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What Makes An Authentic Photo?

Topics: Social Media, Marketing, Design

Want to feel authentic to your customers? Get this one thing right.

The photos you use on your website, social media & ads are the most visceral way to develop a connection between your customers and you.

In this post, I’ll teach you the three most important things to consider when looking at a photograph:
1. Focus on quality
2. Tell a human story
3. Be relevant


1. Focus on quality

You should first ask the basic technical questions: Is it blurry? Is it too dark? Is it composed right? Is the lighting off? Is it in focus? Most importantly, a great photo nails these three technical points: Exposure, Focus Composition.

  • Exposure is simply the amount of light that enters the camera through your lens to create a photo. If there is too much light your subject will be too bright to see. Too little light and it will be too dark.

  • Focus is how sharp or blurry the subject you are photographing is. Just like when you squint your eyes to get a clearer view of something in the distance, the camera’s distance from what you are photographing impacts the focus of a photo

  • Composition: Where in the photo you place your subject. Unlike exposure and focus, there are no set composition rules for a photographer to break. There are some guides or point of references that are usually more visually appealing though, again, it is different for every situation.

We’ve all seen photographs that nail them all: 


  • Exposure? Check.
  • Focus? Check.
  • Composition? Rule of thirds approved.
  • Emotion? FAKE

However, just because a photo nails the technical component doesn’t mean it’s effective for your use. Plenty get all the technical elements right and miss the one thing that really makes a difference: the human element. 

2. Tell a human story

Technical components can actually take a backseat when a photo nails the emotion ~ mainly relatability and connectability.


  • Exposure? Kind of overexposed on his face.
  • Focus? Soft.
  • Composition? A bit off.
  • Emotion? Check.

To make a photograph emotionally effective, the content needs to be appropriate and relevant. We don’t emotionally connect with a model sitting by a staged shopping bag because most of us aren’t models with propmasters handing us things to hold.

You want the photo to have a trace of humanness, to see actual people like themselves. Otherwise, if you go the model, and propmaster, and photo studio route, you are left with no trace of a real human. You want your customer to see themselves in it. The easiest way to do this is to use photos that actually come from your customers - like the millions of native photos on Twenty20.


3. Be relevant

When selecting photos for your site, ask yourself who your audience is. Where do they live? What is around them? What products are familiar to them? What is the weather like there? 

If you’re targeting affluent millenials & your call to action is “get out of the city & stay in our hotel”, then this photo is entirely irrelevant to them.


Today’s affluent millenials are calling Uber & Lyft from their smartphones. Photos are mirrors to the viewer’s world. The first step to discovering authentic photos is imagining your customer’s world and start from there.

The perfect photo to express your brand will nail the technical elements, tell a human story and be revelant to your audience.

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