30th July 2020

Why it’s worth investing in great photography for your website

Ben Serbutt

Ben Serbutt Head of Creative

@benserbutt Linkedin

If we process an image in as little as 13 milliseconds, shouldn’t charities be investing more in communicating visually?

How many thousands of words are being commissioned or written for your new website? How many hundreds of staff hours are being devoted to written digital content? And how many thousands of pounds have been invested in your new website overall?

If the answer to any of those questions is anything close to “a lot”, then perhaps it’s worth reviewing how those hard-earned marketing and communications pennies are being distributed?

Photography – and indeed illustration – sometimes seems undervalued in the charity sector. Budget seems to be found for more and more words, yet many a brief comes through our doors complaining about the excessive use of written content on our client sites. We all know we’re simply not getting to the end of website articles as much as we used to.

A screenshot of the Shutterstock website

Shouldn’t we just use stock photos?

I very seldom advocate for the use of stock photography on websites and for marketing. There’s occasionally the need to ‘just use something’ to get a piece of content out the door, especially when it’s time-sensitive.

However, we’re all wired to detect when images don’t feel right. We can immediately detect a stock photo, more often than not from the perfect American teeth or the tired clichés of suited boardroom meetings. 

And when audiences see these, they know to ignore them, meaning they’re far less likely to engage with whatever words you have written, no matter how well crafted. 

What about free images?

While Unsplash or Pexels can fill the occasional gap or keep your costs down, they seldom meet your wider brand objectives. Presenting the same tone of voice isn’t just important for your writing, it’s important for your visual tone too

The worlds best brands do this extremely well and extremely consistently. While we might not all have the budgets to create high-impact shoots like Save the Children or to commission Joey L, think about emulating the persistence of Glossier in the USA or the power of Marianne Olaleye’s images for UK anti-FGM charity FORWARD (shown below)

Another Fat Beehive client, Hospiscare in Devon, use excellent images that really bring across the organisation’s positive values and the hospice’s welcoming atmosphere. I particularly love how genuinely joyful the woman in the image by the newsletter sign-up looks. That image would certainly encourage me to keep in touch, and I’m sure other Hospiscare users feel the same way.

Forward website design showcased on a laptop and phone device

I’ve got a mobile phone, can’t I just take them?

Sometimes, yep. If you’ve had training from someone like the Media Trust, empower or Mile 91, you can create genuine human stories told through on-the-ground photos. Or you can lean into the poor quality that phones often take, as our client EIA does with its undercover investigations, to powerful effect. 

But what about the cost?

Commissioned photography doesn’t cost nearly as much as people often think, and most photographers are willing to negotiate costs when working for a good cause. If you’re investing thousands of pounds in a new website, surely some of that needs to be set aside for great content?

Tusk is an example of building long-term positive relationships with photographers. While we may not all have a cause that lends itself so perfectly to photography as African conservation, it’s still worth researching photographers who are passionate about your area. Although solidarity with your cause is a bonus, I’d caution against asking snappers (or indeed any creative) to do things for free. 

A Greenpeace UK website gallery about the Soya industry

Greenpeace uses bold galleries on most evergreen content

Visual storytelling

While chat networks are leading the growth of social media, some of the fastest-growing social media channels are still Instagram, TikTok, Pinterest and YouTube. Notice a theme? They’re all visual-led – and for good reason.

Those channels can drive traffic to your site, where an engaging gallery complete with informative captions can keep them there. Greenpeace is doing this well across much of its evergreen content.

Studies have shown that humans process images in the blink of an eye, so maybe a picture really is worth a thousand words. As we’re in an attention economy, surely speed has to be a vital measure of success when connecting to audiences. Time to walk away from the keyboard and pick up a camera.

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