up with a collection of items that made it into the final branding.

Experimenting with icons

The first of these elements was a primary, type-based solution. We decided on a logotype using “Kelly” set in a clean sans serif. The font was then modified to create a softer, more approachable feel. To complete the primary mark, we encased it with a thin stroke to help ground the type. The rectangular shape also allows for alternate uses within the brand.

Type in the works

The second brand mark is the series of three “+” shaped forms. The power of this mark is that it carries a variety of relevant meanings while still being abstract. The original concept was a simplified representation of a bokeh pattern. We instantly realized that it also lent itself to many other photography attributes such as the focal point in the lens, or a series of flashes. It is always nice when you discover a solution you like that carries multiple meanings. This element can also break down to use the “+” forms to create patterns and other supporting elements.

Bokeh experiments

The third and final piece in this collection of marks is a series of hand drawn illustrations. We wanted to add some elements that would showcase the personality and talents of Kelly. Playing into the “handcrafted” concept, these hand drawn elements add character and depth to the brand. They also allow Kelly the flexibility to create unique, even personalized sketches for particular clients when delivering materials.

Icon illustrations

The Tagline

We knew early on in the process that the use of a descriptor or tagline was going to be necessary and this is where Hot Shoe, a custom typeface created in-house, was born. We wanted to create a solution that carried more personality while still clearly defining the service being delivered. While the tagline does not have to be applied, it can be used as needed or even stand alone due to the unique qualities of the custom typeface.

When stacked, the tagline becomes another mark-like element that reinforces the brand as a whole. It is also a flexible concept for the client, allowing for simple modification if the client changes or expands business offerings in the future. With the typeface we created, even if the client should choose to change the descriptor (i.e. “design” instead of “photography”), the brand will not be disturbed.



The typeface chosen to lead the brand is Brandon Grotestque by Hannes von Döhren which is used (modified) in the primary logotype. It was selected for its extremely clean and functional look with an approachable touch. The thin and the black weights are great for display usage while the light, regular and medium weights are great for longer text passages. This typeface is an absolute powerhouse and will serve as a great foundation for the brand.

To complement the primary typeface, we chose another clean and versatile San Serif. OpenSans by Steve Matteson. It was designed with an upright stress, open form and a neutral, yet friendly appearance. We intentionally chose this typeface for its reliability across media like print, web, and mobile interfaces, and excellent legibility characteristics in its letter forms.

Rounding out the typefaces, and arguably adding the most character, is a custom typeface created in house by Matt Yow. Hot Shoe, named for its unique style while also referring to the part of the camera that holds the flash in place, is a strong and versatile handwritten solution for key tag lines and headings within the brand.

Typography for brand


From the start, we decided that the color solution for this brand would be a singular, bold solution. We are big fans of using a single color to do all the heavy lifting. We then paired that with a small collection of neutrals to create depth, while not derailing the hierarchy needed for an effective color palette. We decided on a strong, muted yellow to lead the brand accompanied by some slight variations of the same value. This color was a great fit for various reasons, but among our favorites was the fact it did not lend itself to any market, such as an eco-green or tech-blue might, and the fact that it is gender-neutral.

The collection of yellows creates a monochromatic palette when additional colors are needed. Supporting the signature yellow are a variety of grays, and of course, white. We strongly value the use of white space in this design. While many may not consider this a actual color in the palette, we would argue that it is a key factor in the palette, and should be treated that way.

Brand color palette

Texture / Application

To effectively represent the handcrafted, personal touch of the brand, texture and imperfections were brought into the design. All applications of the identity, such as business cards, watermark elements and even avatars on social networks will employ these textures and imperfections. The idea of “stamping” the core elements like the nameplate and the collection of marks are at the foundation of this new brand.

Branded stamp application

In that vein, texture and imperfections will also be used on large blocks of color and even on type treatments, appearing as if the elements were rolled stamped on. This type of visual will clearly showcase the Kelly brand as a specialized, boutique operation and not a mass-production conglomerate.

Final Product

To complete the project we created a 32 page style guide that details each aspect of the new brand, from purpose, color and type to layout specifications. This is an integral part of our process and essential to the continued proper execution of the brand. We put a ton of effort into making these guides which become an amazing visual representation of the brand. Nothing makes a client happier than a powerful tangible delivery to complete the process.

In the end we couldn’t be happier with the final product and versatility of this new brand.

We knew that working with a fellow creative might be a challenging endeavor but we were pleasantly surprised by how great it was. We were able to deliver a brand that meets all the current needs of the client as well as establish a platform that can evolve as her company grows. We would love to hear what you think in the comments below.

Complete brand mark on photo Stamp and tagline on photo Final font ('Hotshoe') Final brand icon pack Packaging samples Happy logo

Join the conversation

Billy Steele on July 25, 2012

Are those business cards in one of the style guide snippets? Would love to see those up close.

Great work, as always, folks!

matt rossi on July 25, 2012

this is what you call, a home run…amazing work!

Toby Hook on July 25, 2012

Loving it! Really liking the colour scheme, sweet work!

Bill Kenney on July 25, 2012

@billy thanks man! There are no business cards in that shot just a series of stamps I think you are seeing.

@Matt @Toby thanks!

Ines on July 25, 2012

Truly amazing work and great insights. Thanks for sharing, it’s always intersting to read the stories behind an outstanding design. I really love the combination of sketchy elements, clean typography and the usage of textures. It gives the brand a very emotional and approachable touch. Well done, you did a great job here!

Bill Kenney on July 25, 2012

Thanks @Ines, we really enjoy sharing our process and showcasing the final product. Glad you enjoyed the post and thanks for the love.

Ronald L Harris, Jr. on July 25, 2012

I love the detail you’ve added to your post(s). Thank you for sharing with us.

Bady on July 25, 2012

Always nice to see someone/ company sharing their work process. I really enjoy this post, perhaps as much as Kelly as the client or you guys as the team. Good work!

Bill Kenney on July 25, 2012

@ronald @bady thanks for the kind words! We have a few more coming very shortly =)

Sabri on July 25, 2012

Thanks for sharing this Bill, terrific work!

Kelly on July 26, 2012

Thank you so much guys! So thrilled with my new brand and can’t wait to share the “new me”. You guys are awesome and were great to work with. I’m sure I wasn’t your easiest client but you made it happen and I couldn’t be happier! Thank you.

Bill Kenney on July 27, 2012

@Kelly Our pleasure! Creating a strong brand is never truly an easy process and it was an exciting challenge working for another creative minded person. We are happy to hear that you love it and look for to seeing it on the streets =)

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