Do you run a business? If so, do you promote it online? Do you use photographs or videos for that? Have you ever considered that those photographs might hurt your business?
Here are ten important questions ask yourself about photography and your business.
Take a look at an advert of any well-known brands that you use either on websites or in magazines. The promotional photographs really grab your eye. If the advertiser got it right, then the images used reflect your lifestyle and cohere with your self-image. They are taken to appeal to you.
Take a look at Olympus’s professional end O-MD E-M1 Mark II camera. Its product photos are sleek, moody and mysterious, oozing professionalism and quality. These images appeal to a professional photographer. Indeed, I find them alluring.
Take a look at their website.
In comparison, the images posted on their Pen range of cameras site are aimed at a different audience. They tell a different story, using clean, white backgrounds with fashionable looking people and objects in their photos. They have a bright, contemporary quality that reflects the lifestyle of the target audience.
The Olympus Pens are the camera of the ‘In Crowd’. Stylish, young and arty folk own them. These are the cameras of the Instagram and vlogging generation. The pictures demonstrate Pen cameras fitting that image.
Then there are the Olympus Tough cameras. These rugged beasts are aimed at those who are running up mountains or diving on tropical reefs. They are light, incredibly sturdy and compact and their promotional photographs reflect this.
Lesson one: choose a photographic style and content that accurately reflects your product and its target customers’ lifestyle. Put yourself in your their shoes. What appeals to them? Your photos should tell the story of your product.
The images on the Olympus website are top quality. They are selling high-end imaging equipment, so we customers expect the promotional images to be top-notch quality. A car breakers yard would not require such high quality images when selling an old carburettor.
If the Olympus pictures were poorly composed, under-exposed or focussed in the wrong place then we would walk away. The scrapyard’s eBay customers don’t have that expectation, so long as they can see an accurate depiction of the car part they want to buy. Horses for courses, as they say.
The same consideration applies to your business. If your promotional images, graphics or videos are not at the same level of perfection as your products then you do your business a disfavour. If your customers see low quality photos then they will expect your products and services to be at that level too.
One of the other things I do besides photography is build websites. It’s a common cause of grief amongst web developers that they design and build websites that they are proud of, but then their customer then fills it with poor quality content.
There is a lot of advice about business owners promoting themselves using mobile phone snaps. In a few circumstances, this might be appropriate. But do you think that Olympus, BMW or Lloyds Bank or use phone cameras in their advertisements? There is a good reason why not. If it’s not good enough for them, is it good enough for you?
Lesson two: customers will judge your business by the images, graphics and videos you use. They reflect the quality of your products and services.
There is a lot of free content available to businesses. It seems a great idea to get a smashing photograph that you can use for nothing. Indeed, It is a good way for businesses working on a shoestring to keep their costs down. But free images do have drawbacks.
Firstly, generic stock images look like generic stock images. That brightly lit photo of a computer monitor on a white desk, or the staged portrait of the smiling model next to a white board, they shout out that you are using free stock images. “What’s the matter with that?” you ask. The answer is that they are a lie. You are promoting yourself with an image that isn’t you.
Furthermore, most people can spot these are for what they are. They will then ask themselves why you use a false front and don’t promote yourself honestly. What are you hiding?
For those who cannot tell it’s a free stock image from the start, they will catch you out later when they discover you are not the business you pretend to be.
Stock images are the advertising equivalent of a political message written on the side of a bus; full of promise, but lacking truth.
Another risk is the same images, animations and videos may well be used by your competitor as well. This could lead to brand confusion and even the suspicion of plagiarism.
Furthermore, you run the risk of search engines identifying your web presence as having unoriginal content, thus knocking your SEO rating. Search engines can identify images as well as text, and they are looking for unique, fresh content.
Finally, if you must use them, do check the usage rights. Some are not licensed for commercial use and you may be pursued for a hefty fee.
Lesson three: if you can, avoid stock images and use photos unique to your business.
Photographers often hear people say, “That’s a great picture; you must have a fantastic camera.” If you want to annoy a photographer, try saying that. This is because good photography is mostly achieved through experience and knowledge. It is a skill that is learnt over time. In comparison, the equipment is not as important.
I have a good friend, Stuart. (Not his real name.) He’s a really nice guy. He wanted to get into photography and bought lots of top-of-the-range kit. Despite his bag being full of expensive equipment, a couple of years ago his photos were, to put it bluntly, not wonderful. The focus was in the wrong place, there was no attention to detail, horizons were wonky, there was no consideration for depth of field, he often chose the wrong shutter value, and he had no eye for composition. His subjects were bland too.
Of course, his friends and family kept telling him how great his photos were. (Never ask people close to you to judge your work; they are nice and don’t want to offend. They will always say it’s wonderful.)
Stuart came on one of my photography courses and learnt the basic techniques of getting a good shot. He is getting better all the time now and notices the improvements himself. Stuart loves photography, especially landscapes, and for an amateur photographer that love of the art is all that matters.
Would you take the risk of asking him to shoot product images or portraits for your business? He would be the first to admit that he has no skills in those areas.
I spoke with Stuart about this post, and he suggested I should put one of his early images here to demonstrate this point, but I don’t really want one of them appearing in my Google search results!
Another friend, Janet, (again, not their real name) runs a service business. Janet arranged for their staff portraits to be shot by a friend with a DSLR. Her friend clearly used a camera’s pop-up flash, which can create an unflattering look and a harsh shadow on the wall he used as a backdrop. It’s a basic error. Three other people commented to me how bad the photo looked with the harsh shadows and blown highlights. I’ve been meaning to tell Janet this without offending her. So Janet, if you recognise yourself in this…
Lesson 4: Your friend with a camera might not be equal to the task of taking your business’s photos.
You may well be saying, that’s all very well but you are a professional photographer and notice these things. I am and I do. but I am not the only one. In this sparsely populated county of Northumberland where I live there are 76,000 people with an interest in photography, that’s about one in every four people who will probably notice if your images are poor.
Maybe you think investing in quality content is unaffordable, but it isn’t necessarily so. After all, plenty of small businesses afford my and my competitions’ services!
We are all looking at ways to cut costs in our businesses. However, many people who will see through the wool you try to pull over their eyes. It’s far better to impress them with quality content. It’s showing respect to your clients.
Lesson 5: Only use images that exceed the expectations of your most discerning and critical customers.
A few years ago a major supermarket came in for huge criticism following posting an advert seeking a local artist to paint a mural on their wall for free. There was a public outcry because this money-making enterprise was seen as exploitative. It led to a boycott of the shop. They backed down and employed an artist instead.
I’ve been asked eight times in the last year for my photos to be used for free. That’s over £1000 worth of work I was asked to give away by greedy businesses and organisations that don’t want to pay for goods and services. Consequently, these are businesses that have lost both my respect and my custom.
Disreputable organisation also run competitions with the ‘prize’ being that they can use the winning image for free. In the short term they may get a free photograph to use for this. But, it will damage their reputation in the long term. Besides this possible backlash against their greed and their lack of appreciation of the value of art, nobody likes exploitative businesses.
Lesson 7: Don’t try to exploit artists. It will damage your reputation.
Can you guarantee that the person granting you permission to use a photo has the right to do so? I set up and run a popular local photographic Facebook group. Selected images are celebrated in the newspaper column I write. One person was always posting excellent images. Unfortunately, it transpired that they were plagiarising the photos from other photographers. All their posted images were stolen. Sadly, this happens all the time on the internet.
Image theft is both illegal and a common occurrence. It is a criminal offence and carries big fines.
Imagine using a photo with permission and then having to scrap brochures or pay a huge fee because the image belonged to someone else.
You can protect against this risk by using a professional photographer.
Lesson 7: Great photos are a valuable commodity for your business that are worth investing in to avoid receiving stolen goods.
Last year, an amateur photographer told me he was over the moon because an established business has asked them to use his photo to appear on their calendar, again for free.
But besides the photographer allowing himself to be taken as a mug, the photograph had problems. It lacked balance, with too much negative space on one side. It was also over-developed, a common mistake made by many beginner photographers.
The person who chose the image could not tell a good photograph from a bad one. That’s understandable. An artistic eye is not something that comes naturally to most people.
It isn’t just photography. Similarly, the text businesses use in their marketing material needs to be readable. I was once asked by a friend from overseas what the text on an English website meant. I read it and it was indecipherable, meaningless nonsense. Full of jargon, misused highfalutin words and waffle, the author had written a hugely complex screed that alienated its potential customers. That business closed after a year.
Lesson 8: You are great at running your business, but you might not have learnt the skills to identify a great picture or write a good text. Invest in experts to cover those areas that don’t come naturally to you, it will pay off in the long term.
Things do go wrong. Some cautionary tales:
Serious professional photographers will have public liability insurance. £5 million cover is expected by most local authorities and this is probably the amount of cover you should make sure a photographer has.
Depending upon the type of photographic services they are offering, you may also want them to carry professional indemnity insurance too. This is usually a lesser amount, but should cover the cost of restaging an event if they fail to deliver quality photographs.
Even if you are insured, check your policy as it may insist that your contractors are covered too. If they are not, then your insurance company might refuse to pay your claim. Or you may also want to claim from the photographer your uninsured losses such as personal injury, policy excesses or loss of earnings. If they are not insured, you don’t stand much chance of recouping these.
Lesson 9: Check that anyone you contract work out to had sufficient insurance to cover any risks.
The simple answer to that is yes. All art can be learnt. There are lots of fantastic opportunities to learn photography including online tutorials, videos and books. Professional photographers (me included) run courses and workshops to help you learn how to get great photos. There is nothing quite so rewarding as having your own creative works adorning your website and publicity materials.
If you don’t have the time to hone your skills then professional photography is good value, so is professional copy writing and website design. The return on your investment is paid off by the extra custom quality photography brings.
Lesson 10: Learning camera skills can transform your photography and you will be able to get some super images for your business.