Photography for marketing

In this guide, we look at how to make photography for marketing work for your business. Learn how to define your business needs from photography. Explore the three different ways to meet your photography needs. Learn how to source and edit images online. Find out the basics if you decide to do your own photography. And learn what you need to know when you decide to hire a professional photographer. 

Photography for marketing

How this guide raises your game.

1. Learn how to define your photography needs based on the brand choice funnel.

2. The key media channels where photography is used and what you need to consider for each. 

3. The three key options to source photography – online, do it yourself or hire a professional.

A picture tells a thousand words.

When it comes to marketing and e-Commerce, the right photo or image can capture people’s attention more than words ever can.

In a world that’s always “on”, great photography makes your advertising, your social media and your website stand out from the crowd.

Great photography helps you build your brand identity. It creates interest and desire in your products and services when you sell online.

But when anyone with a smart phone can now point and click and take photos, how do you take your marketing photography to another level?

This guide covers many ways you can raise your game with photography for marketing and e-Commerce.

Woman holding camera showing photography for marketing skills

Ready to test your knowledge?

What’s your starting level of knowledge about photography for marketing?

Take the 2 minute, 5 question Three-brains photography for marketing quiz and see how much you know about photography for marketing already.

Define your marketing objective

Start by being clear on the objective of your photography for marketing. What marketing job does it need to do for you and how will you use this skill? 

Look at where you are in the brand development process, and look at the jobs to be done and where photography can play a role in your marketing. 

Look at your marketing objective and decide what it is you need the photography to do for you?

Is it for brand identity for example? Does it have a specific job to do in the marketing plan and brand choice funnel? In which specific parts of brand activation will your photography for marketing play a role? 

The brand choice funnel - trust - aware - consider - trial - loyalty - repeat purchase

Trust

If you are a new business, you need to build a level of trust with your target audience. You want to establish credibility, and photography can help with this.

If your business makes products, use photography of the production process or the materials and ingredients. If your business is service oriented, use photography of the employees and show how they are skilled and trained. 

Even something as simple as photography of your premises or your work can help reassure potential consumers that your business is genuine, and run by “real” people. 

When consumers don’t know your brand or the people behind it, photography can be a great tool to help build credibility for your business.

Awareness

If your objective is awareness, then your photography needs to be distinctive and attention-grabbing. Because advertising surrounds us every day, our brains filter out much of it.

Most advertising is ignored or dismissed. 

As per our guides to behavioural science and business books that stand out, the design psychology term known as the Von Restorff effect means that designs that look different are noticed more than designs that look the same. 

Use this thinking in your photography for marketing. Make it distinctive and relevant. Grab your audience’s attention, create interest and make them want to find out more. 

Consideration and trial

When your marketing objective is around consideration and trial, you’ll need photography to make your product or service look appealing and desirable.

Good use of photography to meet this objective would be to show people using your product for example. Or to bring the benefit from your brand identity to life.

If your product is food related for example, show people enjoying the food. If you’re in a service industry like health and beauty or professional services, use photography to show the service being well delivered. 

When your target audience sees the product or service in use, it’s will reassure them that your product or service is for “people like them”. This can boost the impact of your copywriting as images and words work together. 

Loyalty

And when your marketing objective is customer loyalty, use photography of genuine happy, satisfied customers.

This “social proof” helps convince other customers of the value of your product or service.

Make sure you use genuine customers. People are very sceptical of staged photography or fake reviews. This is something to be avoided.

If your marketing objective is loyalty, the more “real” you can be, the better. You can even ask your most loyal consumers to send in their own photography to share on social media

Group of game pieces following one game piece with added caption - we love you

Define your communication objective and media channel

The main areas where you use photography for marketing and e-Commerce are in advertising; public relations, social media; websites and in online stores.

Photography for advertising

When it comes to advertising, there are three main media channels where photography dominates. 

Print advertising

Print advertising such as newspapers and magazines accounts for 11.4% of total media spend in Australia. 

While digital media grabs more headlines, print media offers some benefits that digital media can’t match. 

Firstly, because most print media is paid for by the consumerthe content is generally seen as more valuable. Compared to free online content. 

As a consumer, when you pay for content, you spend more time engaging with it. You consider that content more credible. Your advertising placed next to this credible, valuable content benefits by  association. 

Man calmly reading a newspaper while it's on fire

Consider also that print is a physical medium. You can touch it and pass it around. Print is much more permanent that say digital advertising on a website. 

This means it can have a longer ‘life’. Members of the same family who share a common hobby might pass on copies of a magazine for example. Or places where people have to wait like doctor’s surgeries will often have print magazines available to share. 

Photography for print advertising – key lessons

In terms of the photography for marketing purposes, you should always consider the context of the print channel chosen. Your photography has to be both credible enough to fit in, but also distinctive enough to stand-out.

What type of articles or content will your advertising be seen next to? These should be relevant to your product or service

You should also check the print specifications of the advertising placement. These can include the height, width and any bleed limits as well as specifications on colour.

You will likely have a choice of advertising space formats to choose from. For example the advertising space size – double page spread, full page, half page etc – and layout – landscape, portrait, bespoke – sizes.

Outdoor advertising

Outdoor advertising such as large billboards, bus shelters and display panels outside stores and shopping centres accounts for 5.6% of total Australian advertising spend. 

Compared to print advertising, the choice of specifications is likely to be more limited with five core formats. Large outdoor, rail, roadside, bus shelter and shopalite. You can see examples of the specifications for these formats here

You also have to remember the physical size of the advert is much more than for print. So you will need to make sure that high resolution photography (usually 300 DPI) is available. This means your images will retain sharpness when blown up to bigger sizes.

Outdoor billboard with writing that says this will drive $1m in sales - probably

Again, it’s important to consider the context of when and where the photography you use will be seen.

Outdoor advertising is normally seen when your audience is ‘on the move’.  So your photography needs to ‘work’ to make an impact in a very short space of time.

Consumers generally won’t stop to look at outdoor advertising. Your photography for outdoor advertising needs to work hard to stand out. Bold colours or unusual images and compositions make a big difference with outdoor advertising.

Online display advertising

The final advertising use of photography is in online display advertising. While video grabs more attention online, strong photography is usually cheaper and faster to produce than video. Online advertising usually uses a mix of both photography and video. 

These static display banner type ads will typically be seen on smaller screens, especially mobile phones. Always check your photography to see what it looks like when viewed on a mobile phone screen.

It will be much harder to pick out details and nuances on a small screen. So the photography for marketing online you choose needs to use large enough hero images and fonts that work on a small screen. 

Photography for Public Relations and Social Media

When you use photography for public relations, it’s generally for use in press releases.  The objective is to have the story and the photography covered by media outlets.

This could be a new product launch, an event or some other important change in your business. A strong photograph will make your ‘story’ stand out. It will be more likely to be featured than just a story along as editors and journalists look to fill space.

Your social media channels like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter can also be major channels for photography. Sharing photos is one of the biggest online opportunities for businesses as a way to connect with customers. 

Instagram in particular leads on photography. Photography can be a great way to to build your brand identity in those social channels.

Bear in mind the ‘social’ aspect of these channels when you choose which photography to use.

Photography that seems more authentic and real usually works better than overly crafted photography in these channels.

Photography for websites

Your website should feature photography that brings to life your brand identity.

You can use photography to create interest in an article and make it more visually interesting. Use it to explain a product or service or break up long passages of text when blog writing for example.

Make sure you review image file sizes when uploading photography on your website. Higher resolution images will be slower to load. This can harm your search ranking.

Given that most photography on your website will be viewed on smaller screens, save your photography at lower resolutions (72 DPI is the most common setting).

This will work perfectly well with no loss in image quality on small screens. Aim to keep your file sizes as low as you can without impacting the quality. We generally aim to keep most of our images at around 100Kb or less for example. Controlling your file sizes is one of the key benefits of using Photoshop for marketing and e-Commerce

Photography for online Stores

The final area where photography for marketing matters is of course in e-Commerce and online stores.

For physical products, a good pack shot is a key part of the product page and helps customers understand what they’re buying. Check out our our e-Commerce basics skill guide for more on this. 

If possible, photograph the product from multiple angles. Use lighting and backgrounds that help show the product at its best. If you have Photoshop, use it to make your products as good as they can (without being misleading).

If you are sell a service use your photography to show that service “in action”. You want the photography to make it easy for consumers to visualise the service. 

How to source photography for marketing

There are three ways you can source photography for marketing. You can source images from online photography image sites. You can do the photography yourself. Or you can hire a professional.

Online photography image sites

You can source photography online via a paid subscription or some sites are free.

Shutterstock is probably the most well-known site. They claim to have over 300 million stock images. There’s limited free options and its subscription pricing starts at around $49/month. It also offers video and music services.

Of the free options, we have found unsplash to be a particularly good source. Check out our photo credits and you’ll see it’s where most of our photography comes from. It has a lot of free high quality photography. And it also has a very clear usage and attribution policy.

Design site Desygner also offer free high quality photography which can be used commercially i.e. used and distributed without asking permission.

This is important as when you source photography from online image sites, you need to check what rights you have to use the photography. Ideally, you want to be able to use the photography in multiple uses, especially in commercial uses, with no limits.

Other online sites like pexels.com and Pixabay can also be great sources of online photography images. But do check their usage and attribution policies as some photography is only available for limited use with those sites.

Three tips to remember when you source photography online

When you use these types of sites, make sure that you attribute to the photographer when you use their images. Either on the advert, article or social media post or on a separate credits page like we have.

While the quality of the shots on these free sites can be excellent, you do have to remember that these are open-source images. This means you do not have exclusive use of the photography. They can also appear in other advertising or on other websites.

So you need to use and choose the photography wisely.  Make sure you choose photography that fits your brand identity and stands out.

And finally, the photography on these sites will generally have also been professionally edited for areas like Hue, Colour and Saturation. But will typically only come in the one downloadable size. 

So, when it comes to using photography from online websites, we recommend you access to some sort of photo editing software, like Photoshop or some other alternatives we cover in our guide to graphic design tools. You can crop, alter and change basic images to make them more unique and distinctive. 

Photography editing - Adobe Photoshop

We’ve written about using Photoshop as a graphic design tool, but obviously the main way you use it is to amend, fix and edit photography.

Whether it’s adding text or visuals to photography, cropping or merging photographs together, learning Photoshop can take the impact of your photography on to another level.  

While there are other options (like Gimp or Affinity Photo), Adobe Photoshop is still the photo editing gold standard.

Even if you have a limited budget or your own photography skills are not up to scratch, you can raise the level of your photography for marketing and e-Commerce when you learn basic photo editing skills. 

Adobe photoshop screenshot

Do your own photography

In bigger businesses, you’ll normally outsource all your photography needs to a marketing agency.

But for smaller businesses, with tighter budgets, the cost of photography can soon add up. It can often be cheaper and more efficient for small businesses to manage their day to day photography needs in-house.

In particular, to maintain a regular stream of social media content, it can often be a good idea to use some in-house generated photography. 

There are many online and offline courses you can take to learn the fundamentals of photography. It is beyond our scope to cover all aspects of photography in this guide. But if you go down the route of doing your own photography for marketing and e-Commerce, there are a couple of key areas we suggest you focus on. 

The right level of photography kit

There are many options when it comes to cameras. The general rule of thumb is you get what you pay for. 

But, you also have to work to your budget and the quality needs of the photography work you need. 

If you are a small business with a tight budget, and you want to create photography that will mostly appear on social media, the camera on your smart phone may well be good enough for your needs.

The lenses in these phones have improved massively in quality in the last few years.

There’s also the convenience of having the ability to edit and post images direct to your social feeds like Facebook and Instagram. You can also access photo-editing apps like Snapseed on your phone.

But if you sell premium products or need to capture a particular lifestyle image, you should consider the purchase of a more upmarket camera. You will get better quality images with dedicated cameras. 

Entry-level DSLR cameras are often on offer and will often come with bundle of lens options.

Unless you are looking to go professional, these will be more than suitable for most small business needs.

If you do go down the DSLR route, we’d recommend you learn the settings and practice using them. Then practice some more. It can be tempting to always use the ‘auto’ settings. You’ll generally always get a good result. But learn how to adjust the ‘manual’ settings like aperture, shutter speed and ISO. These can make for much more impactful images.

Photography composition

We’ve covered composition within our guide to design principles. But it is especially important in photography. 

What is the object in the photo you want to emphasise for example?  Do all the elements in your photo look balanced?

What if you tried taking photos from different angles and different heights, would you be able to improve the photo?

Can you make the ‘hero’ of your photography, whether that’s a product or a person look more in balance using the rule of thirds? Can you direct where the viewer should look by where you place the ‘hero’ of the photograph?

Lighting

Think also about the lighting of your photography for marketing. 

This is where professionals and more expensive cameras tend to win out. Shooting in low light can be tricky. So if you have to take a photo in low light, what could you do to improve or use the lighting? Is it using a flash? Or do you have access to other light sources which could help with the lighting?

Think also about you can use the lighting to support your brand identity.

If your product is an outdoor product to be used at the beach or at a swimming pool, you need the lighting to be bright and reflective of a sunny day. But if you’re a premium alcohol brand or a nightclub, then you want the lighting to be much more moody and atmospheric.

Equipment care

And lastly, don’t forget about looking after your camera, especially the lens. Keep a microfibre cloth handy to keep the lens clear of dust and finger print smudges. There’s nothing worse that getting a great photograph and then spotting a smudge or a smear later when you are editing it. 

Hire a professional photographer

For more professional shots and obviously, if you have the budget, hiring a professional photographer will greatly increase the quality of your photography.

So, choose the channels where the highest quality will make an impact like advertising or public relations.

The professional photographer will have better equipment than you can afford on your own. They’ll likely have access to their own studio.

And they’ll have the experience and skills in key areas like design principles and design psychology that’ll help you get better photography. 

Photography Studio - Hire a photographer

Bear in mind that professional photographers earn a living doing something that almost anyone can pick up and do at a very basic level. One hundred years ago, photography required specialised equipment and processes and so was only done by experts. Whereas now, pre-school children can take images at the touch of a screen.

So for them to be earning a living from photography, that means they bring lots of experience and expertise to create great photography. 

So we highly recommend you value their expertise AND be curious about how they do things. It’s your opportunity to learn from them. Most photographers will be happy to pass on their expertise if you show genuine interest.

Write a brief

If you’ve commissioned a professional photographer to do a job for you, make sure you write them a brief.

At a minimum, you should outline where the image will be used and for what purpose. You can use out communication brief template for this with a little adaptation. 

Your brief helps the photographer understand your target audience, brand identity and communication objectives. 

It should cover the media channels where the photography will be used, whether it is advertising, public relations, social media, websites or online stores. 

This will help the photographer understand your needs better and make it more likely you’ll get an image you’re both happy with.

Marketing Communication brief - blank template

And finally, make sure the brief and / or any legal agreement specifies who ‘owns’ the final images and where they can be used. 

Do you as the client have ownership of the image to use in perpetuity for all purposes or does the photographer place limits on the usage of the photograph?

This can be for a length of time or by format or location e.g. only for use online, or only for use in a certain country. The more well-known the photographer, the more likely it is they will place limitations on how you can use the photograph, so make sure this is clearly agreed up-front.

Three-brains and creative skill development

We believe the best marketing and e-commerce activation pulls knowledge from many areas of the creative world. But most marketers or e-Commerce managers don’t get trained in creative skills. So there’s a huge opportunity to raise your game by having a good level of knowledge of key creative skills like photography you can either grow for yourself or know how to find and use professionals.  

If you want to raise your creative game through creative skills development, contact us or read more about our coaching and consulting services.

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