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Tips for visual content marketing best practice

Want to create compelling images that capture attention and provoke action?

If you’re yet to make a start on integrating visual-led content into your marketing program, Nina Christian is here to guide you through her top tips for creating beautifully crafted images that capture attention and provoke action.

For a time, the privilege of capturing an image and broadcasting it to an audience was held exclusively by journalists and professional photographers. Now, the privilege has been extended to every one of the world’s 1.75 billion smartphone users who, with nothing more than a keen eye for detail and access to a social media account, have crafted captivating pieces of visual content that continue to be loved and shared among millions. So, marketers, imagine what your brand’s visual content marketing strategy could look like with a few dollars and a handful of talent behind it.

To get started, let’s take a look at a few facts about our eyes, our brains and how they work with the world around us.

Visuals make for profoundly powerful marketing material and have the potential to move your audience to action. So before you next point and shoot a camera, have a look at this visual content marketing cheat sheet. Whether you’re planning a quick behind-the-scenes snap for social media or an all-out photoshoot promoting your latest product line, it’ll help you to create visual content pieces that simply cannot be ignored.

Mood and lighting

First things first, ask yourself, what are you trying to communicate with this image? How do you want your audience to feel upon first glance? There will be marked differences between, say, unveiling a new product and telling the story of one of your customers. To capture the right mood for your intended message, consider elements like light, colour and space.

For example, if you want to create a sense of drama, be sure to use harsh lighting with an emphasis on shadow, deep, rich and dark colours, and small or confined spaces. On the other hand, if a positively relaxing mood is what you’re after, avoid heavy shadows at all costs. Flood the shot with soft, natural light, and make neutral colours and clean, open spaces your canvas.

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Location and background

When pointing your lens at a product or person, it can be all too easy to forget that you’re capturing not just the subject but everything around it too. Everything. Because the location and, subsequently, the background, of a shot can dramatically influence the overall feel of an image, have a think about:

  • Colours: what are most prominent colours present in your surroundings?
  • Textures and patterns: are you working within a natural or man-made environment? Are there specific surfaces, objects or landscapes you could incorporate into the shot? We’re talking busy wallpaper, brick walls, fireplaces, flower beds, cute furry animals or, if you’re keen to step it up a notch, mountain tops, dense bushland, sand dunes, bodies of water – we could go on for days. Of course, man-made environments – like cushy studios or office spaces – will make for much easier work, but if you plan ahead, you can leverage breathtakingly beautiful (and potentially free) locations to produce an image not unlike those of a glossy, high-end fashion magazine.
  • Finally, how does the subject fit with your chosen surroundings? Do you want it to blend or pop?

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Camera angles: three fundamentals

The level-playing-field angle

If the viewer is positioned on the same level as the subject, a feeling of equality is created. This can prompt the viewer to experience a sense of either comfort or confrontation, depending on the subject.

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The looking-up angle

If the viewer is looking up to the figure in focus, the latter is perceived as more powerful, elusive and important.

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The looking-down angle

If the viewer is looking down on the subject, as if from a bird’s-eye view, a sense of disconnectedness is created – the viewer is simply an observer but is able to explore the subject’s parameters in more detail. This angle can also attach to the subject feelings of desperation or inferiority.

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Movement and direction

How do you want the viewer to work through the image? Are there specific elements you’d like them to consider before others? And in what direction do you want them to explore the space? You can’t control their minds, but there are a few proven ways in which you can direct your viewers’ gaze.

  • Subtly working circles and triangles into the shot will prompt the viewer’s gaze to unconsciously trace these shapes.
  • Arrows can carry the viewer in whatever direction you like.
  • It’s all in the eyes. We’re very social creatures, us humans. When we see a set of eyeballs looking in a particular direction, curiosity tends to take over and we’ll endeavour to find out what it is that’s worth a look.
  • Stairs, steps and ladders undoubtedly lead somewhere. Again, our inner-most curiosities unthinkingly track these types of visual cues.

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Chaos vs space

Think back to your main objectives – what mood are you trying to create?

Chaos is an absolute feast for the eyes. But often, in order for the intended chaos to be communicated effectively, you must instil a little method amid the madness. Include visual cues like arrows and shapes (see above) to guide the eye through the image, and be sure to build bright splashes of colour, catching textures and fetching features into the shot to offer the viewer various entry and exit points.

Space, on the other hand, provides the viewer with the freedom to explore an image at leisure. But a word of warning: by all means, go crazy with warm, natural light and neutral tones but make sure you incorporate eye-catching elements (again, like bright colour splashes and compelling textures) into the shot to ensure the viewer retains interest in the image.

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Out of place

Our eyes are unthinkingly drawn to objects and people presented in ways that go against what is expected and to things that seem entirely out of the ordinary. If you’re looking to seriously compel your audience, include in the shot a common object or, if you’ve the pulling power, a well-known industry player or household personality and mess with convention.

A recent issue of Vanity Fair, for example, featured the American master of portraiture Chuck Close piloting a polaroid camera to capture the raw, blemished and refreshingly human faces of various Hollywood luminaries. The project’s portfolio is utterly captivating if for nothing more than the smile lines, freckles and subtle imperfections exposed on the faces of some of the world’s most sought-after celebrities.

Human touch

There are plenty of ways to add subtle human elements to a shoot without actually hiring the corporeal proficiencies of a real living person. Here are a few tips to make your shoot’s space feel more human:

  • Turn out a chair towards the viewer. It’ll make the space appear more inviting.
  • If it’s an intimate environment you’re trying to present, splay items of clothing out over the space. A haphazardly placed pair of shoes, for example, with one shoe tipped on its side, suggests the owner has run out in a hurry and will return to amend the displacement once they’ve finished being busy and important.
  • Open a book or magazine. This’ll create a feeling of intrigue and provide your audience with a more personal and in-depth understanding of the space and the space’s assumed residents.
  • Fire, ice and steam: a lit candle, a blazing fireplace, a chilled glass of wine or a hot cup of coffee all suggest that there’s a person lingering not too far away from the shot, making the overall feel of the image far more realistic and authentic.
  • Pets, plants and pictures: adding a living element to the shot makes the space appear both homely and inviting.

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Creating a collage in which your subject is surrounded by a rich tapestry of colours, patterns, textures and shapes will transform your image into an piece of art.
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