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  • Writer's pictureNorteyrazzi

Stand Out: Learning the Rules to Break Them in Photography Branding

Updated: May 14

(Watch the YouTube video of this blog post above)

In every creative field, mastery begins with a deep understanding of the foundational principles. This concept holds true in photography as much as in any art form. The journey from novice to master is elegantly encapsulated in the modern Japanese martial art ‘Aikido’ concept of Shu-Ha-Ri, which offers an insightful blueprint for photographers seeking to develop a distinctive brand that stands out in today’s saturated market.


Shu: Learning the Fundamentals

In the initial phase of Shu, photographers immerse themselves in learning the established norms and techniques of the industry. This stage is about absorbing knowledge and understanding the "rules" of the game, much like a student in the classroom. It’s essential for building a solid foundation upon which you can later innovate. This phase is reminiscent of the early careers of creative giants like Ye (formerly Kanye West) and Walt Disney, who both began by mastering the conventional standards of their respective fields before they started breaking them.


Ha: Questioning and Modifying Norms

As photographers become more proficient, they enter the Ha stage, where they begin to question and challenge the norms they’ve learned. This phase is about bending the rules and experimenting with new techniques, styles, and perspectives. It's a critical period of transition where creativity begins to flourish and personal style starts to emerge. This is the stage where the potential for branding begins to crystallise, as you start to distinguish your work from others.


Ri: Forging a Unique Path

The final stage, Ri, represents a complete departure from the norm. Photographers who reach this stage develop a unique voice and style that is not only distinct but also innovative. You are no longer a follower of trends but a trendsetter yourself. This phase is about pioneering new techniques, embracing the unconventional, and ultimately crafting a brand that is uniquely your own. It’s not merely about being different; it’s about being authentically original.


The path from Shu to Ri is not linear, nor is it quick. It requires patience, persistence, and a relentless pursuit of personal expression. This journey from imitation to innovation is critical for photographers who wish to leave a mark in the world of the visual arts. By understanding and moving through Shu-Ha-Ri, you can build upon the past to create a brand that’s truly original and powerful.


In essence, mastering photography branding isn't about discarding what has been learned. Instead, it's about using that knowledge as a stepping stone to create something profoundly new and deeply personal. This process mirrors the creative evolutions of iconic figures like Ye and Disney—artists who learned the rules well enough to effectively rewrite them for their contexts.


For photographers looking to carve out their niche, embracing the Shu-Ha-Ri framework could well be the key to developing a memorable and impactful brand. It’s a reminder that, while every master was once a student, it’s their journey beyond mastery that defines their legacy.

*For a deeper dive check out our new YouTube Video here:

*Have you ever wondered if your photography brand stands out for the crowd? Take the ‘Photography Branding Self-Assessment Test’ to find out:

*Grab a copy of “BRAND FART - Avoiding The 28 Common Branding Mistakes Photographers Make” here:



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