In 2017, a survey from Splashlight revealed that 47% of US online consumers rank high-quality product images as the most influential factor in considering a purchase. In 2019, research from Buffer found that 35.8% of marketers surveyed named images/video as the most important aspect when creating and publishing content. And in 2021, 52% of marketers surveyed by Venngage said visual content was “very important” to their strategy.

The last five years alone have brought with them a dramatic shift in the way we interact with brands online, but images have remained some of the most significant assets in an advertiser’s toolkit. For today’s companies, cultivating and curating the right aesthetic can be fundamental to establishing brand awareness, communicating the right message, and remaining top-of-mind among buyers.

“A brand’s digital presence is a key factor in its success,” Rhiannon Marquez, the Marketing Coordinator at 500px, tells us. “Many of us search for services online, shop online, and engage with social media daily. We learn about brands via the internet, allowing both small and large brands to reach new audiences like never before. A good image intrigues people and drives clicks, bringing your target customer to your page. That is the most important step.”

We asked the team at 500px to tell us about visual communication, marketing in the digital age, and what makes a commercial photo resonate with today’s buyers. Follow these tips to boost the marketability of your Licensing portfolio.

Tip #1: Keep it clean

“I love high-resolution images with intentional empty space and smooth lighting across a clean background,” Jill Li, the Brand Designer at 500px, tells us. Designers tend to look for images with plenty of copy space where they can add their own messaging, so consider your background, and keep it clear of any distracting elements.

As Rhiannon reminds us, minimalistic photography tends to do well in Licensing because it gives the eye room to breathe, breaking through the clutter of today’s advertising landscape. This photograph by Valeria Aksakova, for instance, is among the most popular in the 500px Collection on Getty Images, using clean lines and negative space to catch our attention. For these kinds of minimalism-inspired shoots, a colored seamless background goes a long way.

Tip #2: Play with light and color

Whether you’re using color effect gels or experimenting with Pantone’s color of the year, eye-catching color and lighting can result in images that jump off the screen. “A matter of milliseconds is all you have to grab your viewer’s attention in our image-saturated world,” Rhiannon says. “Therefore, top commercial images will often have a good amount of contrast so that the contents within the frame ‘pop.’”

David J Fulde, for instance, is known for his cinematic lighting; in this portrait, one of the most popular in the 500px Collection on Getty Images, he used a complementary color palette of blues and oranges.

Tip #3: Track the trends…

Incorporating trending topics is a great way to make your portfolio feel more timely, whether you’re tapping into the “cottagecore” aesthetic or capturing everyday life in the age of social media. If you can anticipate cultural moments before they happen, even better. Helena Lopes, for example, was able to capture the “new normal” amid the pandemic by photographing a grocery shopper wearing a mask and social distancing. Her photo remains among the most popular in the 500px Collection on Getty Images.

Tip #4: … and make them your own

Feel free to take these trends and put your own creative stamp on them. “It’s good to stay up-to-date, but ultimately, trends are generated by artists and won’t always be a perfect fit for most companies’ branding,” Jane says. “Trends also change rapidly, and one style can be drastically different from the previous trend. Where Contributors can benefit most is by integrating elements of existing trends to create new and original work. I generally find uplifting, authentic, and arty images work well with a wide range of branding assets.”

Tip #5: Have a clear concept

“Images with the potential to connect to universal themes tend to do well,” the 500px team explains. Going into a shoot, have a clear understanding of the idea driving the session, whether it’s a lifestyle shoot illustrating sustainability at home or a still life session celebrating the colors and flavors of summertime.

Draw up a shot list, and pull some images to create a mood board. The theme of your shoot will often drive your creative choices, from color and lighting to prop and wardrobe selection, so be clear about the story you want to tell. “Creative and original images that find a new way to illustrate a familiar concept or theme are always popular,” the 500px team tells us.

Tip #6: Make it universal

Photographs that feel ambiguous—such as pictures of a tiny person in a vast landscape or a still life with an anonymous hand entering the frame—allow us to “place ourselves in the scene.” The 500px team explains, “When shooting a nature photo with a human figure, for instance, consider having them turn away from the lens to create that universal appeal.”

If you browse the all-time most popular photos from the 500px collection on Getty Images, you’ll notice this motif time and again, from Shutter Chemistry’s picture of a figure in red against an Icelandic waterfall to Sandi Bertoncelj’s shot of a biker navigating the nature trails of Slovenia.

In conclusion

“Overall, images with visual interest, originality, and creativity are intriguing and work well in advertising,” the team at 500px adds. “Communication is also key in the sense that the image effectively conveys its intended meaning and emotion. Finally, the basics of photography all play a role and can be used to create stand-out images, so pay attention to details like lighting, resolution, and color.”

One last tip? Do some research, and follow commercial photographers you admire from the 500px community. See what topics they’re tapping into, and then consider how you can put your own twist on them. Or follow your favorite brands on social media, and take note of the styling they feature across their branded photography.

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