Stories – something we need to look for and create ourselves!
Maybe you know the feeling: you have seen a photo that has just been burned into your brain. And it is hard to get rid of. Like a song you just can’t seem to get out of your head.
All photographers dream of taking iconic photos that other people will remember. And everybody is looking for the magic recipe on how to do that.
Here are a couple of ideas on that recipe that gives you the magical pictures.
A long piece of text
Try to imagine your webpage completely without pictures…
Does that work?
No, not really. It would never work.
Visual communication is so important today, and it affects us 3-4 times more than text. In other words, our brain looks 3-4 times more towards picture information than toward text information.
That gives pictures a huge power and they, unconsciously, control our daily choices, but only when used the right way.
Fucking with your brain
A lot of research has been made on what it is about pictures that works, and why so many pictures don’t work.
Eye-tracking studies where a person looks at different websites while a camera is tracking your pupils can be really useful. Because this way you know what it is about pictures that are interesting – the things that affects us the most. This knowledge is used within neuropsychology to get a better understanding of how we are affected without knowing it.
Advertisement agencies use all this knowledge when they put together campaigns. They love fucking with our brain.
Those photographers who take advantage of the knowledge we have within neuropsychology have a much bigger chance of influencing the reader than those photographers who just take a photo without knowing exactly what they want with the picture.
In contrary to what a lot of people believe – especially many graphical designers and people who make webpages – a photo is not just a graphical element or a piece of visual stuffing that has to fit in frame in the overall design.
“Oh, we just need a picture… Can’t you just find that quickly?”
That’s not the picture’s function if you want to work professionally.
Visual expressions is the strongest factor in all communication today and the one who understands taking advantage of the picture’s opportunities of the actuating force will be more visible than the one who just use it as an element – as stuffing.
The use of other’s pictures
As a photographer I’m a strong advocate of creating the foundation from the bottom in the same way as the skilled cook starts over with good produces.
But I also know that it’s not always possible to hire a photographer every time you need a photo.
Platforms like JumpStory offer thousands of good professional photos for a fairly small amount of money.
Three good advices:
Here are three good advices if you want to use other’s photos.
- Think about the history!
- Think about the time!
- Think about the culture!
1: The picture you choose has to fit the story from your text. If you are e.g. a therapist and choose a “feel good” photo of a beach or a forest, then the customers visiting your website will associate you with beaches or forests. NOT what they can be treated for.
If your texts are about physiotherapy, then use photos that show physical treatments.
Do you have a counselling company and you have texts about counselling, then show pictures about counselling. Or tell a story where your customers will know what counselling they will get from you. It could be that they had more time or higher profits.
Always think about that your pictures should show a story.
Because it is actually fairy simple: what you show is what your readers feel.
2: You and I use 2-4 seconds on decoding if we want to stay on a page and read more or if we feel that we aren’t getting the information we are looking for, and then leave the page again.
Your pictures have to be so simple that others can decode the message within 1-2 seconds. The picture is like a one-liner: it has to make sense right away. There’s no time to interpret what’s happening on the photo.
3: If you approach a Danish audience then use pictures that look Danish. From Eye-tracking studies (read more here) we know that e.g. American produced pictures don’t really work on Danes. We want, like every other nation, to see someone that looks like us.
The powerful story
If you take the photos yourself then remember to focus on telling a powerful story. Let your photos be a clear story-telling. It’s important that the story is relevant or else the message in your communication, marketing or campaign dies.
In 2003 I had to take a picture of a company owner, as I have done at least 1000 times before. As always, I ask the key figure what the story is about. What did he talk with the journalist about? What is the main theme? Are there any punchlines?
It is necessary to create pictures that fits in with the text which make the overall communication more powerful.
“It’s going really good”, tells the CEO whom I’m taking photos of in a moment. “More people, higher salaries, lots of orders, we are drowning in success – we are conquering the world”, he smiles cheekily.
Therefore, I suggest Stein Bagger that we take a picture of him conquering the whole world. “That’s your dream – right?”, I ask. “Hell yes – the whole world”, he grins.
This photo is therefore created exactly within the understanding I had of what his story was about when I had to take a photo of Stein Bagger and IT-Factory in 2003: A company where everything went well and a leader with huge ambitions.
Caught into the story
This is what should be our starting-point every time we take photos. To create photos that supports the story and makes it powerful.
That we a caught into the story and it is difficult to let go if it before we have read it.
And isn’t that the purpose of all communication – to attract interest?
This way we make sure that the picture is a meaningful and relevant story – every time! Instead of an unimportant element in a random frame on a webpage.
And that the reality then looked much different for Stein Bagger and IT-Factory five years later in 2008, when it all crashed down in a huge party, that’s another story…
More about Michael Altschul
The past 10 years Michael has had open all-day photo course for both communication people and private people who have an interest in becoming better at taking meaningful photos.
He is employed by RUC where he teaches visual communication and has upskilled over 200 freelance journalists in taking better photos.
He furthermore works with visual picture manuals for a number of companies and municipalities. Manuals are a practical workpaper that make sure that their stories and pictures fits together and that it is true to their brand.
Here you can read more about Michael’s photo courses.