The Importance of Photography for Online Businesses

online photography
Photo: cc Evil Erin via Flickr

You may not have seen the wonderful picture based blog Terrible Real Estate Agent Photographs, but the site perfectly illustrates how important good photography is, especially when you’re selling something. Web presence these days is important as it gives customers reassurance about your company and gives you the ability to show them more as they browse from the comfort of their own home/smart phone. For retail businesses especially, product images are often the only basis upon which online customers can make their choices.

Your showroom

Whether your website promotes you, your company, your product or service, it still fulfils the same role as a showroom. These display areas still need to have the same elements that are attractive to customers:

  • a good aesthetic (overall appearance)
  • an easy to use service (intuitive and natural flow through the website with plenty of navigation help) and
  • good customer service from staff – in the case of an online business, the ability to give feedback and ask questions.

Eye-catching photography is the one thing that will make your offering stand out over that of the competition

Choosing images

Of course, the design, ease of use and service or product information are all important elements, but your customer really wants to see what they’re buying. The more pictures, the better – but don’t overload or repeat images too much or have irrelevant ‘lifestyle’ shots just to fill in a space. Even if you’re selling a service, the service can be represented by appropriate (even if generic) images of the service provided. Better still, characterize your service with photographs of the staff who will provide it. This adds a personal, approachable and human touch, which is very attractive to customers these days.

Images should be visually illustrative, but shouldn’t mislead the customer. Be honest and real. If you’re a one man band this sets you apart, so sell yourself and your skills through the photography on the website. Just as products shouldn’t be different to the photos online, people don’t like being misled on the people they’re working with. Play up your differences and unique selling points.

Where to find images at little or no cost

All this said, you shouldn’t feel that you must spend a fortune getting a photographer in – there are ways you can ‘furnish’ your website with pictures economically, or even free. If you’re a creative type you can take the photos yourself, borrowing a camera to ensure the best possible clarity and quality. This will certainly work out cheaper than hiring a photographer. You could hire a photography student from a local art college. They always need to supplement their portfolio may be happy to work for lower rates in exchange for getting their name known.

A far cheaper alternative is to get beautiful and professional photography for free through websites such as Wikipedia Creative Commons. The terms of the creative commons license will be very clear and so will guidelines on attribution. Some photos will be restricted to non-profits but many are also available to small businesses. The great thing is that there is such a wealth of choice here that however niche your website, you’re bound to find suitable and, most importantly, relevant images to match it.

Remember, the website is your showroom. Dodgy product images, misrepresentative and redundant ‘lifestyle’ photos are easily picked up by customers and they’ll wonder what you’re hiding. Be honest, be creative, get the most out of your budget and get advice from impartial third parties about your website from the point of view of a new potential customer.


Abbie Walters is currently working with Gift Library, founded by CEO Caroline Stanbury in 2008. Gift Library offers a unique combination of Personal Shopping and fulfilment for high-end luxury gifts.

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