Photography is one of the most underrated skills to have in a startup. With practically unlimited applications, it should be one of your highest priorities. Many entrepreneurs end up relying on cheap options, or avoiding photography altogether in favor of graphic design.

Obviously, the infrastructure and outlook of your business is important to solidify first, but once you start thinking about the branding, design, and marketing of your business, it’s time to make photography a higher focus.

Photography Applications

You might be wondering why photography is such a big deal to a startup, when the product should be so good it sells itself.

Consider these applications for photos within a startup:

  • Product displays.
    Product marketing is a major point of business development for most startups; if you have something tangible to sell, whether it’s a tech device or a new food product, you’ll need to be able to showcase that product effectively. Otherwise, people may not be able to accurately visualize your product, or understand how it’s meant to be used. Graphic depictions of a product will only take you so far, and a photo with an unflattering angle or misleading depiction could deter people from buying your product altogether. You’ll need photos not only for your onsite product pages, but also for your marketing materials, including your ads and offline channels.
  • Site design and blog content.
    You’ll also need to use photos for your website—especially if you’re hoping to make a strong visual impression with people. Include photos of your product, photos related to your industry expertise, and even photos of your workspace. It is important to give people the right impression and improve the aesthetic sensibilities of your site. You may also wish to use photos in combination with your blog content, giving people a multimedia experience and capturing their full attention.
  • Team photos and personal brands.
    Startups often rely on the charisma and personality of their founding members to generate traction. Accordingly, you’ll need high-quality team photos if you want to increase the personal feel of your brand. These will be used not only for team and bio pages, but also as the first step in developing a personal brand. With a professional headshot, it will be much easier for your leaders and salespeople to get noticed, whether on social media or guest publishing on other sites.
  • Event photos.
    Is your startup throwing a kickoff event in the near future, or do you plan on throwing a client appreciation party? If so, you’ll need a photographer at your event to capture individual moments and, eventually, professionally display them. Event photos will be critically important if you plan on submitting a press release or otherwise highlighting the event’s success.
  • Social media.
    Social media is one of the best ways to drive interest in your site and attract new visitors, but you need to have the right content published regularly. You can write up individual posts or publish links to some of your best blog content, but if you want to stand out on your followers’ news feeds, you’ll need more striking visual content to accomplish it. Good photography can help you attract more followers, and entice more engagements from the followers you already have.

Options for Photography

If you’re ready to integrate more photography into your business, you have several options to do so:

  • Full-time hires.
    If you plan on using photography on a regular basis, you may want to hire a professional photographer full-time. The advantage here is that you’ll have a professional to call on, no matter what, for any and all applications in your future. The downside is the cost; for reference, the median annual salary for a photographer is $62,017. If you aren’t using photography regularly, it may not be worth the investment. Plus, you’ll need to spend time looking for (and vetting) your candidates.
  • Freelancers.
    If you want to build a reliable professional relationship with a photographer, but don’t want to pull the trigger on a full-time hire, you might consider enlisting the help of freelancers. It is a more flexible option with a lower cost. Over time, you’ll likely find one or two candidates whose work excels beyond the others’ capabilities.
  • Staff education.
    Of course, if you want to make use of the full-time employees you already have, you could have one (or more) of them take a photography course to develop their skills. Chances are, at least some of your staff members are already interested in photography. If you offer to pay for a course, or a similar incentive, they would most likely be enthusiastic to add this to their resume. From there, you can call upon them to take photos whenever you need, while still having them working in their original capacity.
  • External agencies.
    If you’re looking for top-tier professional work, and you don’t want to search for a candidate yourself, you could always work with an external agency. A photography studio or design firm will likely have multiple full-time photographers in-house, ready to tackle your photo shoots. You’ll pay a higher price here than you would for a freelancer, but you’ll be assured to have the highest quality work.
  • Stock photos.
    If you’re looking for photos to fulfill a short-term need, and you don’t have the time or resources to do your own photography, you could try using stock photos to fill the gap. Unfortunately, stock photos are unlikely to be uniquely relevant to your application, and there’s a chance that another business is already using them, so think carefully before you go with this option.

If you choose to go with a full-time hire, or another option that makes you and your team responsible for taking photos, you’ll also need to invest in equipment to take better photos. Entry-level cameras will give you a good starting point for just a few hundred dollars, and accessories, including a tripod, an external flash, a cleaning kit, spare memory cards, and a bag to carry everything on location.

The Cost of Bad Photography.

You might be thinking that your startup can get away with not investing in quality photography, or that you don’t need photos to market a great startup. It’s true that there are companies that have found success without photos. But the vast majority of startups require at least some photography, and if that photography is bad, it could seriously cost you.

A bad photo can:

  • Fail to stand out.
    If you rely on bad stock photos or take the same types of photos that everyone else is taking, you’re going to look the same as every other startup out there. You don’t have to reinvent the art of photography, but you should be able to offer a unique perspective that other photographers may not.
  • Make your product look confusing.
    If your photos show your product at a bad angle, or mislead consumers on its intended application, you could run into several problems. For starters, consumers may be less likely to make a purchase. Even if they do make a purchase, they may not know how to use the product effectively, and may be disappointed with it.
  • Interfere with usability.
    Bad photos can ruin a site’s design. For example, if you mismatch the colors of a background photograph with overlaid text, your site won’t be readable, and may be hard on the eyes. If you’re using photography in the context of a blog post, you might also struggle to get your main points across.
  • Make a poor first impression.
    First impressions matter. If a consumer has never encountered your brand before and sees a bad photo, they may never get the opportunity to learn what your brand is truly capable of. Conversely, an impressive, captivating photo could entice even the most stubborn user to find out more about your brand.
  • Damage your reputation.
    Finally, bad photography could ruin an otherwise solid reputation. If your marketing materials showcase a bad photo of your product, people may think you don’t invest in your assets, or that you don’t care about quality. Even if your product looks interesting, if the brand behind it looks careless, people won’t make the purchase.

Development and Improvement.

If you’re learning photography internally, you’ll need experience to get better over time. If you’re working with a network of contractors and/or agencies, you may need to shop around before you find the best partner. Either way, perfect photography probably won’t come immediately. Be sure to recognize this, and invest in your company photography to make improvements over time.

Ultimately, no matter what kind of business you’re running, photography will be either a tool to expedite your success, or a weakness that could increase your chances of failure. This is a skill you can’t afford to neglect, with practically unlimited applications throughout your business.