The Ins & Outs of Choosing Effective Photography for Your Audience

Nuno Silva
by Nuno Silva 25 Mar, 2016

With the proliferation of social media, audiences are becoming much more attuned to photography used in marketing, product and advertising mediums. Your customers, even if they don't know what it's called, are aware of "stock photography" and how contrived it can be. Savvy marketers and designers have begun using images that not only relate better with their customers but are aspirational in a genuine and creative capacity.

Let's look at some ways that we can find the most effective photography in your products:

Avoid Cliches

The phrase "avoid cliches" at this point, may ironically, be cliche but time and time again we still see designers using images that are "too easy." Challenging yourself to come up with a creative conceptual idea that illustrates an emotion or a concept is much more effective than re-hashing the same "stock" go-to images. Businesses are no longer about handshakes and boardrooms. Very few verticals (with the exception of law and finance) have all their staff in suits and ties any more. In the example of "business" as a concept look inward and find out what's special about the business and use images that highlight those strengths like craftsmanship, personal attention, values, etc.

Know your audience

Playing it safe and appealing to the mass market is something that's tempting but if you take some time to learn your audience, and learn about who the highest converting demographic is, you can probably start pushing the envelope a little bit creatively. If you're targeting millennials, you have earned some bandwidth to become a little edgier. Take some risks and challenge your audience. Audiences that spend the majority of their time online have done it and seen it all - you can afford to be bold.

On the opposite spectrum, the boomer generation will also want to see photos of real people - but real people like them. They're aware of classic sales methods and marketing collateral, so show them relatable imagery that speaks to them and doesn't portray their generation as stock models with white hair and even whiter teeth. Don't be afraid to be real. It'll show your brand to be honest and genuine.

Use the medium to your advantage

One really interesting development in the design world has been the resurgence of film. As photographers, and nostalgic ones at that, we just loved the look and loved how the colors felt. We saw, a few years ago, how software developers were trying to duplicate this aesthetic as it became very popular on social media platforms and advertisers were taking notice. As this interest has begun to evolve we find a lot of photographers experimenting and playing with actual film development and creating intentional errors to further a mood, a moment captured, and even a concept using light, grain and the unique colors only achieved by film. Advertisers can take advantage of this by using the aesthetic to tell a story. Sometimes it's not just about the content, but how the content was shot that's more important to the story of a photo.

Another topical example is mobile photography. While mobile photography is quite popular, the initial frenzy has since died down and much more sober and logical approach is taking hold on how people are using mobile photography. It speaks to a mobile generation of people documenting their lives "on the go." It resonates with a generation who is not afraid to document their lives. There is a unique quality and exception to photography that could only have been shot from a mobile phone that, again, tells a story in itself.

A/B Testing

Finally, there's the technological solution. You've identified a handful of images that speak to your demographic in a genuine way and are shot in such a way that tell a great story but how do you choose the "perfect" image?


There are now numerous tools and companies that will help you test the effectiveness of your selections by running simultaneous campaigns in A/B tests. Tracking click-through rates, opens and bounces are effective measurements of your visual selections. If your website doesn't have the traffic necessary for an effective A/B test, try running some paid social campaigns and see which images (with identical copy) related best with your targeted audience.

Nuno Silva is a successful commercial photographer who became a founding member of the Stocksy United co-operative in Feb. of 2013, where he started as the director of content and is now the VP of product. Building upon an experienced career, with over a decade of industry knowledge, at companies like iStock and 500px, Nuno is also an active member of the Digital Media Licensing Association (DMLA) and currently sits on the board of this international trade organization. Nuno currently resides in Toronto, Canada with his supportive wife and son.