Every now and again I’ll be out with my Nikon DSLR at an event or on a photo-walk, and it will spark a conversation. The person I’m speaking with, whether stranger or acquaintance, might inquire about what I like to shoot, the type of camera I own, and the software I use to edit my photos, while expressing their own passion for photography. If it’s an event I’m documenting, I might be asked where the photos will be published and how they can be viewed. Sometimes, however, the conversation leads to the topic of what I “do.” When I say I’m a digital strategist, my carrying a camera and my passion for photography get put into one of two buckets: The first assumes it’s “just” a hobby, the thing I do as a creative outlet; the second views it as a task better left to those who are interested in being professional photographers.
I think both of these misconceptions are missing the bigger picture, pun-intended. The benefits of learning to both appreciate and shoot good photographs in today’s digital age goes beyond the photos themselves. For me specifically, there are three reasons I shoot and appreciate photography.
The First: Taking photos forces me to slow down, pause, raise my head, and pay attention to the things around me. The conversations taking place, the human interactions, the natural and built environment. Photography also provides me with a medium to archive moments and experiences worth remembering. Others, like Kate Arends Peters of Wit & Delight, turn their photographs into an impressive social following and a platform to share thoughts and ideas.
The Second: Shooting pictures sits at the intersection of technology and art. Photos dominate the web for a reason: A picture is, after all, worth a thousand words. As the web gets restructured around people, understanding what makes us react at the emotional level becomes even more important. Sure, I can write a 2,000-word essay describing in great detail the beauty of a trip to Montana, or I can more easily show you through the photos I choose to share, what—in my mind—captured the experience.
Photography can also play an important role in building community around shared interests. Take the Advertising Federation of Minnesota for example, a non-profit for which I volunteer. We use photography to archive (on Facebook) each event we host. Doing so results in engagement and conversations long after the event has passed, thanks to our ability to tag those who attended in the photos we capture.
The third, and in my opinion most interesting benefit: In today’s digital age, each photo taken and shared on the social web provides a great deal of metadata that adds significant context, far beyond what was possible using 33mm film. Each image can now contain information about the location where it was taken, the device used to shoot it, and if published to a social platform, it can be tagged with the people in the photo.
When this information is analyzed in the context of one’s social graph, the insight we as marketers are able to gain becomes extremely valuable. A few examples come to mind: the first is Mother’s and Father’s Day campaigns. Each year when these events occur, many people’s newsfeeds reflect the emotional bond they have with their parents, represented in the form of photos they’ve taken and shared. Utilizing this insight, both P&G and Cheerios were able to create ads that resonated at the emotional level. The second example, Spotify’s “Music Takes Me Back” campaign, is a response to people’s photos of friends and how music is associated with fond memories of shared experiences.
Data aggregated over time can provide detailed information and create opportunities for unearthing actionable insights by observing how people interact with photos on social networks. For example, marketers could create and test two campaigns, reviewing the performance of shares, views, likes, and comments as they relate to stated business objectives. By combining analytics, an understanding of human behavior, and social web interactions, we can piece together insights that inform campaigns and user experiences both on and offline, and help guide business decisions. Photos can play a huge part of this process.
All that to say, as a digital strategist, or whatever role in advertising or marketing, I hope you’ll pick up your camera or phone and do a little experimenting. You might surprise yourself with the outcome.