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Photography for marketing

Why read this? : Brands use photography as a key way to communicate and connect with customers. We cover how to define your needs and different ways you can source photography for marketing. Learn about sourcing images online, doing your own photography and working with a professional photographer. Read this for ideas and insights on how to use photography for marketing activities.

Photography for marketing

How this guide raises your game :-

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

2. Understand where and how you use photography in different types of media channel. 

3. Advice on the 3 main ways to source photography – going online, doing it yourself or hiring a photographer.

A picture tells a thousand words. Find the right photography, for marketing and you grab people’s attention more than words ever can.

Great photos make your advertising, your social media and your website stand out from the crowd.

They help you build your brand identity, and help you sell more online.

In this guide, we cover the role photography plays for marketing. How it fits into your plan, and how you make it happen.

Learn the different photography options you have, whether you need photography done quick and cheap, or you want something more polished and professional. 

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

The first step is to define the objective of your photography for marketing. What marketing job does it need to do? Who’s it for, and where and how will you use it? 

It can help to look at the brand choice funnel (see our brand identity guide for more on this). 

This maps out the steps customers go through before they can become loyal customers. They’re a series of hurdles which help you set objectives for different types of marketing and brand activation.

That will include photography. You’ll have different photography needs depending on the marketing job you’re trying to do for the customer. 

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

Trust

If your target audience don’t know you, your first objective is to get them to trust you. They need to believe you are a credible brand. Good photography can help with that.

Product-led businesses can share photography of the production process or the materials and ingredients for example. That makes it real for customers. Service led businesses can share photography of the employees to similar effect. Show your team in action and show how skilled and trained they are. This helps build trust.  

Even something as simple as photography of your premises reassures customers your business is genuine. That it’s run by “real” people. When customers don’t know you, photography is a great tool to build trust and credibility.

Awareness

If your objective is awareness, then your photography needs to be distinctive and attention-grabbing. We’re all surrounded by advertising every day. So our brains filter most of it out.

Most advertising is ignored or dismissed. 

You can use the design psychology concept known as the Von Restorff effect to help. It states that our brains notice things that look different more than they notice things that look the same. Like the word different in that last sentence. You notice it more because it’s the only word in bold.

It’s different. 

(see our behavioural science guide and our business books that stand out article for more on this).

You can use interesting subjects, distinctive colours and unusual angles in your photography for marketing to make it stand out. These things make it distinctive and relevant. They grab your target audience’s attention. They create interest and make them want to find out more. 

Consideration and trial

When your marketing objective is consideration and trial, the photography needs to make your brand look appealing and desirable. It’s about getting the customer interested. 

You could show people using your product for example. Those types of photos help bring your purpose, values and benefits to life.

Food businesses could show people tasting the products for example. Fashion businesses could show people wearing the clothes. Travel businesses could show people enjoying an exotic holiday.

When your target audience sees the brand being used, it helps them work out that it’s for “people like them”. This helps drive consideration (I’m thinking about buying this) and trial (I’m going to buy this). 

Loyalty

When customer loyalty is your marketing objective, you share photography of genuine happy, satisfied customers.

This creates “social proof“. Potential customers think if other people were happy with the brand, then maybe I will be too. 

Make sure you use genuine customers who were actually satisfied with your brand though. Customers can spot staged photography and fake reviews a mile away. 

If your marketing objective is loyalty, the more “real” the photos, 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 media channel

Now you know who the photography is for and what you want it to do, you need to decide where and when the customers will see it. That means media planning in most cases. 

The main media channels where you use photography for marketing are in :-

Photography for advertising

There’s 3 main types of advertising 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 digital media can’t match. 

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

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

Man calmly reading a newspaper while it's on fire

It’s important to remember that print’s a physical medium. You can touch it and pass it around. Print has a longer and more tangible life than digital advertising. 

You might pass on a copy of a magazine to family and friends, for example. Or places  like doctor’s surgeries will often have print magazines available to read while you wait.

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, bleed limits and colour system specifications.

You’ll 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 5 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 have to make sure you use high resolution photography (usually 300 DPI). This means your images will stay in sharp focus when blown up to bigger sizes.

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

Again, think about the context of when and where the photography will be seen.

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

People generally don’t stop to look at outdoor advertising. Your photography here needs to work hard to make people stop. Bold colours or unusual images and compositions can make a big difference, for example.

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’ll be much harder to pick out details and nuances on a small screen. So the photography for marketing online you choose needs to use hero images and fonts which 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 makes your ‘story’ stand out. It’ll be more likely to be featured than a text-only 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. 

Inside a concept hall, lots of confetti flying in air, with audience reaching out their hands towards it

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 which is more natural and  authentic-looking usually works better than overly staged or crafted images.

Photography for websites

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

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

Screengrab of Three-brains home page - headline says "Ready to raise your game? Outthink, outplay and outgrow competitors with three-brains"

This will work fine 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. It shows customers what they’re buying. Check out our e-Commerce basics guide for more on this. 

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

If you 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. 

Three-brains shop category selection - Two choices - Browse by design themes or browse by product type

How to source photography for marketing

There are 3 ways you can source photography for marketing. You can :-

  • source images from online photography image sites.
  • do the photography yourself.
  • Hire a professional photographer.

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.

3 tips for when you source photography online

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

While the quality of the shots on these free sites can be excellent, remember these are open-source images. This means you don’t have exclusive use of the photography. They can 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. Decide how you’ll evaluate photos so they meet your objectives and brief

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, if you source photos from online sites, we recommend you also get hold of photo editing software like Photoshop (or others we cover in our graphic design tools guide). Use these tools to crop, alter and change 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’ve 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. Sharing visual content on social media for example. In-house photos can work well in many of those channels. 

There are many online and offline courses you can take to learn the fundamentals of photography. It’s 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, there’s a couple of key areas to 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.

Overhead shot of photography kit including camera, various lenses and lens caps, batteries, flashes and a camera stand

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, thinks buying a more upmarket camera. You get better quality images with dedicated cameras. 

Entry-level DSLR cameras are often on offer, and will include extra lenses. Unless you’re 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 in our guide to design principles. But it’s 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?

Man's hand holding a camera lens in front of a lake with mountains and blue skies in the background

(see our evaluating photos article for more on composition and photography technical terms). 

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’re 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 with various lighting and photography equipment - 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 you can use them. 

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.

See our evaluating photos article for more on how to build a good working relationship with professional photographers. 

Conclusion - photography for marketing

In this guide, we’ve covered quick and simple ways you can start with photography for marketing. You start by defining how it supports your marketing objective. Then, you look at your brand activation, and work out what photography needs to do for you. Then, you source the photography – online, doing it yourself or hiring a professional. 

But, there’s obviously more to learn, These are many online graphic design resources which cover using photography. For inspiration, use sites like Behance and Dribbble. To educate yourself on how to use Photoshop, use sites like Adobe Education Exchange. And you can search out quick and cheap solutions on sites like Envato and Canva.

Three-brains and creative skill development

The Three-Brains team know a lot about creative skills. We work with businesses like yours to help you with creative thinking, so you find more and better ideas. 

We can then helps you turn those ideas into action, with creative advice and support in areas like writing, graphic design and brand storytelling

Check out our coaching and consulting services to learn how we can help you. Contact us directly, if there’s specific creative thinking skills you need help with.

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