The Importance of Images

We are bombarded with messages, all day every day.

Your social media feed, the notifications from your social media feed, emails, newspapers, signs in shop windows – it seems like the whole world is trying to catch your attention.

The best way to catch someone’s attention is with an image.

They jump out from the sea of words and make you pay attention – even if just for a split second.

That’s all they need – if you’re the right audience, that split second is long enough to grab your interest and make you want to read the words that go with the message.

‘A Picture Paints A Thousand Words’

The right image can immediately convey what you want to say, or how you want someone to feel – so much faster than words can express it.

It’s said ‘a picture paints a thousand words’ – it’s true. And it does that pretty much instantly.

Take a look at this image…

…can you feel the sunshine, smell the sea, hear the seagulls? Do you feel relaxed? Does it feel like being on holiday? Look at the windows, even – are you in a cute little fishermans cottage with simple, comfy furniture and a wood-burning stove?

Do you think you’d have got that impression, that strongly and quickly, from just reading about that as a description?

So the image catches your attention and gives you an impression of the message in about two seconds. That’s a very effective form of communication!

Repetition, Repetition, Repetition…

You may have heard me say before that people need to see and hear your message up to 7 times before it really sticks in their head. 3 at a minimum.

All that ‘bombarded with messages’ and ‘everyone’s trying to catch you attention’ stuff above? You need to stand out from all that noise.

If you use the same image each time you put that message out, that repetition creates familiarity.

With that familiarity, your brain goes “oh yes, that weird ‘mannequins in the pond photo’, this post must be about Clair’s thing about The Importance of Images”.

And that use of repetition means the familiarity still holds firm when the message is shown in different places – eg Facebook, LinkedIn, in an email, in a blog article.

Tip Time!

OK, here’s a quick tip to get the most out of your images.

Use Canva to size the images for each place you’re using them – yes, there’s different sizes and proportions for Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, etc.

Make the image look ‘right’ as soon as someone sees it, and their brain can instantly get on with thinking about what the image represents, rather than spending the first half-second thinking ‘why is a bit of that cut off, why does it look weird, what’s supposed to be the whole of this image?’.

If they start off thinking that, they’re immediately not starting off thinking of you in the best possible light that they could. Their brain has to start off working out what the image is all about, rather than immediately understanding the image and taking on board your message.

It’s only a little thing, but it makes a difference.

Know When To Go Pro

Another thing that makes quite a difference is where you get your pictures from.

The absolute ideal is that you commission a professional photographer or maybe take them yourself (if you’re any good!).

This means that your pictures will be completely unique to you, and you have total freedom to use them howewer you wish.

Obviously the professional photographer is going to be quite expensive, so you probably just keep that for your personal profile picture and any other things that are particularly prominent (eg your website homepage, an advert in a high-profile magazine).

If you want to do your own but you’re not naturally a great photographer, then take a class or something to improve – if you’re not that confident, please DON’T take them yourself.

If you send a graphic designer a bad photo they’ll probably have to spend ages in Photoshop making it as good as they can (which they’ll charge you for!) or the photo will really stand out in a well-designed piece of work – and I don’t mean ‘stand out’ in a good way…

The only time it doesn’t really matter is the odd selfie or a photo out on a dog walk for a ‘behind the scenes’ social media post.

What NOT To Do

The other option that most people tend to go for is to get their images from the internet.

This is absolutely fine, but you do have to be careful.

This is probably the most important thing I’m going to say today

DO NOT, and I mean absolutely DO NOT do a Google search and just save off an image you like the look of. DO NOT DO THAT.

Just because a photo exists on the internet does not mean that you can use it.

If you see an image you like but you think ‘oh no, there’s writing across it’, that writing is called a watermark.

Like this version of the image above!

The watermark is to stop you from using the image unless you’ve paid for it. When you pay for it, you get sent a version without writing across it.

Someone has taken their time to create that image, and they deserve to get paid for it.

Say It With Me – ‘royalty-free stock images’

What you want are licensed stock images.

Do a Google search for ‘royalty-free stock photo library’, then within the library search for the image you want.

Stock photos are ones that photographers take and sell to libraries, for the libraries to sell on to us. (Graphic designers also create images for photo libraries, so I guess we should call them ‘image libraries’.)

Sometimes the libraries don’t charge a fee for the images, because those libraries don’t offer a fee to the photographers or designers.

Note: ‘royalty-free’ doesn’t mean the image is free – it means you only pay once, upfront, for using the image as much as you like within the terms of the licence. Think of ‘royalties’ like musicians being paid royalties for their songs being played in shops – fees paid for something on a per-use basis.

Depending on the library you’re looking in, there may or may not be a cost for using an image.

The most popular paid image libraries are Shutterstock and iStock (expect to pay about £5-6 per image), and my favourite free image libraries are Pixabay, Unsplash and Pexels. You’ll find lots of the same photos across all of the free libraries.

Also, Canva (which I mentioned earlier) has its own image library, and the paid version of Canva includes more photos/designs/elements than the free one.

Tip Two! Do make sure and check the licence before you download an image from a stock library, and make sure you are allowed to use it for the purpose you want it for. Some are not for commercial use (only editorial, eg in magazines and newspapers), some cannot be altered (eg cropped, flipped).

One final thing to be careful of with stock images is that lots of people are likely to be using the same ones.

When you do a search in a stock library, the results are often shown ‘most popular first’ – that means the ones that are already out there a lot!

If you’re looking for an image to illustrate a particular message and be shown a lot across all your social media etc, you want something that isn’t already over-used.

So search back through the results a bit, maybe change your search terms to get something a bit different. It doesn’t have to EXACTLY ‘translate’ the words in your message, the most important thing is to catch the eye and to represent your message appropriately.

To find the right thing you might have to splash out a few quid for a paid image – if it’s for an ongoing important campaign, that’s money well spent.

Phew! That’s a lot to take in!

To summarise:
1) Find the right image to sum up what you’re trying to say. Take more time carefully choosing something for a billboard ad than for a social media post.
2) Use the same image everywhere you’re talking about that same message.
3) Choose your image from a royalty-free stock photo library, and pay for it if you have to. Or take your own photos, or commission a photographer.

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