Last month we got deep into the concept of lead generation and how it relates to marketing and sales. (If you missed it, you can check out the post here.) At the end of the post, I said that this month we’d be discussing the lead nurturing stage of the sales process, and how marketing can help with that. However, since I wrote that post, I realized that I never tied in how photography impacts lead generation. So, this month’s post is dedicated to photography in the context of lead generation – i.e. attracting new prospects and customers.

Lead Generation = Attracting New Potential Business

We already addressed that the purpose of lead generation is to get new prospective customers. Some of the ways that we do this are through traditional media, such as print advertising or marketing collateral, on TV, on the radio or in displays, like billboards; in new media, such as social media advertising, SEO/Websites, sponsorships and product placement; and even in PR/news/media coverage. There are so many ways to “get your name out there” and build a brand following. So, in this post I’ll address the do’s and don’ts of photography in the context of a few of these areas – and more importantly – why it matters.

What’s in a photo?!

Before we jump into each area, I want to explore what “quality” photography is, in general… and what “acceptable” photography looks like. I’ve already posted before about some of the value of “quality” photography for businesses, branding and in particular, for restaurants. I’ve hinted at what makes a “good” photo and what the value of that is, but I want to dig a little deeper, and put it in the context of “lead gen”.

So… firstly, what exactly makes a “good” photo?

Well, surely their are legions of writings on this particular topic. Everyone that thinks about photography has opinions on this, and on what separates “good” from “outstanding” or “great.”
In this context though, the first thing that really needs to be addressed for local businesses, particularly with the increase in the use of cell phone photos and social media for business purposes, is the technical quality of images – and no, I am not only talking about “resolution.” I’m talking about the basic technical qualities that make a photograph “acceptable” – exposure and focus/sharpness – versus “great” or “amazing” – lighting, composition, subject and timing.
The sheer quantity of photos that don’t meet the basic technical standards of photography and which (somehow) make it onto official business channels honestly baffles me. I realize, I might be biased, however, every image that comes up in relation to your business – at least the ones you can control – ought to be the best it can be, otherwise you risk devaluing your reputation and turning people away, as opposed to attracting them and making an emotional connection.

Move beyond the compulsion…

Listen, I know how it feels… I have also felt the compulsion to post images. I really get it, how hard it can be to stop mid-post. But hear me, while I know it only takes a fraction of a second to decide to post an image, it also only takes a fraction of a second to either gain someone’s intrigue, respect and trust – or to turn them away.
Think about it… why are you doing lead generation activities in the first place?
That’s why, if you’re hoping to influence how people perceive you/your brand, it’s absolutely essential to stop to think (about the technical aspects of the photo you want to post, and what impact that could have if you do go for it) before you post it.
Will these posts serve you?
That being said, the absolute first things to think about when determining whether a photo is “good” (or at a minimum, acceptable for posting) are the basic technical aspects of exposure, focus and sharpness. Now, I’m really taking it back to basics, here, because perhaps what seems obvious to me, is not as obvious when you’re in the moment and you feel the compulsion to post a photo. (Remember, I have felt it too.)

1. Exposure

In case you don’t know, exposure is related to the brightness and darkness of the photo. A properly exposed photo has the “right” brightness and darkness, so you can see details in both the light and dark areas of the photo. (For a basic understanding of the controls that affect exposure – YES, even on a cell phone camera – check out this guide.)
Exposure is really the first test to consider when determining to post or not.
You can ask yourself:

  • Can I see details in the dark areas of this photo?
  • Can I see details in the bright areas of this photo, or is it totally white?
  • Is this photo supposed to be a silhouette or do the details in the dark areas matter for this photo?
  • Do the important areas look “right” – in terms of the amount of detail, the brightness and the contrast?

So, for example, whether you’re taking a photo in a dark area, such as of a dish inside of a restaurant kitchen or dining room, or in the opposite conditions, such as of a group of people on the patio of the restaurant under the bright sunlight at noon, exposure on a cell phone camera is going to be a problem. Period.
In the former circumstance, the photo will likely be too dark, which may cause the built in flash to pop, overexposing the foreground and underexposing the background (not to mention, making your subject look flat and unflattering). If the flash doesn’t go off, the image will likely become blurry from motion (either the camera shaking or the subject moving). In the latter situation, under the sun, the photo will likely have areas that are “blown out” (were you lose detail in the bright areas, such as a white dress) and too dark (where you are losing too much detail in the dark areas, such as under a tent or trees or a brunette’s hair), and people’s eyes will be all dark from shadows.
(It’s not your fault, it’s just the science of it… but a professional will know how to deal with these scenarios that cell phones just can’t handle.)

Why are poorly-exposed images problematic for businesses?

From a photographer’s point of view, and all “artistic”/stylized photos and silhouettes aside, none of these photos qualify as “acceptable,” and none should be used in connection to your professional life/business. Why? Because the images are not going to portray the subject well. And that will reflect upon you.
These images are going to look amateurish, giving people the impression that you don’t pay attention to details or care about how your brand is perceived. These pictures are unlikely to instill confidence or create desire in your prospects. I reiterate, photos that are not “properly” exposed will not inspire people to follow you or learn more about you. And that’s the whole point of lead generation, right?

The power of well-exposed images: Trust, Confidence, Interest

On the flip side, well-exposed photos have the “right” amount of detail in bright and shadow areas. You can see what the subject is and appreciate the details – like texture – and, because of that, people will be more inclined to look at the image longer, staying interested and leading them to look at more images or go further into your marketing funnels.

How do you want them to feel?

For example, a photo of a juicy burger where you can see the shine of the moistness on the meat, versus a dark images of the same burger, where you can’t see the details of the beef – so it looks like a dark, blurry blob between burnt orange buns.
Think about it – why are you using the picture in the first place? If it’s to attract people, how do you want them to feel when they see that burger? Hungry or disgusted?
Which photo makes you feel hungrier: this one or this one?
(FYI – both are in use by a local burger restaurant – the former on their Facebook and the latter on their website.)

2. Focus, Sharpness and Blur

It’s amazes me, the quantity of blurry photos that I see in local ads, and on social media and official business websites – whether they are blurry because they’re simply out of focus, or because it was too dark to make a photo, so the camera shook or people moved due to a necessary longer shutter speed (exposure time).
To me, this is really a tie for 1st place with exposure… because if you can’t tell what a picture is of because it’s blurry… well… what is the value of that? It’s so basic, yet, I see a lot of restaurants and chefs posting images like this for some reason.
(I take it back, I have a theory: typically the images that are posted which are like this happen during preparation of a special dish and it may be new or unique, or they might just be proud of it. If this is the case, and you insist upon posting it, please take a moment to move your dish to a location where there is enough light to actually get a sharp photograph.)
To be useful, photos must have SOMETHING in focus – i.e. a subject or a focal point. (Unless you want to be abstract, on purpose – but even then, it’s debatable whether that will be useful for a business.) And… the image should be clear, not “hazy”. (If you’re not sure what I mean by “hazy” – look through the samples at the end of this section.)
Yes, it’s ok to use a photo with a blurry background (i.e. a shallow depth of field), but a subject that is out of focus? No. If nothing is sharp/in focus, how do we know what we are supposed to be looking at?
What is sharp in a picture not only guides our eyes, but it gives us an indication of what is important about the image, giving us a clue of why the picture was made. If the subject is blurry – and not for artistically justifiable reasons – a picture is basically useless.
On the other hand, if the subject is in focus, but blurry because there wasn’t enough light to take the photo, that is also unacceptable. It shows a lack of attention and care, just like a poorly exposed image. If you care enough to have a photo of a particular moment or detail, but did not plan for that, and therefore had to take a photo with a phone or other incapable camera, with insufficient lighting, it indicates to a viewer that you didn’t think ahead or invest in properly documenting an event or detail.
Take a look through these photos (all in use by local restaurants) and ask yourself: “Does this make me hungry?” “Can I tell what this is?” “Does this make me want to learn more about this place or dine here?”
Blurry Photos: Sample 1 – Sample 2 – Sample 3 – Sample 4 – Sample 5 – Sample 6

3. Lighting

A third – and VERY important – consideration is lighting. Lighting is definitely more advanced than exposure and focus, however lighting is what will separate your photos from everyone else’s – helping you cut through the clutter.
There are so many tips and tricks to getting the right lighting to make restaurant & food photos look good, and that’s one reason to bring in a professional. A true professional will have the tools (gear) and knowledge to light photos properly. They will understand where to put lights or how to position subjects with available light in order to maximize results.
Photos that are not lit properly run the risk of making subjects look unflattering or undesirable. On the other hand, good and great lighting will flatter subjects, make food look delicious and pull out the important details that make us “feel” the picture.

Great lighting = Drool-worthy photos

With food, in particular, lighting correctly means the difference between “Oh my god I want to eat that” and “ew, that looks horrible, I’m going to go be sick”.
With atmospheric images, lighting is the difference between the place looking inviting and approachable, or it looking potentially frightening, dirty or not like a place we’d want to go.

You think about details in your restaurant in real life… right?

So, if you pay attention to presentation in real life – i.e. the plating of your meals and the lighting and atmosphere of the dining room – why not pay attention to how it comes across in a photo? Lighting will be the factor that makes it come across the way you intend it to in real life, and using the built in flash on a cell phone or other camera just isn’t going to capture that vibe.
Here are some samples. Again – you decide, which are more appealing. Which would make you want to learn more about the place or go there?
Sample 1Sample 2Sample 3Sample 4Sample 5 – Sample 6 – Sample 7 – Sample 8 – Sample 9 – Sample 10

5 Simple tips to improve lighting for food photos – if you must DIY

  1. Put your dish next to a window and shoot with the window either to the side of the dish or behind it.
  2. Use a white napkin or foam board to reflect light into the shadowy area.
  3. Never use direct flash.
  4. Get a tripod to stabilize your camera/phone if you need longer exposures.
  5. Call in a professional.

5 Ways To Use Photos for Lead Generation

Now that we’ve seen samples of photos that are acceptable and unacceptable, let’s move on to how photos are used in lead generation.

1. Print Advertising

NO! Print is not dead. Though, it is changing. There are still local publications in the Hudson Valley that are free to the public because they are 100% funded through advertising. And, for other publications, they make digital versions available in tablet or PDF format, with advertising included.

It’s expensive… but you’re playing a different game.

I know. Print is expensive, and the ROI can be debatable. However, if the readership of the publication is your target market, it may be very well worth the investment. And, not only that, because it can be expensive, the price will disqualify many and you will automatically stand out from the competition.

Give tourists and new residents a chance.

And, not to mention visitors to the region who pick up these free and local publications to get information about where they should go while they are here. You know what I’m talking about.
Here in the Hudson Valley, at least, there are so many more NYC residents AND expats coming around. These people EXPECT quality. They are used to Manhattan – both in terms of restaurants, but also in terms of quality and excellence in all areas.
This print ad may be the first contact they are making with you. And it needs to be excellent. So, on that note, while I was perusing local magazines – like Visit Vortex (Wedding Edition), the Valley Table and Hudson Valley magazine – in preparation for this post, I noticed some problems with local restaurants’ advertisements that could negatively impact their ROI.

4 Problems that Prevent a Maximum ROI in Print

1. Too Small!
The first problem was photos that were often too small to be valuable.
Listen, if you’re going to spring for an ad, you want it to be effective. I want you to get your ROI. So, if you don’t have enough space to show a picture AND be able to see what’s going on in that image without a magnifying glass (or intense focus)… your ad and/or photo is TOO SMALL.
If that size ad is all you can afford, either, use the photo as the background with minimal text, or, don’t use a photo. …And, if you’re not going to use a photo, you better have a dang good logo! (Otherwise, invest in an awesome designer and get a new logo.)
2. Too Many!
The next problem is that an ad had too many photos.
It’s hard to say how many photos is enough versus too much, but when each photo has to be reduced to such a small size that they are hard to discern, it’s too much. That is when it’s time to clarify the single message you want to get across in that particular ad. And, keep in mind, not every ad needs to tell EVERYTHING about you. It’s ok to leave it open ended and let them discover the rest when they visit your website.
3. Not Relevant!
The third major problem with photos in print ads was photos that didn’t match the ad’s text content.
If you’re not sure what that means, the ad I’m referring to was promoting a particular restaurant’s brunch menu – but instead of showing photos of the foods listed (french toast, eggs, pastries, bagels, etc.), they showed dark interiors, wine glasses and cocktails.
4. Low Resolution!
The last problem was pixelated/low resolution images.
If you’re doing print, your photos MUST be high resolution in order to print correctly. Remember, the point of advertising is to impress people. Pixelated images hardly do that – they make it look like you either stole a picture from the internet or didn’t know any better.

2. Social Media

It’s rather obvious and well-accepted, now, that social media are a fantastic way to generate new business, whether through actual ad campaigns or through content posts and promoted posts. Why?

4 Reasons to use Social Media for Lead Generation
  1. Because your customers use these websites.
  2. Because you can target your promotions to the people that want to see them.
  3. It’s free to set up a page/account and affordable to run paid promotions to extend your reach.
  4. Because it provides an easy way to link back to your website.
Social media is not an excuse to lower your standards of quality. Period.

There… I said it.
Listen, just because you can access social media websites from your phone (i.e. directly from the camera app on your phone), and because there are certain apps (cough Instagram cough) which are exclusive to mobile devices, doesn’t mean that it is OK to post EVERY picture you take or to lower your standards of quality. Or that you should even use the camera on that device to make photos for promotional purposes. (See everything above…)
And, whether you like it or not, everything you put out there impacts how people perceive you.
And, even if people hit “Like” on a photo that is “unacceptable,” it doesn’t mean they actually liked the photo or want to do business with you. (Check out this infographic from Entrepreneur on why we like, share and post on Facebook.)
It’s proven that posts with photos get more interaction. And, not only that, all social media sites are formatted to emphasize photos. 
(Don’t take my word for it, check out this infographic with actual research.)
And, now that we’ve covered what’s “acceptable” and what’s not, there’s really no excuse to have poor photos.
Personal photos can be ok, once in a while, but be aware of what people react to and what impact the photos will have on your reputation. High quality, professional images will encourage people to have confidence in you – regardless of your actual abilities. It’s just like makeup and nice clothes, they impact how we are perceived.
Bottom line: good photos stand out and get shared more, leading to more leads and ultimately, more business.

3. Websites (and Search Engine Optimization)

Yes, your website is a tool of lead generation. it’s not just a place for current customers… it should be attracting new prospects – whether by word of mouth referrals, social media sites, review sites and search engine optimization.
And, if your website doesn’t display high quality images and use them as part of the core layout/design you’re missing a huge opportunity to get people’s attention.
Why? Because once someone lands on your site, you only have a fraction of a second to grab and keep their attention. Photos do this MUCH more effectively than a ton of text, because we connect to it instantaneously.

You NEED a Website – like 5 years ago.

Listen, if you have only one place where you’re going to invest in marketing and branding, PLEASE make it a website. And make it the best it can be and really invest. It is your digital storefront and should be the center of where all your marketing funnels lead.
Think about it.
What is the first thing people do when they hear about something and decide they want to learn more about it?
The Google it and visit the website.
How does it feel to you, when you are searching for information on a business or product, and they don’t have an official website? Doesn’t it make you question their legitimacy as a company?
And, if that doesn’t describe your research process, think about this scenario:

A local business person is looking for a place to meet with an important prospect that is visiting from out of town and got a recommendation for your restaurant from a respected colleague. This person, being tech savvy, Google’s your company name and visits your website to follow up on the referral and make sure it is going to make the right impression on the prospect. What will this person find? Will they be impressed, convinced and lured in, leading them to pick up to phone to call for reservations?

Photos make people feel things and if you have the right photos on your website, you will be more likely to convert.

4. Print Marketing Collateral = Word of Mouth 2.0

When I talk to restaurateurs, by far the most popular thing they tell me is that they “don’t need to advertise” because they have “word of mouth.” Or, that the thing that helped their business grow the most is word of mouth.
I’ll give you that. Word of mouth is definitely important. And it’s definitely not dead. But, if you have a website and you are not going to do any print advertising, the least you can do is help your customers that are referring you by providing high quality marketing pieces that they can GIVE to their friends or those whom they are referring to you.
Think about it. How much more effective would it be for a happy customer to have a beautiful post card or take away menu with delicious looking food and inviting atmospheric photos to back them up when they tell their friends about the experience?
Instead of leaving it up to your customers to describe the vibe of the place, or show their own bad pictures of the food, they could just show your postcard, brochure or take-away menu with professional photos.
Think what a difference that would make!

5. PR and Media Coverage

And, lastly… You may not think of PR as lead generation, but it is because you’ll be getting your name, image and story in front of many new people that may not have heard of you previously. So, if for no other reason of those listed above, having access to your OWN high quality photos is essential for when you get asked to provide them for media coverage or listings in tourism and restaurant guides.
Don’t think this will happen?
It will. And you ought to be prepared. Once upon a time I interned in a tourism agency and it was my task to contact restaurants to ask them for all of their information and photos to include in a FREE restaurant guide that the office was putting together. FREE. It was not paid advertising. Just an opportunity to be listed.
These guides, in addition to PR and media coverage, are the ultimate form of free advertising. And, if a publication does a story on you and doesn’t send a photographer, they will ask for courtesy photosand you better have some to share. If you don’t, you are missing out, because, again, this is free advertising, and you want it to be able to make an impression.


In the end, photos can be a really important part of generating new business. Because photos have the power to connect with people instantly and on a deep, intuitive level, they provide a unique opportunity for building trust and inspiring the desire to learn more, get involved, and ultimately become repeat customers and raving fans for life.
And, remember, when it comes to photos in the context of lead generation – this is likely the first thing a prospect is seeing in connection to your business or brand. What impression do you want to make?
Did you like this post? Do you know a restaurateur (or budding chef) whom you think this would help? Or, do you want to see businesses improve the quality of their photography? Please take a moment to share this with them.
What is one thing you’ll take away from this post and apply?

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