How often do you hear (or say) the old adage that “a picture is worth a thousand words”?
Do you believe it to be true, false, or somewhere in between?
Alongside this notion, we also have the widespread idea that professional photography somehow sells itself (for example, in wedding photography, or the difficult arena of selling fine art photography online).
As photographers, it’s easy (and tempting) to imagine potential customers falling in love with your work at first sight.
It’s a romantic idea, born from our strong belief in the power of the photographic image to capture, convey, or elicit emotion to the extent that our photographs will easily inspire someone enough to hire us or buy our work.
But is this power we wield with the camera real, or imagined?
Judging from the vast number of photography websites I see where words resemble an endangered species, it appears most photographers do buy into the idea.
Personally, I believe the answer lies somewhere in the dark murky zone between real and imagined.
It’s not The Twilight Zone, but it’s close.
Grab a flashlight, and let’s go see what we can find…
A Picture Is Worth A Thousand Words, Or Is It?
If a picture is worth a thousand words, do your clients know what they are? Discover how to create pictures in words to improve your photography marketing...
A Picture Is Worth A Thousand Words (An Experiment)
Using the power of words to describe a picture in all its detail, whether seen or unseen, is something many photographers shy away from.
There’s no point in denying it.
You’re a visual artist, not a writer, and you secretly cling to the belief that your photographs have the awesome power to entrance, enchant, and enrapture potential prospects without you having to say a word.
But it doesn’t quite work out, does it?
The phone’s not ringing as much as you’d like, and it’s getting harder to find more clients.
Maybe, just maybe, words can help you climb out of this slump?
How about we try an experiment to measure the power of words?
I mean, who doesn’t love a fun experiment, especially when it involves loud noises?
I know I do, and here’s an exciting one you can try out for yourself at home.
Like any experiment worth doing, I guarantee there will be explosions, and you may even feel quite a bit of heat.
Although, it probably won’t be the flash-bang kind of explosions or the heat of some fiery chemical reaction, but more like the “why did you go and do that!” type of explosive heat directed straight at you from other family members.
Okay, here’s what I want you to do.
The Power Of Words
Imagine this scene with me…
It’s Saturday night, and you’re sitting comfortably with the rest of the family, waiting with bated breath for the latest episode of Doctor Who to start.
The heady scent of freshly-popped corn fills the air.
Where will the TARDIS end up this week?
Will there be Daleks? Maybe Cybermen? Or some previously unknown monster at whom the Doctor can point the business end of his sonic screwdriver?
Will the mysteries from last week’s episode be revealed?
By the way, if you don’t watch Doctor Who, shame on you, but I won’t hold it against you, and I suppose any episode of your family’s favorite TV show will do in a pinch.
The show starts, and everyone’s eyes are glued to the screen because the adventure is about to begin.
Which is the precise moment you strike—by turning off the sound.
That’s right, go ahead and hit the “mute” button on the remote, and then wait half a second.
At first, you might observe a general state of puzzlement and confusion on the faces around the room, fingers full of popcorn suspended in mid-air, halfway from the bowl.
Is there something wrong with the TV? Is it those people at the cable company again? Did the BBC mess something up? What’s going on? Why is there no sound?
The room fills with panic because this is, after all, Doctor Who, and no one (I mean no one) is allowed to mess with the good Doctor?
Within seconds, the attention turns to you.
You may as well have morphed into a Cyberman, judging from the looks you’re getting from around the room right about now.
“Turn it back on!”
“We can’t understand what’s happening!”
“How are we supposed to know what’s going on when there’s no sound?”
And then it hits you.
Suddenly, you forget all about the plight of The Doctor and his faithful companions as they face certain death at the hands of the Daleks. Actually, that’s not strictly correct is it, since the Daleks have no hands to speak of, but still.
Finally, you understand.
You get it.
If a picture is worth a thousand words, there are 24,000 of them emanating silently from your TV screen every second! Yet, few of them mean anything at all without the benefit of the actual words spoken by Peter Capaldi (or your other favorite incarnation of the Doctor) and the other actors.
You can see the pictures, flashing by at 24 frames per second, but the meaning is drastically compromised without the words spoken by the characters as they run silently around on the screen before you, their mouths opening and closing like drowning goldfish.
It’s probably time to restore the sound to quell the screams of protest bouncing from the walls of your own living room, and your thoughts turn to the other big love in your life.
The big passion you feed every day, one small click at a time.
Your beloved cameras, favorite lenses, and your photography business…
The realization dawns that words might be at least as important as the pictures themselves for complete understanding of the story.
Consequently, as a professional photographer, maybe your potential clients can benefit from discovering the real stories behind your photographs.
A Photo Is (Not) Worth A Thousand Words
So, can we agree that a picture is worth a thousand words?
No question about it.
In fact, a mere thousand sounds too cheap, and I would suggest a great photograph is worth way more than a thousand words, wouldn’t you?
In those momentous occasions of our lives, in the great stories of our existence, a thousand words barely constitutes more than a brief chapter.
Surely, such moments are worth much more than a thousand words?
Photographs are, in essence, untold secrets trapped in the blink of an eye.
And it’s up to us to reveal those secrets, to relate them in words to the people we want to connect with on their journey to becoming clients.
For example, check out the articles in my new section on the story behind the photograph.
Unless we make an effort to tell the stories, our photographs lose so much of their meaning, and they become little more than gagged, muted, versions of themselves—indistinct shadows of the real story or message we’re trying to convey.
A photograph, presented on its own without a textual frame of reference, becomes vulnerable to incorrectly-assigned meaning, misinterpreted, taken out of context, or simply overlooked as yet another “pretty photo”.
Worse still, people viewing your images without the supporting stories are prone to fixate on elements that have no real importance, such as the color of a wedding dress, someone’s hat, a face they know from somewhere else, the subject’s choice of shoes, or (heaven forbid) an unintended flaw in the image.
And then there’s the issue of your viewers not having been with you when you created the photo to begin with.
You Had To Be There
Have you ever told a joke that totally bombed and fell flat?
I know I have—more than I would like, it seems.
And then someone tries to fill the awkward silence and make you feel better with the immortal words, “I guess you had to be there…”
Your photographs are not jokes (at least I hope not), but do you want people to look at them, fail to get the story, and then inwardly shrug with the feeling that, “I guess you had to be there…”?
Sadly, this happens all the time without us realizing it.
Every time you show a photograph on your website, or in a blog post, without the story, you’re forgetting that your prospects don’t enjoy the same perspective you do.
You were there—you captured the photograph at precisely the moment you intended—but the person looking at the resulting image wasn’t there with you, at your side, or in your mind, looking through your eyes.
They have only a limited idea of what was actually going on, but they can’t read your mind, so you have to tell them.
It’s long been understood that a photograph is some form of communion between the photographer, the subject, and the viewer. But, with no story to back it up, we make the terrible mistake of denying the viewer the same information we had at the time we created the image.
Now imagine what would happen if you could make your prospects feel the same way you did when you created the photograph?
What if they felt as if they were right there with you?
Storytelling Marketing Requires Actual Stories
Despite the obvious avoidance of text in their marketing, professional photographers continuously pride themselves on being good at storytelling marketing.
However, all they do is rely on the visual elements of the stories, at the expense of the words needed to make those stories come alive.
Why is this such a problem?
It has to do with what you want to achieve with your marketing.
For the vast majority of professional photographers, the end goal of marketing should be all about effective lead-generation.
But leads don’t magically appear from nowhere—you have to take people who may never have encountered you or your photography before, and help them get to know, like, and trust you enough for them to want to become a lead.
Storytelling marketing is a BIG part of the connection phase of your lead-generation plan.
Stories have been the glue that connects tribes and societies for centuries, and sharing a story on your website today is not much different than sitting around a campfire after a hard day of spear-throwing in the jungle.
The words, and the emotions those words create, fuel the inspiration people need to feel closer to you.
The idea that you can tell stories through photographs alone, or that a photo is worth a thousand words sounds great in theory, but it doesn’t work in practice, so we repeatedly discover that our photographs don’t sell themselves.
It’s time to stop blaming the customer for failing to grasp the stories you’re trying to tell with your photos.
Instead, share your own sources of inspiration and your unique perspective on the scene they’re looking at.
Doing so will make you seem more real and genuine to the people who will most value what you do.
Want to know how to do that?
Obviously, there is no strict formula, and no specific right or wrong way, but here are some tips to get you started on the path.
How To Create A Picture With Words
Regardless of how talented you are as a photographer, you can vastly improve your marketing by learning how to create a picture with words as well as you can with pixels.
There’s an awful lot we could cover here, but I want to focus on the top 7 tips that will help you the most.
If you want to avoid falling into the trap of creating yet another formulaic blog post where the only thing you feel you have to say is how fun it was, or how everyone had a great time, then these 7 ideas will transform the way you write for your website.
#1: What Was The Inspiration?
Every professional photograph is taken for a reason.
Unless you’re running around snapping photos at random, something about the scene you captured with your camera first captured you and your imagination.
What was the spark of inspiration that ignited the burning desire to frame the image the way you did, choose just the right aperture, ISO, and shutter speed, and then press the shutter release to create the photograph?
It may be hard to pin down at first, and you may have to think about it, but connecting with the inspiration behind your work, and then sharing it with others is a wonderful way to allow people to start seeing your images the same way you did.
#2: Where And When Does The Story Take Place?
Although a photograph is but a single frozen moment, a memory captured in the blink of an eye, that moment took place in the context of a location, date, and time.
It’s not always immediately obvious to the viewer where a photograph was taken, or when.
This is where you can set the scene, and give your reader a fixed point of reference they can use to insert themselves into the story you’re telling.
By knowing the simple facts of where, at what time, and in which season, the reader may also be able to extrapolate and infer new details pertinent to the story or make it feel more real in their own mind.
#3: What Happened Before And After The Photo?
Because a photograph is like a fly trapped in amber, a preserved moment, how will anyone else know what happened before you took the photograph, or afterwards for that matter?
Many times, an image would not exist at all were it not for the events leading up to it, but only you know what those events were.
The story of your photograph is not only about the image itself, but the ongoing narrative from which it was extracted.
Helping your readers to understand this level of perspective will bring them closer to empathizing with you, the photographer, and the photograph itself.
#4: What’s Happening Outside The Frame?
When you look through your viewfinder, what do you see?
Depending on the focal length of your lens, you see only a part of the world in front of you, right?
Since you were there at the time, you also have the benefit of knowing what was going on outside the frame of your photograph – the peripheral action, as it were.
But that information is lost to the viewer, as if the frame is the hard edge of the world, beyond which nothing else exists.
Your job, as the storyteller of your photograph, is to shine a light on the world beyond the frame, to help bring your image to life as part of a bigger picture.
#5: Evoke An Emotional Response
I’m sure you don’t create your photographs for them to have zero effect on other people.
It doesn’t matter which type of photography you do, your best work will always evoke some kind of emotion in the people who view it, some more than others, of course.
But the emotional response is still there.
However, it’s not always going to jump right off the photograph and into the viewer’s mind with the full force it could have if you combined the image with the right words.
I’m not suggesting you have to go overboard, but sprinkling the right amount of emotionally-charged words throughout your story can work wonders.
#6: Infuse Your Copy With Your Voice, Personality And Drama
Every good storyteller understands the importance of keeping it real by infusing their voice and personality into the story.
For example, a guitar is only an artistic arrangement of wood, metal, and strings… until a gifted musician picks it up and adds their voice, personality and drams.
Or, how about Stephen King? Love him or hate him, the King of horror has an uncanny way of making readers feel as if he’s sitting right there with them as he weaves his strange tales.
Now, no one expects you to write like Stephen King or Hemmingway, but I recommend you relax, forget about trying to be clever, stop worrying about whether or not it’s good (whatever that means), and let your personality and voice carry the story along.
Doing so will allow your readers to truly get to know you and like you, which in turn leads to trust.
And don’t forget the drama – no story is complete without some sense of drama or unfolding events.
#7: Invoke All The Senses
Writing isn’t only about the sense of sight, or the physical action of someone using their eyes to read your words.
As we read, mental images pop into our heads with every passing sentence as our brains work to flesh out the world being painted by the words in front of us.
This means we should make use of all five senses—sights, sounds, touch, taste, and smell.
For example, pay attention to what your mind does with this brief passage:
The sand threatened to burn any foot that dared to walk upon it, yet it was also the only path to the cooling waves breaking with that alluring “whoosh” on the shoreline mere yards ahead. Seabirds wheeled overhead in the blue sky, their cries daring you to make the attempt. As you take a deep breath, the unmistakable odor of sunscreen fills your nostrils, carried on the slight breeze. It’s no good, the lure of the waves is too strong, so you brace your body against the temporary pain that must surely come, and make a final dash for the beautiful relief of the cold ocean waters…
Could you empathize with the pain of walking on hot sand to get to the water?
Even though I didn’t describe the exact beach, I bet your mind filled in a lot of the details from your own personal experiences.
Now imagine someone reading that alongside this photograph of the scene. How does it change your perspective of what you just read?
If you could communicate the right story, do you think it would be enough to draw your prospects closer to how you feel as a creative photographer?
Perhaps it’s time for you to have a go yourself—I know you can do it.
While you think about what I’ve said today, I’m off to catch up on the latest Doctor Who adventure, to find out what the Daleks have up their sleeves this week (dang it, I did it again, Daleks don’t wear shirts).
But, sleeves or no sleeves, one thing is certain.
I will have the sound turned on 🙂