Brighter Messaging
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How to choose photos when first impressions are everything

Many entrepreneurs panic when it comes to selecting visuals for their brands. While some businesses lend themselves to stunning photos, other services can be challenging to represent with images. We’ve spent years learning how to choose stock images that represent even the least visually oriented businesses, and we’ve also worked closely with brand photographers to capture the essence of a company. Now, we’re sharing what we’ve learned.

Online brand identity and presence rely on various elements, including how the brand is represented visually. A business may offer luxury, professional products or services, but if the website images represent a budget-friendly, generic brand, you may have trouble attracting your ideal client. While we all like to think it’s what’s inside (or what your business provides) that counts, we are programmed to make snap judgments based on appearance. If you want to put your business’s best foot forward, start with the visual representation. Below you will find a guide on how to choose stock images, as well as tips for professional brand photo shoots.

Baseline rules for choosing images that represent a business

Aside from ensuring you select the right size and format when sourcing images for your website, the number one thing to keep in mind is the brand identity:

  • What does your brand represent?
  • Who is your target audience?
  • What level of service or products does the business offer?
  • How personal is the brand?
  • What sets your brand apart?
  • What is your brand voice?

The answers to the above questions will direct your image search. For example, if you provide professional services and work one-on-one with your clients, opting for a mix of high-quality stock images and custom photos will showcase your professionalism and provide a personal touch

On the other hand, if the business is product based, it’s best to showcase images of the actual products wherever possible. Generic stock photos may mislead your customers. If the products use high-quality ingredients or components, you can add another element of visual interest by showing where your product comes from. Doing so will help to visually represent the quality of the product while also avoiding repetitive images. 

How to choose stock images that reflect your brand

A business providing services on a mass scale is a great candidate to utilize high-quality stock images. However, it’s essential to follow a few guidelines when choosing stock images to represent the brand.

  1. Get your stock photos from a reputable site that offers the appropriate licensing. When it fits your budget, opt for paid stock images to represent very specific visual requirements. Sites such as iStock, Adobe Stock, and Shutterstock offer affordable packages. If you need to occasionally fill in with free stock photos, try Unsplash or Pexels.
  2. If you’re going to use photos of people, be sure to choose images that will feel familiar to your target customer—you want your customer to see him or herself on your website. If your customers are diverse, your photos should include individuals of different ethnicities, ages, genders, and abilities. That said, do keep in mind your brand image. For example, if you provide a product or service specifically for women, photos of men on your site may cause confusion.
  3. The stock images should flow visually and complement the branding. For example, if your brand logo and colors are lighter in color, light and airy images will look more cohesive with your brand than dark and moody images. 
  4. Avoid cheesy, cliché, or posed images that look like obvious stock photo selections. For example, if you’re choosing an action shot, the individual shouldn’t be looking directly at the camera and smiling. You run the risk of looking fake and outdated. 
  5. Avoid stereotypical images that evoke problematic power dynamics or push away certain individuals. A great example of this is an image of an older, professional man with a young, attractive female assistant. Keep it fresh and relevant to today’s societal norms.
  6. Is your brand known for class and elegance, professionalism, fun, or a family appeal? Ensure the stock images represent the brand’s style and voice.
  7. Stock photos don’t always need to include faces, or any people at all. In some cases incorporating textures, animals, objects, and colors can speak to your audience and represent your brand better than any posed people. You may also choose to use close-ups of hands using a relevant object to keep the focus off the individual and on the concept.

You’ve probably heard that a picture is worth a thousand words. Even without saying anything, images (especially stock) can quickly speak for themselves. After combing through thousands of stock images for clients, it’s safe to say we have seen a lot. For example, while it is great to choose images that include both genders, in some cases they can exude sexual tension or an unwanted level of awkwardness. Are the two individuals’ coworkers, a couple, on a date? One of the best ways to master the art of choosing stock photos is to avoid any images that may suggest something other than what you want people to associate with your business. If you’re not sure, send the image to a few people on your team to get their first impressions.

Guidelines for a professional brand photoshoot

If stock images aren’t right for your brand, hiring a professional brand photographer to do a photo shoot can provide you with a library of images to use on the website, social media, and other marketing collateral. Look for a photographer who specializes in brand photography—he or she will know how to direct you and your staff on how to pose, where to look, the best lighting, and groupings for posed photos. 

In order to ensure you have everything covered, below are a few tips to help you get the right images for your brand.

  1. Request a mix of close-up and distant images, which will give you the flexibility to use the images in a variety of layouts. Websites typically require a lot of wide images, whereas other assets (think about brochures, sales one-pagers, etc.) may need taller photos. When the photographer shoots the same subject from a variety of angles, the photos can also be cropped in various ways to be reused on social media without seeming repetitive.
  2. Include images of items and locations around the office. This may include technologies that the business offers, meeting rooms, unique decor, branded documents, the office building, guest waiting area, and the front desk. Showing your workspace on your website will boost your credibility and create a sense of familiarity for potential customers.
  3. When including images of staff members that have a high turnover rate, include images from behind or other angles that don’t show their faces. These can generally still be used if the staff member leaves the company. 
  4. For product-based companies, images of the product in packaging, production process, ingredients, components, and team members will prove to be valuable to have on hand. You may also wish to show ways the product would naturally be used by customers.
  5. Invest in an experienced brand photographer! They will be able to understand your brand image, provide guidance, and showcase your business in the best possible way. 

Whether you opt for stock images or professional brand photos, keep in mind accessibility and SEO. When added to your website, each image will need metadata, such as ALT text, for accessibility purposes and titles for SEO effectiveness.

The images used to represent the company often create the first impression, either enticing your target market or sending them running. If scrolling through stock photo sites has your head spinning, it may be time to discuss your business image with a professional. Our team has years of experience helping businesses manage their online presence. Send us a message to schedule a discovery call.

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