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Ran into our old friend George Lee today at Two Chefs. George is a top-shelf photographer, famous for using light to make really pretty things look breathtaking, and making less pretty things (and people) look really good. He is a master craftsman. Running into George started me thinking about the value of a photograph.

Lately, it’s become trendy to save money by using stock photography. In fact, we’ve done it some ourselves. Stock is getting pretty good now days. But a stop-dead-in-your-tracks visual image can be very valuable to a brand.

What would Marlboro be if it weren’t for those panoramic shots of the American West, serving as backdrops for the Marlboro cowboys. It’s not just a Marlboro man, it’s Marlboro country, and to pull it off you need a photograph suitable for National Geographic.

I remember an overhead shot of a bunch of people walking down an urban street with black umbrellas. There was one guy, walking “against the crowd” with a red umbrella. Striking image. You get the idea without even reading the headline. It had copy, but it didn’t need it. Just the Transamerica logo and you’re good to go.

Sometimes we have “provided” photography. Some is good, some is not so good. We have some design and production tricks to hide the flaws. And we can do some serious magic with Photoshop. But when you think about the expense of retouching, a lot of times it’s cheaper just to get a good shot to start with. Even if it’s expensive.

Bottom line is this. If you or I could get the shot with our point-and-shoot digitals, we wouldn’t need guys like George. But we can’t (don’t kid yourself), so we do. And as far as the price goes, they ought to make something relative to what it’s worth to the client to have the right shot. As the Bible says, “the laborer is worthy of his hire.”

Good to see ya, George. Hope you had a nice lunch.

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