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Photography for marketing

Why read this? : We look at different ways to improve how you use photography for marketing. Learn how to source images online, do your own photography and editing, and work with a professional photographer. Read this to learn the best ways to use photography for marketing.

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.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. So finding the right photography for marketing your brand can have a massive impact.

Great photos make your advertising, social media and website stand out from the crowd. They help you build your brand identity, and help you sell more online.

This guide covers the role photography plays for marketing. How it fits into your plan, and how you make it happen.

Learn the different options you have. From getting photos done quickly and cheaply to getting more polished and professional shots. 

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

You should start by defining 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’s helpful to look at where you are on the brand choice funnel. (See our brand identity guide for more on this). 

This maps out the journey customers go through before they can become loyal customers. Each step helps you set objectives for different types of 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 doesn’t know you, your first objective is to get them to trust you. They have to believe you’re a credible brand. Good photography showing how real your business is can help with that.

For example, product-led businesses should share images of their production process, materials and ingredients. Service-led businesses should share images of their employees in action, showing how skilled they are. Even something as simple as photos of your premises reassures customers your business is genuine. 

When customers don’t know you, photography is a great way to show you are real and can be trusted

Awareness

If your objective is awareness, then your images needs to be distinctive and attention-grabbing. We’re all surrounded by advertising every day. 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, branding lessons and stand-out business books articles for more on this).

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

Consideration and trial

When your objective is consideration and trial, your images have to make your brand look appealing and desirable. You want to get them interested. One way to do that is to show people using your product. For example, food businesses could show people tasting the products. Fashion businesses, people wearing the products. Travel businesses, people enjoying an exotic holiday.

These all help to bring your purpose, values and benefits to life. But it also helps the target audience work out that your brand is for “people like them” if they associate with the types of people in the photos. This helps drive consideration (I’m thinking about buying this) and trial (I’m going to buy this). 

Loyalty

When customer loyalty is your objective, you should share photos of genuine happy, satisfied customers.

This creates social proof. When customers see other people were happy, they think then maybe I will be too

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

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 next decide where and when the customers will see it. That usually means media planning. The main media channels where you use photography for marketing are :-

Photography in advertising

Photography in advertising mainly occurs in :-

  • print.
  • outdoor.
  • online display. 

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

You should also remember that print is a physical medium. You can touch it and pass it around. Print has a longer and more tangible life than digital advertising. 

For example, you might pass on a copy of a magazine to family and friends. 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

Of course, 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 must make an impact in a short space of time. People generally don’t stop to look at outdoor advertising. Your photography has 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 PR 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 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 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 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. Some sites are free while others run off a paid subscription.

Shutterstock is probably the most well-known. They claim to have 300 million+ stock images. There are limited free options and its subscription starts at around $49/month. It also offers video and music services. Of the free options, we’ve found unsplash to be a reliable source. Check out our photo credits and you’ll see it’s where most of our photos come from. We like it because of its high-quality photography, and clear usage and attribution policy. Design site Desygner also offers free high-quality images which can be used commercially i.e. used and distributed without asking permission.

You should check what usage rights you have when you source photos online. Ideally, you want to be able to use it for commercial uses, with no limits. Other sites like pexels.com and Pixabay have some great photos, but their usage and attribution policies vary depending on the photographer. Some images are only available for limited use with those sites.

When you source photography online

When you use an image from one of these sites, you should attribute the image to the photographer. Either where you’ve used it, or on a separate credits page as we do.

While the quality of the images on free sites can be excellent, you should 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 choose and use the photography wisely. It should fit your brand identity and stand out. Work out how you’ll evaluate photos so they meet your objectives and brief

And finally, while these online images will likely have been edited for areas like Hue, Colour and Saturation, they’ll usually only come in one downloadable size. So, you’ll need to use photo editing software like Photoshop (or others as per our graphic design tools guide) to crop and edit them to make them more unique and distinctive. 

Photography editing - Adobe Photoshop

Though Photoshop also has uses as a graphic design tool, its main use is to amend, fix and edit photos.

Whether it’s adding text or designs to photos, cropping or merging photographs together, learning Photoshop can take your photography 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 aren’t great, 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

Bigger businesses normally outsource photography to their marketing agency. But for businesses with tighter budgets, the cost of photography can soon add up. It can be cheaper and more efficient to manage some day-to-day photography in-house. For example, images to go on social media

There are many online and offline courses covering the basics of photography. If you go down this route of doing your own photography for marketing, there are a couple of key areas to focus on, namely getting the right photography kit, and planning your composition. 

The right 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 of the photography you need. 

If you’re on a tight budget, and you want to create photos mainly for social media, your smartphone camera may well be good enough for your needs. Their lenses have improved massively in quality in recent years. There’s also the convenience of being able to edit and post images directly to your social feeds, and accessing photo-editing apps like Snapseed on your phone.

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

But if you sell premium products or need to capture a particular lifestyle image, you should consider 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. These will usually be more than enough for most small business needs. If you go down the DSLR route, you should learn the settings and practice using them. Then, practice some more. It’s tempting to always use the ‘auto’ settings as you’ll generally always get a good result. But learning how to adjust the ‘manual’ settings like aperture, shutter speed and ISO can lead to more impactful photography.

Photography composition

We cover composition in our design principles guide. But it’s also applicable to photography. 

For example, what’s the object in the photo you want to emphasise?  Do all the elements in the photo look balanced? What if you tried taking photos from different angles and different heights? Would that improve it?

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 shot? (See our evaluating photos article for more on this).

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

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. 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 to boost the lighting?

Think also about how lighting might reflect your brand identity. For example, outdoor products you use at the beach need lighting to be bright and feel like it’s a sunny day. But conversely, premium alcohol brands sold in nightclubs need lighting to be darker and moodier.

Equipment care

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 fingerprint smudges. There’s nothing worse than getting a great photo and then spotting a smudge or smear later when you’re editing it. 

Hire a professional photographer

For more professional shots and if you can afford it, hiring a professional photographer greatly increases 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. They’ll also likely have their own studio.

And they’ll have the experience and skills in key areas like design principles and design psychology to help improve your photography. 

Photography Studio with various lighting and photography equipment - Hire a photographer

Bear in mind professional photographers earn a living doing something that’s almost ubiquitous. Anyone can do it just by pointing and clicking their phone. To make a living as a photographer, you need lots of expertise in photography. You should value this expertise AND try to learn from them. Most photographers are 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 our 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 helps them understand your needs better and makes 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 get ownership of the image to use in perpetuity for all purposes? Or does the photographer retain some control over its usage? This can be for a length of time, by format or by location e.g. only for use online, or only for use in a certain country.

The more well-known the photographer, the more likely they’ll limit how you can use the photograph, so make sure this is agreed up-front. (See our evaluating photos article for more on this). 

Conclusion - photography for marketing

This guide covered quick and easy ways to manage 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. 

There’s obviously more to learn. There 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 for quick and cheap solutions on sites like Envato and Canva.

Three-Brains and creative skills

The Three-Brains team support a range of creative skills. We can help you build your creative thinking to find more and better ideas. We can then help you put those ideas into action, with support in areas like writing, graphic design, brand storytelling, video making, and of course, photography. Check out our coaching and consulting services to find out more. Or get in touch, if you’ve got more specific questions you need help with. 

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