Last week we kicked off our series on photography, and it wouldn’t be fair if we didn’t get straight down to business and tackle the elephant in the room… er, the crap-tastic photo mistakes that are ruining otherwise perfectly fantabulous branding and websites, and making awesome entrepreneurs look like amateurs in their industry.

As a brand specialist and someone who has had to work with and around some of the most unfortunate photos you could imagine-and try to make them work for my clients-I know all too well what can kill a website when it comes to photography, and I want to help you avoid them at all costs! We’ve all seen them, and cringed; and the truth is, no matter how much tinkering, editing, how many text overlays and text boxes you use, bad photos are bad news. By knowing the most common mistakes to avoid, I’m giving you a clear place from which to start, and a place from which to improve.  So without further delay, here we go:

Getting your friend to take your website photos is doing you no favours
Listen, you’ve heard it a million times, and that’s because it’s the biggest mistake just about everyone makes when it comes to photography. Unless your friend is a professional photographer, please, PLEASE get someone else to take your photos. Your professional image is serious business, and it’s something that deserves to be treated that way. 

What often happens when you call in a friend who has a cool camera to take your photos is that you get stuck with photos that aren’t composed properly, the lighting is off, and most often, the focus is off.  What I see happening most often when a client gets a friend to take some website photos for them is that they come back with a hundred or so photos, and only a handful are what you would consider good – as in, eyes are open, subject is engaged, and yes, in focus.  Of that handful, I’m usually lucky to get two or three that can be used. Unfortunately, what most often happens in this case is that we get stuck with the ‘best of a bad lot’ to use, but they’re often not the photos that we want to use. We end up using them because they’re, well… usable, but they’re not the photos that fit the message or context, and make your site look discombobulated.

Stay away from photos with bad crops, horrible lighting, and those that are out of focus
If a photo needs Photoshop life support to make it usable, you should leave it off your website.  The truth is that no amount of Photoshop intervention will save terrible photos and make them look polished enough for your website.  You have to understand that today, websites are viewed on devices small enough to fit in the palm of your hand, and as large as a big screen TV. It’s important that your photos look great on both, so steer clear of those that look sort of okay if you squint and tilt your head. 

Same goes for super-tight photos. Sure, you want a nice tight headshot if you’re looking for a portrait to frame for your mantle, but in most cases, when you’re looking for photos to use on your website, you’re going to need photos that leave lots of space to work with, to include text, or to fit into a horizontal space.  If your photos are too tight, your designer will likely end up having to Photoshop space around the photo to make them usable, which can get pricey, and can look bad if you don’t give them much to work with.

If you insist on doing your own photos, then go and re-shoot until you get something great! You only have your time to lose, so you can go back and re-shoot as often as you need to.  But if you’re doing this, consider the value of your time. It might be cheaper in the end to just hire a pro and get it right the first time.

Out of context photos and settings are confusing your customers
I get that you want to tell your clients that you can help them break free from the 9-to-5 grind, but the photos your friend took of you in the park looking like you’re on a high school picnic isn’t the best way to give me the confidence that you know what you’re talking about. Especially if the photos are out of focus, and under-exposed. Same thing for the relationship coach who offers gentle counseling for the heart-centered individual – photos of you set in front of a brick wall or wall of graffiti is probably not going to give your ideal customer the warm and fuzzies.

Put a little thought into the image you’re trying to portray, and consider the best settings to capture them.  If you can’t afford to invest in a great pro photographer for your first time around, spending some quality time thinking about the context and having a clear, simple idea of how you can tie your photos in to your products or services can make a huge difference in your photos. 

This goes for things like the photos of brick walls, cheezy smiles and the famous finger pointing that are making you look silly, and your site look tacky
A few years ago, when this concept was new, it was actually pretty neat. But then everyone and their BFF started doing it – in all settings, all lighting, and all their messy glory.  Fortunately, it’s going the way of the dodo bird, except in DIY circles… Here’s the thing: when this is done with a theme in mind, or a specific application, used sparingly, it can work.  When it’s done wrong (Read: with bad lighting, wonky angles, etc) it can be a hot mess, and it makes your website look cheap and TACKY. Ask yourself why you want photos in front of a brick wall, and if the only answer is because Marie Forleo did it, then you should probably look for another setting. Not because Marie isn’t awesome, but because you’re awesome, too, and you’re a leader, not a follower. If you want to do something like this, put some thought and planning in to it. Shoot the photos straight-on, and do it on a day that isn’t too sunny, or even better – when it’s overcast. That way you won’t be squinting, or have crazy shadows all over the photos that will ruin the finished product.

Similarly, if you don’t work in the sleep, sex/relationships or home decor/staging industries, get out of your bedroom
Sure you have a gorgeous bedroom. It’s your sanctuary, you have stunning bedding, a gorgeous chandelier, and it’s your where you do all of your best thinking. That’s all well and good, but let’s be honest, it has NOTHING to do with your business, and it sends all kinds of mixed messages. If you’re stuck for a setting for your photos, and your bedroom is the only great space you have readily available to you, look outside of your own surroundings and see if you have friends or family who have a great space that’s more suitable.  If that search comes up empty, consider renting a space.  You’d be surprised how many real estate developers have stunning show homes that you can rent for an hour and capture some great photos with fantastic lighting, beautiful furnishings, and a slightly more appropriate setting than your bedroom.  If you MUST use your bedroom, get rid of the bed, and stage a great couch, desk or seating area. Trust me, the finished photos will be totally worth the effort!

Using your personal photos to sell your business
Let’s be honest, very few of us actually enjoy getting our picture taken. We’re much too critical of ourselves, and we’d always rather wait until we lose 10 pounds and grow our hair out. It’s much easier to pull a great photo of yourself that you love from your 35th birthday party, your wedding or your engagement photos, but they really aren’t the best photos to use as main focal points on your website.

It’s perfectly fine to include older, personal, or unrelated photos of yourself on your website – actually, it can be useful if you’re looking to connect with readers and tell your backstory, but they should be used to compliment your message, and tie in to your site’s look and feel.

Sure, the last time you invested in a great photographer, and professional hair and make-up was your wedding day, and you look AMAZING, but filling your health coaching business website with your wedding photos will only serve to confuse your visitors. Save the personal pics for Facebook, and pick something more professional for your website.

Not considering your branding when it comes to your photos
Not considering your branding when planning photos for your website can leave you with photos that stick out on your website, and clash with everything else on the page. By simply taking your branding into consideration when you’re planning your website photos, you can deliver a clean, subtly striking design that incorporates your branding, and makes everything look tight.

It’s not quite as simple as throwing on a statement necklace in your logo colour and leaving the rest to design; but it is as easy as thinking through your wardrobe and choosing colours and textures that compliment or tie in to your brand visuals, or choosing a setting that ties in some of the tones or hues that compliment your branding colours.  If the tones in your photos are consistent with your branding, at the very least, you’ve got something that looks like it belongs. 


As with most things, the key to avoiding obvious mistakes is thought and planning.  If you’re planning your website design or looking at giving it a facelift, sit down with your designer and look at the big picture, and come up with a simple plan to make the most of your photos. The end result will be worth it!

Coming up on Wednesday, my go-to photo pro, Amy Donovan has a great post full of tips on how to work with your photographer to get the most from your photoshoot, and then on Friday, we’re rounding out Photography Week with some fantastic tips on planning your photoshoot for your brand, complete with a checklist of must-have photos. You won’t want to miss it!



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