I have been following the work of Hafenliebe Photography (Björn is now taking the business solo, after his partner, Jessi, decided to pursue a career in publishing full time) for a few months now. Since the first time I came across Hafenliebe, I totally fell in love with the style of photography – it felt raw, edgy, and purely emotional. What quickly became apparent to me is that Hafenliebe has nailed down its brand look and brand voice and speaks directly to a particular type of person – something most of us creative entrepreneurs are still struggling with, am I right?
When I saw that Björn will be attending The Rural Workshop a couple of months ago on Instagram, I wrote a comment saying I love his work and am so glad that he will be there. He said that I should come over and say “hi” when I see him. That is exactly what I did – and he was really open, nice and friendly. I just knew that I had to talk to him some more – no, no,no – that is not enough, I had to do an interview with him!
I approached him once again and asked if he would be willing to do a short interview with me, I already have thought about some questions, and have my audio recorder handy (haha talk about me just going for it!). He might have been caught a bit off guard, but he just asked for a second to grab a coke and then we made ourselves comfortable at the beach (well, people who saw me would say, I didn’t look too comfortable kneeling beside him, frantically taking notes…lol).
Yes, yes…I am getting to the good stuff. Here it goes…
Aida: Looking at your work, I can see that you have niched down properly. How did you manage that and what was the process? I can image you didn’t do it all on your own…
Björn: Actually, I did. My background is in graphic design and advertising. So basically, compared to other photographers I have an idea of what branding actually means. Most people think that branding is just a logo, and if they have a good logo, everything is cool, and they don’t have the idea that the logo is just a part of it.
You are a big part of the branding and the wording, and the images that you show … everything actually…like the copy of the website. My background in advertising has helped me put something together that makes sense. I would say that about 90% of my clients have somehow a creative background (or at least one of them) and they get the idea – they see that it is very thought out.
And now, I just rebranded, I worked with an illustrator from England, Sam Dunn, and last year she was a bride of mine. I gave her an idea of what I want. And I chose to work with her, because we had so many similar ideas and I liked her work. I wanted to have something similar to what we had (referring to the time Jessi was part of Hafenliebe) , but more of an advanced version of it. Because our last logo that we had was done by one of my tattoo artists. And the idea with this new logo was to put more of myself into it, because now I am working alone. The logo has hands with tattoos on them – and people can see that I have tattoos on my hands – even if it is not a rose. I also hope that it attracts a certain type of person and pushes a certain kind of person away.
Aida: Attract and repel, right?
Björn: Yes! For many years. The images on my website weren’t about attracting, it was about repelling. That way I don’t have to worry about people just asking for pricing, because they would not like the way that it looks. It will appeal to some, but repel a lot – and that is the idea. I guess it has to make sense overall, because you just can’t have a branding that does not suit you, because people will notice that it is not honest. I feel like at the moment, this whole like illustration style is really popular. I think it is like two or three illustrators doing all the work most of the time. I don’t want to have what everyone else has.
Aida: I get it.
Björn: I said to myself ”Sam, is an amazing illustrator – she has not done anything in the wedding sector yet – she wants to do something in the wedding sector, so I can help her, by promoting it, because people will see it. It is still the same style, but on its own feet.“
What I got this time is the main logo and several variations, one has two colours, one is monochromatic , which is great for overlays and a set of icons that I am using – like a hand holding a rose.
Aida: I have seen that you have used those icons for the highlights on Instagram.
Björn: Yes. And I will also use it for the website as a divider. I told her that I want several stuff that does not have to have a meaning, just has to fit together. And the idea to work with her is that from now on she will do everything. So when I announce a workshop, she will do something for it. For example, I am using the slogan ”This is for the hearts still beating” – it is actually a quote from a band, Converge , from the song ”Last Light”, which I really like. So that is why we have a human heart illustrated with some drops of blood coming out – this way, we also repel people, because they think wtf that? Why is there a skull in the logo?
The idea of the logo is to show connection – that is why there are two hands. Initially I wanted to show a couple, but that way it will not be all-inclusive, because it will show just a bride and a groom and not two men or two women, which I did not want to do. And the fingers say ”true love” – and in the more detailed version, there are waves behind them, so it is a bit like the ”Hafen” (harbour in German).
Aida: A bit of Hamburg…
Björn: The name ”Hafenliebe” is because on one hand I just love to be at the sea, also at the harbour just spending nights there. But also because of this old cliche, like the harbour is a place for freedom, because people can go wherever they want. It is a love for freedom as well. And then there is this German thing ”Hafen der Ehe” (translate: Harbour of marraige) – it is really like corny, but you can tell people that and it will make them laugh.
Maybe I would have called myself something different nowadays, because I work internationally and people do not get it, because it is German. But on the other hand, it is okay because I explain it to them. They get that it is a brand name – so it is okay. And so there is definitely some thought behind why the logo is that way.
Aida: I can see it. It always spoke to me. Eventough you can see that I have no tattoos…
Björn: It is not about that… It is about getting emotions from that.
Aida: Absolutely! Where you the one in the Azores?
Björn: Yes, I was there.
Aida: I have been to the Azores and many people asked what I was doing there? It is such a special place. And I thought why don’t many people travel here. When I saw your pictures from the Azores, I loved them.
Björn: I was doing a workshop (Camp Archipelgo) there.
Aida: That is so great.
Björn: I think it is such an amazing place, because it is Portugal, but it feels like Ireland. It is more cold and windy and all the buildings do not look like Portugal. And the light is really nice and the beaches are amazing.
So about the branding. Everything was well thought out and there was a concept behind it. Just to get something that suits what I do. That is also why it was great to get someone who was also my client. Because she has her own connection to my images. It is not just saying ‘hey I like this guy, because he worked for like 500 photographers”. Because he will repeat himself – it will all be the same. And that is what I feel with so many people ”I have seen that before”. And this is not what I wanted.
Aida: That is what makes it unique.
Aida: Can you tell me more about the workshop “For the Hearts Still Beating”? What are you doing differently?
Björn: The last one that I did, people said that it was less of a photography workshop and more like a self-help group. Because already on the first day, people started crying, because they were talking about what bad happened in their lives. About their fears and their doubts. And this is what appealed to me. Because I am a really insecure person, even if it does not look that way. I am never satisfied with what I do. And this is what I want to talk to people about. It is okay not to be okay all the time. There is no need to be pretending that everything is amazing all the time, because that is not life. It is not true.
Especially so many creative people struggle. Because we all compare each other to some other photographers. So the whole talk was basically about ”how can I be myself in a business that is pretty mainstream? And how can I find my way ?”
The approach is: find out who you are as a person and what is important to you. Because I believe that in a cerain way that you cannot shoot the same photo as someone else, because your experience in life is different. For example, let us say someone who did not have the best family experience, maybe family will not be that important. Or the other way around, they are looking for family connection, because they do not know that for themselves.
I am a really quiet person, a really melancholic person. My pictures will never be happy and outgoing. And whenever I see photos of people smiling, they are nice photos, but they do not speak to me that much. They do not make me feel something. And when I see someone who is really calm and really quiet, it is different.
Aida: Yes, I get it.
Björn: And that is what the workshop was about. So we gave the people some tasks. We asked them to do an honest self-portrait. And so we put two people together and one of them was basically like a human remote control. The other person would compose the photo and would decide how he/she wanted to look like and which emotion to express. And that was tough. Most of the people do not think about themselves, not that much, and I force them to. So they started being open. And that is when people started crying and finding out who they are. Afterwards we put the photos on the screen . Before they were telling us what they were thinking about, and afterwards everyone was saying which emotion they got from the photo. And that was pretty intimate.
Aida: So good.
Björn: And the one that I am doing now – I think that it might have something of that as well, but not too much, because I do not want to be too repetitve. So the idea is about telling stories. How to tell stories in a way that also makes people feel something. And how to put a story in just a couple shoot. Like shooting details and shooting in a certain way. And not just shooting visual pictures of people standing on a mountain.
Aida: haha, which I am doing right now…
Björn: I mean those photos are good. But you can have an idea. Like if you have them walk somewhere, then you have to think about, will I show the location later on? Or it does not make any sense to have them walk that way, because I will not show the place anymore.
Aida: I see.
Björn: I did that during a mentoring session with a guy. The girl he was photographing was a feminist. And the socks that she was wearing said „girl power“. And I was telling him, why don’t you take a photo where you put the focus on the socks? Because he was always going for her face. And I said, but those socks tells something about her, because she would not wear them otherwise. And stuff like that…it is so simple.
So this will be one point. And it will also be about how to find inspiration. Where to draw inspiration from. So I think I might show like where I get inspiration from. But also talk about, how I connect to my clients, in a way that is not superficial, but also not too time-conscuming. So how do I find out about them. How do I make them feel that I really care about them without spending weeks and weeks? Because it is not possible with so many people. I think that there are easy ways. Start with the enviornment you are in. Do I meet them in a cafe? Or do I maybe take a walk with them on the beach? And stuff like that…
I learned from a friend, who lives in Gran Canaria, basically on the beach. So he meets his clients on the beach. On the beach, everybody is relaxed. So it is not like in a cafe where they feel like they are applying for a job. He brings some beer and they just talk. And this is like something people can do. And I feel like from the start, it is important to get them to feel like we are friends hanging out.
Aida: I really like that. Is there anything else you would like to add? In terms of niching in and branding? Specifically for people who are wanting to take this step?
Björn: I would say that, if you do it, you need to be aware of the fact that business definitely is harder. Because you will not get as many inquiries. So you definitely have to make sure that you are able to pull it off. For me, it is definitely easier, because I do not have kids, I do not have a wife. So I am not responsible for anyone. I think you have to be aware of choices that you make. Not be afraid of them, but know which one to make. Because I feel that people are sometime just running blindly, like ”I want to do that”, but in the end it does not work out. For example, if you live in a village with about 2000 people and you say, I just want to photograph people with tattoos, it is most likely not going to work out. And for me, I think it was easier, because I never really cared about money so much. I just wanted to be happy.
I am really thankful to Björn for taking the time to share so openly about his experiences in branding and his thought process.
If you are hungry for more, he is hosting a Facebook Live today (Monday, May 26th) at 6pm UTC+2. He will be talking to Ross Tanner from Flothemes about all things branding and positioning – You don’t want to miss it!