Gina Cinardo of Ginici Studios is an outstanding photographer based in San Luis Obispo. Gina specializes in personal branding. She and I recently caught up for a quick chat about (you guessed it) branding, and, specifically, image as brand.

de la Riva: So, Gina, tell us about your business. I mean, obviously I already know about your business, but, you know, for all 15 of our readers…

Gina: (Laughs) My business is Ginici Studios, and I am a professional portrait photographer specializing in personal branding and commercial photography. I actually spent some time early on as a graphic designer before moving into photography about 25 years ago, which is what my degree is in.

But for eight years now, since I started Ginici Studios in San Luis Obispo, I’ve been doing personal branding. You could say ‘personal branding photography,’ but that’s probably getting redundant.

de la Riva: You said that ‘commercial photography’ is one of your emphases. What is ‘commercial photography’?

Gina: Commercial photography is anything from marketing photos, to staff photography, to telling brand stories through photography using people and venues. So, for example, it could be headshot photography, like the ones we did for Susan Polk Insurance this summer, or product photography, like our wine-bottle session for Red Soles Winery earlier this year. Or it could be something like what I did for you last year on the Santa Maria Valley Humane Society branding project, where I went out took event-style shots of their staff and their gorgeous facility. That shoot was also a great example of telling a story through photography, because the photos really captured what the Humane Society is all about.

de la Riva: So, your real specialty, though, is ‘personal branding.’ What’s your definition of branding?

Gina: What is branding or what is a brand? Wow. (Laughs) What’s your definition?

de la Riva: My definition of brand-ing is ‘communicating who you are and what you do to your target customer in a way that is clear and compelling.’ I actually broke down the components of that definition in a series of really short articles…but I digress. To answer your question, though, I’m asking about brand-ing.

Gina: Well, a brand is the emotion that you get when you hear or see a business or their logo, or when you think about a business you know. So you have a “brand” whether you realize it or not. Your brand may be right, wrong, confusing, or whatever, but you have a brand. It’s happening, like it or not.

But brand-ing is exactly what you said; it’s when you strategically position yourself to appeal to a target customer. Branding is you intentionally trying to tell people who you are.

de la Riva: So basically what you’re saying is that a brand is what other people say about you, but branding is something you intentionally attempt to say about yourself……right?

Gina: Right.

de la Riva: You keep mentioning “business”—that branding is something “businesses” do. Is branding relegated to the world of business or commerce?

Gina: Yes, most of the time it is, but not always. My most recent customer—Grace Cutler—is a college student who’s wanting to go pro as a soccer player, but she’s not signed yet. So what she’s basically doing is creating an image and a resumé online to position herself to get signed—to market herself to get the attention of professional soccer teams. But she is branding Grace Cutler the person, which is personal branding, not business branding.

But, I would say that while branding can happen with any business, organization, or single-person entity, it’s always in a professional context as opposed to a casual or nonprofessional context. So you could say that branding is creating a message that is designed to be promoted in a professional context.

“A brand is what other people say about you, but branding is something you intentionally attempt to say about yourself.”


de la Riva: I see, that’s good. I agree with that. Branding outside of a professional context—where the promotion of an intentional message is in view—isn’t branding anymore. It’s just art, or a self portrait, or whatever. But the situation with Grace leads to another good question: What’s difference between personal branding and corporate branding?

Gina: Well, personal branding is when one brands themselves and their career as the brand. The difference is that the brand is the person, not an organization. However, a well-branded organization might have a CEO that has his or her own brand. So the focus of personal branding is a particular personality, not an organization.

Like Tony Robbins. He’s “a brand.” If you see his signature, you know what that’s about. Whereas something like Amazon is going to have a corporate logo that represents the organization, and you know what that logo is all about.

de la Riva: Why is personal branding important?

Gina: With social media being so accessible to everyone, you are already making an impression on people because of your online presence. So, whether someone is looking to land that perfect job or running a business and trying to get new clients, they need to think a lot more about their personal brand. Instead of allowing just anyone to draw whatever conclusions they want about us, we need to be proactive about how we put ourselves out there. We need to be able to stand out from thousands of competitors, not only by presenting ourselves as experts at what we do, but also by showcasing our genuine selves. Our uniqueness is what makes us stand out.

You know, really, the intention behind what de la Riva Brands does and what I do is exactly the same. We’re both trying to create intentional messages that shape and influence perceptions. We’re just doing it for a different kind of customer.

de la Riva: Agreed, absolutely. Well, we’re going to wrap this up, but do you have any special offers for anyone reading this?

Gina: Of course! I offer a free 30-min consultation for anyone interested in branding themselves. Just send me a message through my website at

Now, anyone can get a nice, professional, high-res headshot session for $275, which is obviously a really great value—but I find that the consultation and just talking through is really helpful for people who are thinking about developing their personal brand.

de la Riva: Well, I really appreciate you talking to me today, Gina. It’s been great.

Gina: Thank you, and see you around SLO!

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