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6 key questions to ask when evaluating photos

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Why read this? : We share 6 key questions to ask when evaluating photos. Learn how to optimise your photography to help you hit your marketing objectives. Plus, advice on how to get the most out of professional photographers. Read this to sharpen your skills at evaluating photos.

Visuals matter a lot in marketing. Customers often buy brands based on what they look like. Whether it’s the packaging, the website or the advertising, what the customer sees, drives what they do

Your photography plays a large role in 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.

Extreme close up on someone's blue eye

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 ask? 

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 side of evaluation which also has to happen. 

Evaluating photos - technical

The photographer normally leads the technical evaluation. The agency art or creative director will often 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?
Screenshot of home page of Adobe Photoshop software

You don’t necessarily need to know all these photography terms. However, the more you work with professional photographers, the more of these terms you will pick up. Learning at least some of these terms helps speed up the process as the photographer doesn’t then have to stop and explain everything. 

This stage is a check that the photo meets the quality standards of good photography. 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.

Marketing Communication brief - blank template

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 should 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 deliver 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 your photography’s impact. 

Customer Experience Personal Template Blank.001

And to really make sure it’s doing a good job, ask customers what they think. Do some market research. Set up a focus group. Customers need to “get” the photography is for them. If they don’t, you’ve got an issue.

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.

Person paying for an e-Commerce purchase as they hold a credit card up in front of a laptop

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. 

Close up of Bombay Sapphire gin bottle 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. 

Small photos

Another common location challenge is where photos have to work in a small space.

For example, most websites, social media and e-Commerce product pages are viewed on mobile. So you have to look at how these photo works when seen on a small screen.

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.

Young woman on train station platform looking at her mobile phone

Large formats

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.

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

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. 

Close-up of a clock face showing dial sitting between ten and twelve

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.

lady with arms up in the air and happy smiley face

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.

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

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. 

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. 

Check out our marketing in photography guide for more on this. Or get in touch if you want to learn more about evaluating photos.

Photo credits

Eye : Photo by Daniil Kuželev on Unsplash

Laptop and credit card : Photo by rupixen.com on Unsplash

Woman at Station with Phone : Photo by Daria Nepriakhina on Unsplash

Billboard (adapted) : Photo by Kate Trysh on Unsplash

Clock : Photo by Agê Barros on Unsplash

Happy woman : Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

Studio : Photo by Alexander Dummer on Unsplash

4 coloured paint rollers : Photo by David Pisnoy on Unsplash

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