Why read this? : We explore the best way to approach evaluating photos. Learn which questions to ask to ensure photography supports your marketing objectives. We also share tips on working with professional photographers. Read this to sharpen your skills at evaluating photos.
Your photography makes up a large part of how customers see you. That’s why our photography for marketing guide covers key areas like :-
- how you plan for it.
- where you use it.
- where you can source it.
But what about when you’ve got some photos to look at? How do you know if they’re any good? What questions should you be asking?
Evaluating photos is about giving constructive feedback. This article shares key questions to help you do that more effectively from a marketing point of view. But first, let’s briefly touch on the technical evaluation of photos which also has to happen.
Evaluating photos - technical
The photographer normally leads the technical evaluation. Often the agency art or creative director will also get involved.
It looks at areas like :-
- colour balance – e.g. are the colours in the image vivid and accurate?
- exposure – e.g. are lighting areas like highlights and shadows showing correctly?
- framing and composition – e.g. are the key elements balanced and well laid out?
It’s a check that the photo meets the quality standards of what makes a good photo. It makes sure the image “pops” on the screen and in print. If something’s not right, the technical lead uses tools like Photoshop to edit the photo and fix any issues.
Evaluating photos - marketing
On the other hand, the marketing evaluation focuses on whether the photo meets your business needs. It checks the photo’s right for the customer and your brand. A photo could be technically fine. But if the customer ignores it, or finds it boring, it won’t deliver on your marketing needs.
There are 6 key questions to ask when evaluating photos for marketing :-
- Why do we need this?
- Who’s it for?
- What do you want to happen?
- Where will it be seen?
- When will it be seen?
- How does it make me feel?
Why do we need this?
First, why do you need this photography? That’s usually part of the brief.
The brief starts all creative and communications projects. It spells out what you need and why you need it.
So go back, and re-read the objectives. The objectives tell you why you need the photography.
There’s usually both a business (e.g. grow sales) and marketing (e.g. build awareness) objective. This is what the photography needs to do for you.
So when evaluating photos, you have to find that link. Between what the photography is, and what it needs to do for you. The link has to be clear and easy to articulate. This photo helps deliver my objectives by …
If you can’t easily finish this sentence, then you’ve got an issue. Photography which doesn’t help you meet an objective wastes your time and money. You don’t want that. So always be clear on why you need the photos.
Who’s it for?
Next, who’s it for? It has to be for customers. You only achieve your marketing objectives when customers think, feel or do something differently.
So, think about your target audience. Go back to your customer profiles and imagine how they’ll react to the photography. Will it grab their attention? Is it clear it’s aimed at them? Will it change how they think and feel about the brand?
Your marketing photography has to be for someone. The better you understand who that is, the stronger the impact of your photography.
What do you want to happen?
Next, you should look at what you want those customers to think, feel or do. Is there a clear link from the photos to the call to action?
This tells customers what you want them to do next.
The call to action is usually expressed in words. But it should work with the photography.
For example, you could show the call to action being acted out in the photos. Someone picking up the phone. Writing an email. Using their credit card.
Or you could use the photography to draw the audience’s eye towards the call to action. Someone pointing at the key message. Or using contrast and colour to make the message stand out.
Where will it be seen?
Next, where will it be seen? Think about the context of how the customer will experience it. They have to experience it somewhere. The location matters.
Often, the photographer can create a mock-up of the location. They can show what the photo will look like in context. That’s a helpful perspective for evaluating photos rather than just looking at them on a blank screen or page. It helps you judge how the customer will experience the photo.
Photos on objects
For example, many marketing photos appear on oddly shaped objects. Or in random places which don’t fit a standard photo size.
Take packaging, for example. Lots of photography appears on packaging labels. You can use it to show what’s in the product. (See our marketing mistakes article for what happens when you don’t show what’s in the product).
Or, it could be a brand identity asset, like Queen Victoria’s photo on this Bombay Sapphire label.
You can also print photos on all sorts of materials. Anything from paper labels to T-shirts. You have to understand what impact this “location” will have on how the customer sees the photos.
For a strong visual impact, the photography style also has to be consistent with other design elements like logos, colour palettes and typography. This is all part of understanding where the photos will be seen. You make sure everything works together.
Another common location challenge is where photos have to work in a small space.
Don’t just look at it on a desktop or large screen at the agency’s office. Look at it on a tablet and mobile too. That’s how your customer will most likely see it.
Going the other way, some photos need to work on a LARGE scale.
For example, 48 and 96-sheet billboards. These need high-res, high-quality photos to be clear, and to stand out in busy locations.
When evaluating these types of photos, you have different location questions.
For example, what it’ll look like from a distance. How it’ll look from different angles. Or in different lighting conditions. What people will notice if they only see it for a few seconds.
Again, the photographer can help by mocking up these locations and situations. That helps a lot when evaluating these types of photos. It’s also faster and cheaper than putting up a real billboard advert.
When will it be seen?
Where the photography will be seen often drives when it’ll be seen.
Your media plan tells you when a photo will appear in channels like print and outdoor. It’ll tell you which days customers will be exposed to the images.
You should make sure the context of when it’s seen makes sense.
It should be relevant to either the buying decision time. Or the time the product’s actually used.
For example, you show summer holiday photos in wintertime, because that’s when people often book their holidays. You show photos of people eating breakfast in adverts which appear in the morning. And photos of people drinking alcohol in adverts which appear at night.
You should also think about the shelf life of the photos. Photos which appear on objects e.g. packaging, magazine adverts and billboards, will stay around for longer. They have to make sense for the whole time the audience will see them.
How does it make me feel?
The final question is how the photo makes you feel.
What we see, and what we feel are closely linked. Sensory inputs (like seeing a photo) are processed in the same part of the brain as our emotions happen.
It’s also linked to how memories are created. For example, think about how you feel happy or sad looking at old family photos.
As per our emotions in creative article, these all happen in the brain’s limbic system. It helps us quickly decide what’s worth our attention.
So photography which appeals to emotions e.g. enjoyment, sadness, fear, anger, disgust and surprise gets more attention. (The 6 basic emotions according to psychologist Paul Ekman).
Emotion-driven photos work well when the focus is on the start of the brand choice funnel. We’re more aware of and more likely to consider anything which affects our emotions. High-ticket items like cars and expensive fashions use this a lot. You see lots of emotion in their photography. They want you to feel connected to the brand, so you’re more likely to buy it when the time’s right.
Further down the brand choice funnel, the rational brain kicks in. It helps with the final decision to try the product. At that stage, the photography is usually much simpler. More functional. The straightforward product shots you get on most e-Commerce product pages, for example.
Working with professional photographers
Evaluating photos is part of working with a photographer (or agency). They expect you to ask these types of questions.
They’re photography experts, not marketing experts. But of course, they’ll have their own views and experience on what works.
Don’t ignore that. Work with them because the photos have to do both a marketing and technical job. Ask questions, and build your own knowledge about photography.
They’ll have a strong understanding of what makes a great photo and how to create a strong visual impact. That’s what you want.
They may however also use more technical photography language. When evaluating photos, you don’t need to know all of this. But having at least some knowledge of basic photography terms helps you speak the same language as the photographer.
Speaking the photographer’s language
For a good overview of photography for non-experts, we recommend the Digital Photography Handbook by Doug Harman. It covers many different areas of digital photography including :-
- getting the right equipment.
- using your digital camera.
- the digital darkroom (photo editing tools).
- outputs (online or print).
It won’t turn you into a photography expert. But it will help you learn basic terms which professional photographers use in their work.
Let’s look at the most common ones :-
Composition is how you lay out the different elements which appear in the photo. The elements have to look balanced and aesthetically pleasing.
For example, there’s the Rule of Thirds. This is where you overlay a 3 x 3 grid on your photo.
You position elements along the lines or at the intersection of lines. This helps the photo look more balanced and visually appealing.
For example, you position a horizon line one-third from the top rather than right across the middle.
You position a person being photographed in front of a large object (say a building or a statue) one-third to the right or left rather than slap bang in the middle. Photos which follow this “rule” feel more balanced.
Composition also covers how you frame the image. This is where you include other items in the shot to give a sense of perspective. Or to alter the mood of the photo.
A hand holding your product so you can tell how big it is. The branches of a tree coming into the shot to give it a more outdoors feel. Arranging your product range at different distances and at different heights to make it more visually interesting. All examples of photography composition.
Focus is a measure of the sharpness of an image at a particular distance from the lens.
Most cameras have an auto-focus as default, which captures everything in sharp focus. This is good in most, but not all cases.
For example, if you’re shooting a range of products or a landscape, you want the detail to be clear. You want everything in sharp focus.
But sometimes, you have distracting and irrelevant background details. You want those things out of focus, and only the important elements in focus.
Depth of field
To achieve this mix of some elements in focus and others not, you adjust the Depth of Field (DOF) settings on the camera.
Harman defines this as “the range of object distances within which objects are imaged with acceptable sharpness”.
So, some objects are in sharp focus, while other (less relevant) elements are blurry. The audience’s attention will be automatically drawn to the elements in focus.
The blurry background is mostly ignored. You see this effect a lot in portrait photography, for example. The important element is the subject of the photo, not the background.
It’s also often used to showcase your product images in marketing.
For example, notice how sharp the microphone is in this photo. But how blurred the background is.
The photographer wants you to focus on the microphone, not what’s going on behind it.
This effect was done by adjusting the camera’s DOF.
For example, the photographer will have used a wider aperture setting (also known as an F-stop number). This lets in more light to create a shallower DOF so only the object is in focus.
Narrower apertures let in less light, so give a deeper DOF. You do that when you want everything to be in sharp focus.
Focus and DOF are important for close-up work.
Most people get the basic concept of zooming in and out with a camera.
Zooming in focuses on important details, and can help you create more interesting images.
Close-ups are used a lot in marketing photography to draw attention to specific details of a product.
For example, on this iconic Jack Daniel’s label.
The photographer has picked out the sharp detail of the front label with a shallow DOF on the close-up. Look at how crisp and clear the “Jack Daniel’s” text is compared to the blurry text on the side, for example.
You also see it a lot on high-ticket items like cars, jewellery and electronics.
Photographers often like to focus on key details rather than try to capture the entirety of an object. This focus on specific qualities makes the products feel more premium.
This can lead to unusual angles and viewpoints. These types of shots make for more attention-grabbing photos, such as with this close-up of the Mercedes badge.
Exposure is a measure of the amount of light which reaches the camera’s sensor. Well-exposed photos pick out key areas of light and dark in the shot with sufficient detail.
But if not enough light gets in, the shot looks dark. You won’t be able to pick out the details in the shadows. This is underexposure.
And if too much light gets in, it can bleach out the image. You won’t be able to pick out the details in the highlights. This is overexposure.
Professional photographers spend a lot of time making sure they get the exposure just right. Lighting is key. For example, they’ll look at the amount of natural light and different types of camera flashes. They’ll use light meters, and extra off-camera light sources to properly light a shot.
This becomes more important when shooting in low-light conditions.
For example, if your photography needs to be shot at night, or in dark locations like a nightclub or at a party. “Auto” lighting settings don’t work so well in these conditions.
Professional photographers have the technical skills to get the best shots in low-light conditions. They’ll adjust the camera settings to factor in the light.
For example, the camera’s shutter speed which affects how much light reaches the sensor.
Also, the camera’s ISO settings which measure the camera’s sensitivity to light. Lower ISO settings work better in bright light. Higher ISO settings drive faster shutter speeds and are better for low-light shots.
Photographers will also adjust the white balance to change the lighting of a photo.
Sunlight and candles give off a natural warm glow. But if you shoot on a cloudy day, you don’t get the benefit of this natural lighting. Plus, if you shoot indoors, household tungsten lights can add a yellow colour to photos. Fluorescent lighting adds a cold blue tint to images.
You may want these for their aesthetic effect. But in most cases, sunlight is the best and most natural way to light your photo.
Black and white
Most photography is in colour. But in some cases, you want a different impact by making it black and white.
These types of photos catch people’s attention by being different. We’ve all got so used to seeing colour photos, that we notice when it’s not there.
Black and white can help change the mood of the photo. It suits images which need to convey an older, more traditional feel. Or you want it to feel sombre and stark.
The creative and artistic intent
There’s one last area in evaluating photos and arguably it’s the hardest.
Photography is a creative art. So there’s always an element of creative and artistic intent behind it.
You can learn the basic principles and rules behind a creative art. But sometimes creative breaks principles and rules.
This is a tough call. It often comes down to individual subjective preference. That, plus the context of what you’re trying to achieve.
It’s the type of conversation you should have with the photographer. It’s their expertise you’re buying.
They should be able to explain why their photos are going to do what you need them to do.
Conclusion - evaluating photos
Photography is used in many areas of marketing. This article shared 6 questions you can ask when evaluating photos to improve the way you give photography feedback :-
- Why do we need this?
- Who’s it for?
- What do you want to happen?
- Where will it be seen?
- When will it be seen?
- How does it make me feel?
The answers to these questions help you work out if the photography is doing what it needs to. If it’ll help you meet your objectives with the right audience in the right way.
So build good relationships with the photographers you use. It helps if you understand basic photography terms like composition, focus and exposure. It means you’re talking the same language. But of course, your real job is to make sure the photography is helping you meet your marketing objectives. That’s how you know your photography is working.