Raj is a personal brand photographer who works with entrepreneurs, authors, and speakers that want to live on their own terms. He helps them convey their beautiful, complex, multifaceted stories on camera.
He believes that being authentic and vulnerable is the way to build deep, meaningful relationships with your audience, stand out from the crowd, and build a powerful brand.
“I want to bring out your culture and background in our photoshoot, because it’s part of who you are. It’s your strength. Let’s bring that in. ” – Raj Bandyopadhyay
Highlights from the podcast episode:
[01:50] How brand photography can impact your business
One of the understated benefits of brand photography is being able to look back at your photos and see yourself powerfully reflected back at you. As my clients (especially aspiring entrepreneurs, speakers, or authors) look at their photos, they say “Wow! I actually am an entrepreneur. I actually am a speaker. I actually am an author.”
That’s so powerful – it’s almost like compressing months of therapy into a single moment. You can spend a lot of time talking about it, writing about it, or just convincing yourself that you are a certain kind of person while overcoming imposter syndrome and all the mindset pieces of growth. But when you see an image, it’s immediate. Our human brain is designed to absorb visual information so quickly and efficiently. It kind of bypasses our conscious brain altogether.
That’s why brands spend so much money on creating the perfect images for whatever they want to convey. Because an image takes a fraction of a second to process. The message bypasses the “thinking” brain.
[04:44] From data scientist to brand photographer – Raj’s personal story
I grew up in Mumbai and had a very typical Bengali upbringing. My parents were all about school and education. I ended up going to IIT, one of India’s top engineering schools and got a degree in computer science over twenty years ago.
I came to the US with a PhD in computer science, started a job as a software engineer, and then a data scientist. By the time I reached my mid-30s, I had a fairly successful career but it wasn’t fulfilling. It felt like a path that I just followed because it was set for me. I was dissatisfied with my career.
I’d been married for about seven years at that point to somebody I met in the US. When we got married, we looked like any other straight couple. In 2017, my partner came out as transgender, and started the process of female to male transition. That was obviously a huge turning point for both of us. I saw how much his life changed (positively) as he started the transition process. He was much more comfortable in his body and his career started taking off. He was just more himself.
I started thinking about what I needed to change to feel that way too: true to myself. I had a photography hobby at the time; my friends would ask me to take headshots and profile pictures. I realized I wanted to do that more seriously, so I decided to go part time in my tech job while I built up my photography skills. Then in 2020 as the Great Resignation was happening (which is still happening) I jumped on the trend and began my own full-time photography business.
[09:14] Bringing authenticity, connection, and confidence to a brand photoshoot
I wanted to capture something more authentic about people in my photography. So I started looking at branding, partly because it was one of the only kinds of shoots I could do outdoors during COVID. I realized that I really enjoyed personal branding photography because it gave me a way to really dive into people’s stories, and bring something authentic out.
What I don’t like about the personal branding photography space right now is the whole Instagram aesthetic. What I mean by that is everything has to be some combination of pastel perfect and positive. As entrepreneurs, we are trying to build a real connection with our audience. So, if everyone on Instagram or whatever looks perfect, always positive, and has the same aesthetic, then how are you going to stand out and build a connection?
Connection comes when we are vulnerable, real, and when we show something that’s true. So, what I want to capture about my clients are their stories and authentic self. I have a process to uncover the true core of what they want to convey so we can show it visually.
[17:50] Misconceptions around what confidence and ‘professional’ might look like
When I started learning photography seriously, I took online courses with well-known photographers. There’s a lot of stuff that’s taught that’s almost toxic. I remember taking this posing class very early on, and the instructor flat out said, no matter who you’re shooting, you want to make them look skinnier. That is 100% the main principle of posing. He provided a guide of 120 poses for beginner photographers for “any kind of body.” I was like, Wait, all the models in the guide are basically super skinny professional models. So how does this apply to any body?”
The other thing I don’t buy is that every personal branding photo has to be positive. We have a culture of toxic positivity in branding. Everything has to look perfect. You always have to look happy. You can never talk about the difficult stuff or show challenging emotions like anger or sadness. I don’t buy that. I encourage my clients to express some of that for two reasons.
First, if you think of a photo session as a therapeutic session, you’re diving deep into yourself. So having some kind of release (sadness, anger) helps you get to the fun stuff: the joy, the confidence. It’s a lot less forced and awkward, once you’ve been able to release some of those things.
Number two, is that I actually want to show those emotions. What does it look like when you’re frustrated? What is it like when you’re sad? What does it look like when you’re angry? Why? Because your clients are encountering that in real life. So why shouldn’t you talk about it? Right?
If you are a personal branding coach and you’re talking to clients who are starting their own businesses, then of course you want to talk about what it feels like when you are frustrated and how to deal with that. So why not show that in your photos? It leads to a much wider variety of emotions that is richer and authentic and vulnerable and brings a deeper level of connection with the audience. I want to throw this idea out that you can only smile for a camera.
The other thing around the professional photography convention I want to throw out is the idea of how you need to look and dress. Many of my clients are women in their late 30s and 40s who are transitioning to something else or building their own personal brand as thought leaders. But they’ve spent their life in these corporate gray suits, not being able to express themselves. They weren’t able to be in touch with their feminine side because they have had to succeed in this very masculine world. The biggest request I get from them is, “I want to look confident, but still look feminine.”
Let’s unpack that a bit. There’s so many assumptions that are going into that, like the idea that you can only look confident in a certain way, and you can’t look confident while looking feminine at the same time. Where do those assumptions come from and why? There are many ways to be confident.
I come from a very colorful culture and many of my clients are people of color and/or children of immigrants. But they’ve been forced to subdue and suppress that to fit into certain environments. But I want to bring that out in shoots because your culture and your background is part of who you are. And it’s part of your story and your strength.
[21:49] Storytelling and the 3 types of stories to inspire your next shoot
When I first talk to my clients, I ask “What’s the story you want to tell?” That story goes through a few iterations through the process, but it’s a back and forth process. I’ve seen about three different kinds of categories of stories that I end up helping clients with.
One example is talking about your own story. For example, I had a client who was a very successful entrepreneur. In her late 20s, she was burnt out, went through a transformational journey and now she’s a business coach for women entrepreneurs. She has a wonderful story arc, so we wanted to capture the emotional journey of that story.
What did it feel like to be a successful entrepreneur who wasn’t fulfilled? What did it feel like to get burned out? What did that transformational journey look like for her? What helped her in that transformation? What does today look like for her?
The second kind of story is about what it looks like to work with you. This works really well with coaches who guide their clients through an emotional transformation, and who do different kinds of exercises with their clients. One of my clients teaches breathwork, hypnotherapy, and certain other kinds of techniques that have a very visual component to them. She was excited about showing the arc of a client and what it looks like to work with her. When you start showing that journey on your social media and content, you’re showing empathy. You’re showing that you understand what your clients are going through, which is a very powerful way to relate to your clients, even though it’s not necessarily your own story.
The story is the “Day-In-The-Life story.” I worked recently with an event planner who is building her own personal brand to become an event planning coach. So, we depicted the arc of planning an event. What does it look like behind the scenes? What does she look like? We cover the frustration, the anxiety, the joy, and celebration, and all the emotions that come up.
Stories have to have an arc. You generally overcome some kind of obstacle, and there is frustration and doubt. Eventually, you slay the dragon and you’re on the other side. When you incorporate that into a photoshoot, you automatically get a structure for capturing different emotions. As you embody your story, those authentic emotions start coming out. And you’re supported by the props, your outfit, and all the visual elements that come from brand photoshoots.
[31:18] Mindset blocks Raj has overcome to accept his purpose and mission
There are two sides to growing up Bengali in India. On the one side, it’s all about doing well in school and becoming a doctor, engineer, or other intellectual, high-security profession. Being in a ‘service business’ was especially not cool. It’s like you’re not living up to your potential.
That was something I really struggled with. It was a negative script that I had to overcome, which came with a lot of shame. There’s guilt that comes with potentially disappointing your family and not living up to expectations. I’ve heard that same story for many immigrants or children of immigrants.
On the other side though, there is also a huge artistic tradition that Bengalis. Bengalis aren’t just nerds, we’re also singers, dancers, photographers, and artists of all kinds. I like to think that I’m tapping into those traditions a little bit and leaning on them, which gets me going in a positive way.
I spent two months in India just before COVID after quitting my tech job and before starting my photography business. I started introducing myself as a photographer and just seeing India literally through that lens. It was an amazing revelation. I went to art festivals and galleries and got in touch with another side of India that I hadn’t been connected to, even while growing up there. It was powerful as a creative. I realized there’s a huge artistic tradition that India and Bengal has, which I can expose myself to now.
[36:27] Raj’s dream vision for the world
I want to see a world where everybody gets to tell and be their story, as it is, without censoring themselves or code switching. Everybody gets to be who they are, while being respected and welcomed for it.
Thanks for listening!
Resources from this episode:
14 LinkedIn Content Prompts: Build your thought leadership brand, show up for your target audience and grow your know-like-trust factor with your LinkedIn audience to drive change and raise revenue.
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