Stock photography. Is someone else wearing your company’s clothes?
In an interview, I asked photographer & website designer Katie Vandyck how bespoke photos make your business stand out. Also, to detail the pros and cons of using stock photography
Don’t you just hate that awkward moment when you step into a room and realise someone is wearing the same outfit as you?
It’s a similar feeling when you realise another company is using an off the shelf stock image that you use on your website in its marketing.
Picture this. You’re scrolling through your Twitter feed. Suddenly you see your home page. But, hang on a minute. It’s not your home page.
What you are looking at is another company using the image you use on your home page, to market its similar services.
This happened to me recently.
When I had a new website built for me over the summer, I decided to save money by using affordable, high quality off the shelf stock photography.
But I’ve worked with enough graphic designers to know the risk. I knew my images were not exclusive to me.
When I relayed my story to Lewes based photographer and website designer Katie Vandyck, she raised an all-knowing eyebrow.
Learn what Katie thinks are the pros and cons of using stock photography and how to make your website stand out from the crowd.
Tell me a bit about your background
I did a degree at London University in drama and theatre studies. After attempting to get into the theatre and not managing it, I decided to become a photographer instead.
What steps did you take to becoming a photographer?
I started by buying myself a small booklet called Studio Lighting. After devouring its content, I bought myself some studio lighting equipment and taught myself the art of photography. Gradually I built up my business. After about five years I was able to go completely freelance.
How would you describe your style?
Natural and simple. Also, real. I try as much as possible to use natural light. I like to keep things, whatever picture I’m taking down to the very bare minimum.
Do you have a favourite technique that helped you go from “a good photographer” to “a great photographer?”
Practice is vital. Also being hyper-aware of every single element that is in the frame. What’s beside it, behind it, in front of it and so on. It takes practice to look at things in this way and for it to become instinctive. You need to understand light. What it does. And the quality of it.
What makes a good photograph?
One that knows its own identity and makes it clear the message it is delivering. Beautiful light makes or breaks a photograph.
Tell me what the impact of images means to you.
Images communicate emotion. Often you don’t realise what is going on when you engage with them. You have a subliminal part of the brain that works differently to the part that processes words and text. Images work well on websites because they do the explaining and marketing for you, without the reader knowing it is being done.
When did you become interested in web design? And how long has web design been part of your service offering?
About five years ago I decided I wanted to work with design as well as photography. So I speculatively designed a leaflet for a jewellery business I had done photography for in the past. The jeweller was delighted by the leaflet. But she told me what she really needed was a website. So I said OK, I’ll do that. And then I taught myself how to do it.
You build websites using Squarespace. What do you like about it?
Squarespace provides a great visual experience. What’s more, it has a content management system that makes it easy for my customers to keep their content up to date.
You must see some websites that make you flinch. What are the most common design errors you see?
You only have a few seconds to capture and retain a visitor’s attention. So you need to understand your visitor’s needs so that you can plot its journey.
Websites can be entertaining and stimulating. But care should be taken to make sure you don’t make visitors feel restless and anxious.
Problems arise when sites are too complicated and feature too many words. Too much information makes it hard to decipher what a business is about. It also dilutes the message.
Similarly, poorly designed placement of information hinders a site’s ease of use.
And OK, I have to say it, because I’m a photographer, library images of any kind are extremely off-putting to me.
This is because I know lots of different people use library images. To me, they are lazy statements. They don’t make businesses stand out. What’s more, because stock images are taken to serve the many, they often don’t completely fit the products/services a business is trying to communicate.
How can website owners rectify these mistakes?
Well, first off they can employ a good copywriter!
What types of photography benefit websites?
I like to see images that communicate your business’s story and the quality of your products and services. Customers want to know they can trust you to do the very best you can for them.
Websites benefit from headshots, product photos and pictures of the town where your business is located. I recommend using photos taken in the best possible light.
Pictures shot in good light communicate quality. More importantly, they make your message clear.
What about service businesses such as myself? I don’t have pretty product pictures.
I need to understand the theme of your business. Letters or words would work for you. I would immerse you in the sense of writing without using the clichéd pens, fountain pens and cakes typically found on copywriters’ websites.
What do you need to know about a subject or a project before you start photographing?
I need to see a company’s products so I can give some thought about how they might best be displayed. I need to know who is going to be buying the products. I like to talk to the business about the subject, quite a lot.
Do you have any tips for people wanting to take photos to use on their own websites?
Yes. Go online. YouTube is awash with tips on how to take fantastic photos using basic photography techniques. My top tip: get yourself a tripod. So many photographs suffer from blur. You can eliminate blur immediately with a tripod.
Can you share some tips for hiring a website designer?
First of all, it is important to establish your budget. Websites can cost anything between £500 and £5000.
Then you need to understand what you want the website to do for you. A good web designer will ask you plenty of questions to make sure it can help you reach your goals.
Of course, you’ll need to think about the amount of content you require. The use of imagery. And who/how you will put it together.
What would you say to a small business who tells you it cannot justify the cost of hiring a photographer for its website?
I would say that over the period of a year the cost of a photographer is affordable and minimal per month. Remember photos set you apart from other businesses in your market. Especially those that use stock photography. Bespoke photography makes you distinctive.
How do you feel about stock photography?
Your website is your shop window. It provides visitors with the information they need to form a mental picture of your business.
Stock photography does the opposite of painting a picture of you and setting you apart. It stops you from being original.
Today we live in a visual world. Stock photography puts you in a group of people that haven’t given care to their visual messages.
Would you say there is ever a place for stock photography?
I see stock photography useful for lower value pages and blogs. Clearly, it’s not cost-effective to use bespoke photography for every single blog post.
Is there anything else you’d like to say on this topic that I haven’t covered?
Cost is nearly always an issue for small businesses. Websites are small business’s shop window to the world. If you’re going to spend money on your website, you should spend it on your words and photography.
Where can people find you, Katie?
Visit my website at: http://www.100designs.co.uk
Connect with me on: Twitter at @100designs, Facebook at @100designsgraphicdesign/, LinkedIn https://www.linkedin.com/in/katie-vandyck-06484913/
If you would like help writing engaging and persuasive content, then do get in touch. You’ll be surprised at how straightforward writing can grab your audience’s attention.
About Claire Hawes
Claire Hawes is a marketing communications copywriter. She enjoys writing engaging copy that helps businesses to get noticed and attract enquiries. Claire’s experience mainly lies in the business to business sector. Her clients include both businesses and digital marketing agencies.