“A picture is worth a thousand words.”
This phrase has been drilled into our heads since we were kids — what significance does it have in our everyday lives as marketing and advertising professionals?
A whole lot.
Photographs evoke emotions from the viewer, and that is exactly what we want to invoke when appealing to a target audience. The best photographers — Ansel Adams, Annie Leibovitz and Steve McCurry — can teach us about marketing and advertising, through the universal theme of evoking emotion, as well as how to appeal to the human brain, and the human eye.
Why Imagery Works
Human visual processing takes up a huge amount of neural resources: a whopping 30% of our brain’s cortex is dedicated to it. As the infographic shows below, imagery allows the viewer to understand the subject faster and respond more positively than text alone. Visuals also increase the viewer’s emotional connection, comprehension and recollection of the subject. And 46% of people surveyed said that a website’s design is the number one factor determining a company’s credibility.
White Space/Negative Space
White space, also known as “negative space” by photographers, is the blank space around a main subject that calls the viewer’s interest and attention. The space doesn’t have to actually be white, it just has to be somewhat flat and contrast with the main subject.
Interest, according to some photographers, is the single most important element in photography. Ansel Adams, the famous landscape photographer, used a lot of white space in his work — and a lot of black and white shots to bring extra contrast.
Ansel Adams published a controversial photography book in 1944 documenting the injustice suffered by Japanese-Americans in internment camps. Exposing a dark part of American history, Adams commented later on that he admired those displaced for creating a strong community within the camps despite the despair and injustice as a result of the situation. The photo below was from a 1943 internment camp, showing people in the camp doing “calisthenics” with a white space at the top of the photograph, narrowing the viewer’s focus onto the child in the foreground and the rows of people behind.
Interest — and attention — is also an extremely important element in marketing and advertising. To apply the principle of white space to the marketing world, it makes objects, images and text stand out clearer, helping you grab the viewer’s attention more.
Apple’s design is most famous for this. The classic Apple logo has morphed over the years, but is now solid white, with a large negative space behind it, bringing the viewer’s focus directly onto the logo. White space is also known to conjure feelings of luxury and sophistication, something that Apple is definitely good at.
A study exploring the effects of white space design on e-commerce websites showed a positive correlation between white space and male participants’ perception of pricing — the more white space, the higher price estimation. White space has also been found to improve viewer comprehension by 20%.
White space is an essential design strategy in our oversaturated and image-overloaded digital world. It brings an almost-sacred level of simplicity that is quite rare these days.
According to Wikipedia, portrait photography is “photography of a person or group of people that captures the personality of a subject by using effective lighting, backdrops, and poses.” Not explicitly mentioned here is that portraits convey emotion. We are, after all, human, and imagery of another human being naturally connects us emotionally, and is especially dependent on the mood captured.
Annie Leibovitz, the famous portrait photographer, is an example of someone who brilliantly captures the emotion of the subject and the mood of the environment. She is also well-known for photographing celebrities, models and other media stars, portraying a more luxurious and sophisticated lifestyle. In these portraits, that appeared in the Vanity Fair Hollywood Issue earlier this year, Ms. Leibovitz photographed 13 well-known actresses. The individual portraits are especially stunning and portray the actress’ emotion and mood in the moment.
When used in marketing, landing page design and ad placement, we humans are attracted to other human faces especially if the expression is inviting, curious or attractive.
Leading adtech company Sekindo, below, utilizes portraits on their home page design to attract the human eye and bring about an instant connection between the viewer and the employees. This, in turn, brings about a connection between potential customers and the company. Most notably, the three co-founders’ portraits are prominently displayed, a tactic that has proven to bring about higher conversions by highlighting the legitimacy of the company.
From a marketing perspective, the expression on a subject’s face reflects the brand, product and ultimately the message. Typically, Nike uses portraits that portray strength, a branding theme. This is an example of how company culture and values have to be reflected in the photos they choose.
The portrait below is a Nike ad featuring the famous soccer player Neymar Jr., wearing sunglasses and portraying a cool and relaxed expression. The ad is for Tech Pack, a line of stylish outerwear, which is a departure from their core product, athletic shoes. In order to highlight this different type of feeling they want to conjure in viewers — relaxed and cool, just like Neymar — viewers connect and understand that Nike is a brand that values strength and athleticism as well as style.
Studies have shown that adding a photo of a person — a portrait — can increase conversions significantly. Highrise, a CRM software, A/B tested a product page and determined that adding a photo of a person, along with a simple design (shown below), increased signups by 102.5%. This proves that something so seemingly mundane as a picture of someone can influence consumer behavior in such a significant way.
In an interview with Fast Company in 2013, Annie Leibovitz said, “photography came along long before there were cameras. We were always trying to capture the fleeting image.” Even though photography is by definition, capturing a single fleeting moment, some of the best photography captures movement or the potential for movement. This piques a curiosity in the viewer, maybe even more than a still image could ever do. Annie Leibovitz’s image of Jessica Biel as Pocahontas, uses the subjects’ movement to draw the viewer’s visual interest and move vicariously in the scene with them.
Steve McCurry, the famed photojournalist, also uses movement in his photos to engage the viewer. Certain photos evoke our curiosity and we naturally finish the movement in our heads, such as following a subject through a corridor. It plays on human curiosity and can be very valuable in marketing and in ads.
Movement is a known photography and design technique, and because of it’s usefulness in directing the eye, marketers can use it do just that, leading the gaze wherever they want. For example, you can play off the movement in a photo in order to direct the viewer’s eye to a CTA button.
Along with movement, the design principle of emphasis means that a dominant image will primarily draw the viewer’s attention. In the photo above, the movement is clearly going to the left, the dominant image is Jessica Biel, and the secondary object is the deer. So in this case, movement and emphasis draw the eye to the left side of the photo.
A marketing study found that ads with movement translated to viewers being more likely to perceive the product as ‘novel’ and innovative. The study found that when the image of the product changes directions while moving, that is when the viewer believed the product to be new and exciting.
Images Open Doors
“Photographs open doors into the past, but they also allow a look into the future.” American photographer Sally Mann describes one aspect of photography — it’s timelessness — and how it can even push us forward in time. Marketing has always been at the cutting-edge of technology, consumer attitudes and opinions, and leads the way for other industries to also move forward and grow.
Photography, a timeless and classic art form, has undeniable lessons for the marketing world. Classic techniques like white space, portraits and movement, have been proven to raise conversion rates and contribute to the positive emotional connection between brands and consumers. This can open doors and open the data-driven marketer’s mind to the importance of targeted imagery and classic photography in their everyday life — and work.
About the Author: Shayna Smilovitz is a content marketing expert based in Tel Aviv. Born and raised in Silicon Valley, she has tech in her blood and loves writing about the intersection between technology, society and culture.