the podcast recap episode with aj & rory vaden

Ep 85: Using Elevated Realism to Build the Visual Identity of Your Brand with Nick Onken | Recap Episode

In today’s special episode, we reflect on our powerful interview with photographer extraordinaire, Nick Onken. Not only was he a great guest, but he also drove home important points that we sometimes overlook in our brand building endeavors. Some of our main takeaways from the interview include the role that photography plays in connecting with people online, how elevated realism makes your pictures jump out, and the importance of having cohesive pictures and captions.

Along with this, we consider other important points from the conversation, such as the malleability of your online identity and the power you have to create and recreate your digital self, why being human and vulnerable fosters connection, and strategically planning your photo-graphs’ emotions. Be sure to tune in today!

Listen to this episode below:

Key takeaways from this episode:

  • When people see photos of you online, it’s a key part of how they connect with you.
  • A recent friendship AJ struck up with someone who had been following her for a while.
  • Why Nick’s concept of elevated realism stuck out to Rory so much.
  • Your pictures and captions need to make sense — Nick’s simple but powerful advice.
  • How packaging affects prices and the relationship it has to personal brand photography.
  • The pictures you have create the perception of how you want to be viewed.
  • Show who you are online; people want to see that you are human!
  • The importance of picking the right kind of photographer that suits your brand.
  • Why you should plan for the emotion you want to be represented in a photo beforehand

Tweetable Moments:

“Make sure that your pictures and your captions make sense.” — @aj_vaden [0:07:00]

“You are creating the perception of what you want people to see you as.” — @aj_vaden [0:11:02]

“What is the emotion or energy that I am trying to convey?” — @roryvaden [0:16:24]

About Nick Onken

Nick Onken is a world-renowned photographer, host of NIONradio podcast, and creative entrepreneur devoted to inspiring the world to create their moments.

Nick has photographed personalities such as Justin Bieber, Tom Hanks, and Jessica Alba. He’s been featured in Fast Company, Huffington Post, and MTV. Nick has traveled to over 60 countries and 7 continents and is the author of the travel photography book, PhotoTrekking. He has photographed global campaigns for international brands such as Nike, Coca Cola and Adidas and his work has been published in magazines such as Conde Nast Traveler, Cosmopolitan, and Marie Claire.

On his podcast, he’s interviewed celebrities such as UsherScooter BraunDonna Karan and many others. He is the founder of the lifestyle brand, NIONlife and has been a featured speaker for Adobe on activating creativity. He also photographs for the charity, Pencils of Promise as he believes that education is the root problem solver of our world.

Links Mentioned:

Speaker 1: (00:06) RV: (00:06) Welcome to the recap edition of the influential personal brand podcast. We’re breaking down our friend, Nick on kin master celebrity photographer. I don’t know what else to say. Photographer guru photographer, extraordinary, extraordinary. The champion of all or so rent photography. I don’t know. Amazing guy, super powerful interview. And of course joined by my wife, our CEO, AIG Vaden. Why don’t you, why don’t you kick us off? What did you think? AJV: (00:37) Yeah. And I’m actually going to refer to my notes because this is one of those interviews where you kind of just get lost in the conversation. Nick is so conversational, he’s just just kind of a wealth of knowledge. And so I’m going to refer to my notes. I had five main points try to fit, but I’m going to try to fit them and still make them all fit. So my first one is just that great reminder that people connect to you through seeing photos of you and this digital landscape that we live in and the virtual atmosphere and how most of us are interacting today. It’s a, that the pictures of you that you post on social media is how people connect with you. And, you know, I know so many friends and, you know, professional and personal colleagues who say, well, I, you know, social media is just not for me. AJV: (01:23) Or I just do it for personal, or I only do it for professional. And we’re in this really interesting time where well kind of digital is the way, and that is how people connect to you and see you as human. Like this is the human interface and that is that personal dialogue. And you know, it’s interesting. I was at a friend’s house this weekend and she, she had her friend over there who I had never met before. And she said, yeah, I told her to follow you a few months ago. And she said, I know that you post like tons and tons of stuff about personal branding. And I was like, Oh yeah, you probably haven’t seen any of that. All I really post is pictures of my kids. And she said, actually, I really enjoy just getting to know you and your family. She goes, I love the fact that I’m meeting you for the first time. And I actually feel like I already know you. RV: (02:18) I didn’t know this. You didn’t, I didn’t real. I missed this. AJV: (02:20) Yeah. We were in the kitchen and she said, actually, I’ve seen your kids kind of grow up over the last six months. And you know, I have a one-year-old and we have a one year old, I had a role in it. You did. And it was just really interesting to me. I was like, man, I’m behind, I’m behind the game here. I’m behind the eight ball. I, I don’t know you. And I don’t know your three kids. And I felt really behind because she was like, yeah, I’ve been following you. She goes, I love the pictures of your kids. I love seeing your family. She goes, your kids are so cute. And she already knew so much. And it’s like, we all, it was like almost gave us a launching pad for this new friendship, for this new conversation. And I had never really viewed it through that lens before. And I actually felt like I was missing out because I didn’t have that same background knowledge on her. And it was this very weird aha moment. And so when Nick talks about in the interview of, Hey, we connect to people through seeing pictures of them, it was this great aha coming to fruition and this very first encounter of wow, that really, that really connects, that really makes RV: (03:30) It’s almost like it accelerates the relationship and so many ways. And I think it’s funny cause our feeds are probably completely inverse. Mine’s almost entirely business. I share. I do share personal stuff in stories, but not even that often. And yours is almost entire, your feed is entirely personal. So like many things, when you add a Rory in an ADJ, you have a great, you’ve got a great thing, but yeah, well, that’s super powerful. I, you know, Nick said that the camera sometimes adds a few pounds to 10 pounds. I’ve never met a camera that had less than 20 pounds to me, but I wasn’t upset by that. And my biggest takeaway from, from him, which is, I think what his thing is all about is elevated realism. And it reminded me of what Kristen Giza said a few weeks ago about TV. RV: (04:20) I think she called it heightened authenticity, the similar, like it’s like be yourself, but bigger, like you know, and a simple tactic in just that phrase, I think is super powerful, elevated realism. And when you look at his photos of Justin Bieber or of, you know, any of the people that he’s taken, you, you see this like, Oh, that’s what it looks like. I think of Louis behind the hot air balloons, Louis, they did a photo shoot. It really did. I mean, well, and so this was a tactical point that, you know, for someone I’ve never put a lot of stock stock in photography pun intended I have, but as someone learning a lot more about it and placing a much higher value on it, a simple tactic of make sure the background of your photo is a part of telling the story. And I thought that was just a super simple thing that like, you know, it’s, we underestimate, it’s like a very subconscious thing of what’s going on in the background, but particularly when you’re, you’re, you’re doing elevated realism and you’re, you’re producing an energy and an emotion with a photo that sort of faded background, but like whatever it is contributes a lot to that. And I thought it was both a tactical tip tip and also like a very artistic tip for how to do that. So that was a big, big one for me AJV: (05:45) Positions into my second, third, fourth point. I’ll put into one, which is make sure that your pictures and your captions make sense. RV: (05:54) Oh yeah. That’s really simple. Hashtag what was it girls with? Irrelevant captions. AJV: (06:01) Well, how’s it gotta be just girls Nick, come on. But yeah, I just, I think that was really an aha moment. Cause you know, I spent a ton of time looking at pictures and reading captions I’m in social media by trade quite a bit. And I just thought it was really interesting and you know, so I started actually going back through some of our teammates profiles while I was like listening to the podcast and I was like, Oh yeah, make a note. I’ll make a note there. And it was like one of those like aha moments where it’s like, okay, if you’re fully dressed, standing by the edge of an ocean or by the edge of a pool. And it’s like, great, first of all, that makes no sense to me. Why are you in a suit by the ocean? And then too, like reading the captions and I’m like, Oh, okay. AJV: (06:42) Yeah, I totally get what he’s saying. And I already knew that where it’s like, Hey, if you’re in a bikini or if you’re shirtless a shirtless male why are you like, you know, posting about deep thought and you know, soul searching. And it’s like, is that, are you finding your soul easier? Cause you have no shirt on, I’m not sure like what’s happening there, but it’s like, how are you making sure that your captions in your post connect in an authentic and real way? And are you just picking pictures you like, or do they actually help project the contents? And I thought that was a really good way of looking at it. It’s you know, and I think you could start either way. It’s like, what picture do I have that’s representative of this content that I’m trying to post, but then also what pictures do I love and what does that tell me to say, what does that prompt me to say? RV: (07:33) Well, even the story of that. AJV: (07:35) Yeah. Like what feeling does it, you know, kind of create in me. And I think you could go either way, right? You could start with the content and find the picture, start with the picture and create the content. But I just making sure they connect was a big aha. Yeah. Not necessarily a new one, but Oh yeah. Need to make sure we do that. RV: (07:53) Yeah. Just the little conscious, conscious things like this that will make a huge difference. And I think that it seems like it would be easier to find to, to, to find a picture that you love and then tell a story from, from that. But yeah. So anyways the, my big second, my second big takeaway, which I totally understand with physical products, but didn’t necessarily connect so clearly to personal brands is that different packaging results in different pricing, different packaging results in different pricing. We all know that like the way, you know, when you buy a Coke, like Coke or coffee, or you, you can go, what’s the difference between a Starbucks coffee and a seven 11 or a, you know, whatever air Jordans or what I grew up on, which was air Jordash. Like there’s, there’s certain things that you expect in the packaging, right? Apple has real. Yes. Well, it’s called Jordache, but I called it air door dash, but it was from Payless shoes. AJV: (09:01) Oh yeah. [inaudible] RV: (09:03) I call it air Jordash cause I wanted air Jordans. This is the whole story of my life. All of my ambition comes from the fact that I could not afford air Jordans when I was a kid. And so I wore air Jordache and then I was like, one day, I’m going to be able to buy your Jordans and you still don’t have any, I don’t have any, but, but Jasper got some what’s your sweet anyways. Yeah, Nordstrom rack. I’m on discount. But so your pictures, your photography as a personal brand represents a huge part of your packaging. And it’s, it’s, it’s funny because on the one hand you go, how come this photographer will charge me 500 and this photographer will charge me 5,000, but that’s also probably the difference between you charging 500 and you charging 5,000 for whatever the thing is that your doing. Yeah. And at least making a connection in your mind to go, my photography is directly correlated to the price that I can charge an excellent photography allows me to charge more. It enhances the perception of my credibility. And that was just a really important connection for me. AJV: (10:13) Yeah. Well again, great transition to my next one, which was, I’m literally reading my notes because I tried to capture this. You are creating the perception of what you want people to see you as right? Your pictures, your imagery creates the perception of how you want people to view. You see you as you’re creating the lens and which they put all of their thoughts around you. And I think that to your point, it’s a really big deal. It’s the way that you project yourself and your imagery. It is the perception that people have and you actually have influence over that. All right, these are your pictures. And I think that is a big deal and that is really important. And I really love that. It’s like, Hey, if people see you as one way, well, you can change that. Yeah. Post different images, post different pictures, create different content. AJV: (11:07) You have that power use it and you can do it through your images and your story. And then the other thing that I had kind of noted in this area is that people want to see you as human, which is why I post so many personal, personal pictures. I’ve decided Nick’s interview it’s because I have the human element. That’s, that’s what I’m going with. But I think that’s really important. And, and actually it was really interesting because as I was listening to his interview and I was like looking through my own feed of like, okay, okay, I’ll see how that connects. And I see how that connects. And as I asked myself, I was like, how do I really want people to perceive me? And I think for me, it’s like, yes, I’m the CEO and cofounder brand builders group. And I do all this stuff work-wise but more than anything else I want to be seen as Jasper and Liam’s mom like that truly is, it’s like, that is my number one priority. AJV: (11:58) It’s my number one, calling all thing and breweries wife. Right. You know, I’ll take that child of God all the things, but, you know, I think that was really, it was like an aha moment, the personal things in general. Yeah. Like that I would, I would much rather be seen as a human being versus I CEO or this or that. It’s just, just me. And I think that too is very reflective of what you get in my feet. And that was completely unintentional. Now I will put some intention to that, but it also was an aha moment of RV: (12:34) It could be good to put a business call to action in there every once in a while. AJV: (12:37) I do, I tied it in occasionally. But then I just, you know, that it’s a completely different feed than you would have found two years ago. RV: (12:47) Yeah. And it’s funny to me, cause people will comment on my profile or they’ll message me and they’ll say you have a beautiful family and I’m going, Oh, they must follow AJ. Because I don’t post a ton of the pictures, but like, or they’ll see us and they’ll be like, I love keeping up with your family. And I’m like, Oh, you’ve been following AJ. So, AJV: (13:08) But again, I just thought it was like very interesting.

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