How to find the perfect photography to enhance your brand online
One of the most important ways you can ensure a compelling, recognizable online presence is by choosing visuals that complement your brand. The imagery that you choose for your blog posts, Instagram feed, product mockups and more all communicate something about you, your products, and the way that you help your audience. It’s important to make sure the feeling they create in your readers is consistent with the overall tone that you want your brand to convey.
In this post, I want to focus on how you can use photography to achieve that goal. You can certainly create brand imagery without photography — Jamie at Spruce Road and Lauren at Elle & Company both do this really well — but for beginners (especially non-designers) who are trying to establish a solid online presence, using photography to communicate what your brand is about is a great option.
If this feels overwhelming, or if you’re not sure where to start — don’t worry. With a little planning, you’ll have gorgeous, consistent imagery in no time. This post breaks it down into a few easy steps, and if you want to download a worksheet that gives you room to take notes and do some brainstorming, I’ve got you covered.
Start by thinking about the overall tone of your brand. Look at the following list of words and see if any of these resonate, or come up with your own. (A longer list of words is available in the worksheet for this post.)
Once you have a few words in mind, do some brainstorming to think about what those words could look like visually. Think about the colours, objects and shapes that you associate with the words you’ve chosen.
For example, a feminine aesthetic could be light and airy, with flowers, pinks and peach tones. If you want an energetic tone, you might choose brighter colours, bold lines and visuals and photography that have a lot of movement.
Sourcing your photos
Now that you know what kind of tone you want your images to convey, think about how you want to get them. As you consider the following options, remember that you don’t only have to choose ONE. Experiment, combine different approaches, and see what works best for you!
Do it yourself
With the rise of affordable cameras (both SLRs and on smartphones!) it has never been easier and more cost-effective to snap and process quality photos that are perfectly tailor-made for your brand.
However, taking great, consistent photography that serves your brand well takes time and skill. You’ll need to make sure that you’re planning for the time that it takes to take and process good photos. If you’re a beginner photographer, you will likely also find that there’s a learning curve involved in building the skills and experience to create photos that you love.
PROS: Completely unique photos that no one else has; free!
CONS: May require a learning curve; can be time-consuming; not necessarily your best option if you want professional-looking photos.
Apps: VSCO, Camera +, Photoshop, Lightroom
Equipment: Camera, props, foam core or poster board (as a background for flat lay photography), lots of natural light
Free stock photography
By free stock photography, I’m not referring to those photos we’ve all seen of a group of dressed up professionals fake-laughing around a boardroom table. There are lots of spots online where you can get quality photography for free that will support your brand’s vibe and aesthetic. However, there are a couple of things to be aware of (both positive and negative) before you start downloading photos and posting them to your site.
First, make sure that you understand what the copyright and attribution requirements are for the photo you’re downloading. The way that you’re planning to use the photo (personal or commercial), how you give credit to the artist, and the exact licensing requirements all dictate whether or not you can use the photo, and how to give credit to the owner. My very strong recommendation is to find photos that are copyright free and do NOT require attribution — it’s just not worth it to find yourself on the wrong side of a copyright lawsuit.
Second, keep in mind that free stock photography is very popular! If you’re looking for exclusivity when it comes to using photos that no one else is using, this option may not be your best bet.
Third, a great way to score unique, high-quality free stock photography is to sign up for the mailing lists of photographers whose work you admire. I’m on several email lists that send me monthly emails with downloads (see the resources listed below). This is a great way to support indie photographers and other small business owners. In addition, using the same photographers’ photos (whether free or paid) is a good tactic for ensuring consistency in the types of images you’re using.
So, to recap:
PROS: Free! (Mostly) high quality professional photography; very little time required.
CONS: Lots of other people are using the same photos; need to be careful to respect copyright and attribution requirements.
Paid stock photography
Your third option is to purchase photography for your own use. Purchased stock photography is generally very professional and high quality, and its use will not be as widespread as free images. If you’re looking for really great photos that not everyone else is using, this is the way to go.
Within this option, you have two choices: You can purchase stock photography that is already taken and ready for download, or you can hire a photographer to create custom photography specifically for you and your brand. Choosing completely custom photography can’t be beat when it comes to complete exclusivity and fit with your brand; however, it also comes at a price.
I went with the first option — the ready to download photography — for all of the photography in my website design. All of the photos on this site (with the exception of my headshots and some of my blog post graphics) are purchased from Shay Cochrane, and I can’t recommend her work highly enough. Her photos are very high quality and can be used in all kinds of different ways, and they’re consistent, which makes the look across the site seamless. For me, it was a completely worthwhile investment. I’ve gotten so many compliments on this website, and much of it is due to the photography — so this option, if you can make it work, can definitely be worth it.
PROS: High quality; much more exclusive than free stock photos
Processing and using photography effectively
Now that you’ve found photos that you’re excited to use, there are a few more things that you can do to really make sure they’re unique to you and form a consistent, engaging, recognizable extension of your brand.
(For this step, you’ll want to use some software to help you process the photo to make it look the way you want it. PicMonkey and Canva are good free options; Photoshop and the rest of the Adobe suite are great paid choices if you want to use the more complex tools the pros use.)
In a recent post I used a very popular free photo from a Death to the Stock Photo pack for my blog graphic.
While it is a lovely photo, I wanted to try to make it a little more unique. Cropping allows you to focus in on just the part of a photo that you want to highlight and exclude the rest.
Now, while this is a good start, there's more that you can do to make the photo you're using different from the rest.
Processing and overlays
Consistently processing your photos in a unique, recognizable way also adds to the way your photos are perceived by your audience. For example, that could mean amping up the contrast, lowering the saturation levels, or only using black and white photos.
I do this in two ways. I often process my photos in duotone, using my brand colours as the base. This changes the look of the photo and automatically makes it fit much better with my brand’s colour palette. In the same photo I used above, here’s what that looks like:
I also use a semi-transparent white overlay to make the photo appear much lighter and brighter. My overall aesthetic is very light and airy, and I want my photos to reflect that. Here’s the example again with a white overlay:
Adding text and colour
Last but not least, if you’re adding text and colour (for example, to create a blog post graphic), using a template to create the same look consistently will also help you to maximize the effect the image has in building brand awareness and communicating your unique style.
Here’s how I do that on my site:
And here are some great examples from two other creatives who are killing it online:
Regina from byregina.com does an incredible job of making her blog post graphics both unique and recognizable. I can instantly pick them out when I’m scrolling through Pinterest and know they’re hers. And because her images are backed up by great quality information, I know the moment I see them that it’s a post worth reading. That kind of instantaneous brand recognition is the goal that you’re aiming for in this whole process.
Melyssa from melyssagriffin.com also does this really well. Because she uses a few consistent elements in her graphics (the thin box & thicker border on the bottom of the photo; one simple, easy-to-read font; her brand’s colour palette), she can play with the layout of each graphic in order to highlight specific elements of the photo or superimpose a free download offering.
Wrapping it all up
So there you have it — three steps to finding and using photography to enhance your brand online. Ready to get started? I’ve made a free worksheet to help you think about how you can strategically choose photos that will reflect your brand to your reader.
Any other photography resources out there that you love and think we should know about? Leave a note in the comments!