Worth A Thousand Words: Illustration and Photography Treatments

BY Kristen Friend

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Your firm’s choice of photography, illustration and other graphic elements speaks volumes about you. Make sure you give your firm’s image the attention it deserves.

All branding is storytelling. Everything your firm does, from your logo to your website to your office decor and the way you interact with clients tells a story about who you are. It defines your firm's character and personality. Knowing what story you want to tell and reinforcing it with all your marketing efforts will help you connect with clients and position your firm as an industry leader.

Photography and illustration are powerful storytelling tools. The type of imagery a firm uses in its marketing efforts speaks volumes to potential clients. As people in need of legal assistance increasingly turn to online resources to research their options, the pictures on your website and social media hubs may define their first experience with your firm. Pictures make an instant impression. That impression should prompt people to call, not click away.

Some pictures are immediately striking, but it is difficult to define in words what makes a good photograph. Good pictures happen when subject matter, composition and timing come together to convey the essence of a moment in time. A good picture will portray what may be a mundane subject in a unique way – a way that speaks to your audience.

The world is filled with great photography, not so great photography and down right awful photography. Advances in technology have made it easy and relatively inexpensive to access large digital image libraries. Most people with a phone can take a higher resolution picture than a top of the line digital camera could 10 years ago. Prices for stock photography have fallen dramatically, with web resolution pictures often going for less than $10 an image. But this increased accessibility is a double-edged sword. Yes, it has the ability to bring costs down and help smaller firms vie for recognition with the big dogs. At the same time, it makes it all too easy to slap any old picture on a website or brochure without the necessary forethought as to how that picture will make your firm look or how it will relate to your target clientele.

Case in point: a simple Google image search for the term “handshake” returns links from a plethora of websites, from a DJ company to a consulting company to a tech firm to a design and engineering company (just to name a few). What do all of these companies have in common? Nothing, aside from an inability to use photography to help them stand out from the crowd.

Avoid the pitfall of looking like everyone else by resisting stock photography clichés. Retire the handshake. Step away from the unnaturally happy group of smiling, diverse business people. Take your first instinct and set it aside. Give yourself breathing room to think of new ideas. Chances are, if a concept for illustrating your firm's primary practice area comes too quickly, your competition has thought of it as well.

As you brainstorm on potential options for photography or illustration, focus on the emotional, not the literal. A good story makes an emotional connection, and when prospects connect to your message, you earn their trust. People have a basic understanding of what to expect from a business law firm. They do not need to see people in suits shaking hands. People who have been seriously injured have an understanding of what it means to be in a bad car accident. They do not need to see shattered windshields and crushed metal.

Instead, think of what your firm achieves for clients. Rather than using photography to illustrate, literally, what your firm does, use it to convey what your firm offers. Positive imagery that focuses on results and that shows your understanding of clients' needs gives valuable information to people looking for an attorney. Prospects need to understand your firm's character and what you represent. They need to see the solutions you offer. Showing them through powerful photography that you have an answer to their problems will make you memorable, distinct and more likely to be called on.

A family law attorney specializing in fathers' rights, for example, may benefit from pictures of a father spending quality time with a child. Personal injury attorneys can use pictures of people who have recovered and are moving forward with their lives while experiencing the benefits of a winning case. A business law attorney who specializes in venture capital or start-ups may feature a small business owner or successful entrepreneur.

If your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough.
- Robert Capa

If you would like to include pictures of your attorneys and staff, try to capture them doing things that are reflective of their personalities or unique style. Pictures that show interaction are more compelling than static images.

In order to obtain quality images, a firm may choose to hire a photographer, use stock pictures, have a designer create custom illustrations, or a combination of the three. Each have their own advantages, and your firm should weigh the costs and benefits of each against your marketing goals.

If your firm decides to invest in a professional photographer, get the best results by doing some due diligence. The first and most important step in choosing a photographer is to identify your needs. Photographers, like most professionals, have areas of expertise. There are things they shoot often and others they only dabble in. Make sure you ask questions about a photographer's experience to see if it is a match for your requirements. Find out whether the photographer has the appropriate equipment. An experienced photographer should be able to provide the right lighting for any challenging scene. Photographers who specialize in portraiture should have a variety of backdrops from which you can choose.

Your research should also involve taking a careful look at a potential photographer's body of work. You should be comfortable with their style, imagination and creativity. Ask them if they have any ideas for pictures that would be unique, perhaps utilizing different lenses, camera angles or depth of field to draw out your law firm's personality. Show them references to pictures you like and see if they are comfortable working within that style. Photographers should respect your firm's character while also providing art direction and guidance on getting the best possible results out of a shoot.

Not all attorneys will have the time or the need to hire a professional photographer. In such cases, stock photography may be the best option. Since stock photography is available to everyone, it is important to make sure the pictures you choose are not overused, or worse, being used by your competition. But, stock conflicts are avoidable and the right stock picture can tell your firm's story beautifully.

If I could tell the story in words, I wouldn't need to lug around a camera.
- Lewis Hine

Do not settle for the first picture you see. Stock sites tend to sort search results by the most popular images. The first few pages of results are likely to contain pictures that a lot of other companies are using. Most stock sites provide a way for you to see how many times an image has been downloaded. Look for that number. And yes, a lot of good photographs are popular. But there are thousands of images to choose from, and it is worth taking the time to dig for gems.

Use elements from a picture instead of the whole scene. The picture as a whole might not be perfect, but it can still shine. Single out the pieces you want to use and extract them. Break the rectangle and integrate the essential elements of a photograph into your marketing materials in a creative way. Isolating the best part of a picture will allow you to convey precisely the right look and feel.

Supplement items from a stock image with illustration or type. A popular trend in web design is creating a collage effect with parts from a variety of pictures, illustrations and text. (And remember, text can be an image in and of itself). Collages should not be made haphazardly, but with attention to detail and messaging. Using such techniques can take an an average stock photograph and make it unique and extraordinary.

Pick one dominant photo and work from it. Integrate secondary pictures and illustrations only where necessary. One dominant photo is attention grabbing and immediately engaging. On websites, a dominant photo with call to action buttons can take the majority of space above the scroll. Explaining what you do is important but the right first impression from a powerful photograph is incomparable.

If I saw something in my viewfinder that looked familiar to me, I would do something to shake it up.
- Garry Winogrand

Look for items within a picture that will make it seem dated. Bad hairstyles or old clunky monitors will date your firm immediately. If you are taking the time and expending the resources to promote your firm as a leader, do not ruin your efforts immediately with an old picture. The right picture or illustration will be both modern and timeless like the perfect evening black dress. Your marketing team should be aware of current trends in photography, illustration and design and put them to work for you.

Do not try to make a picture fit that does not work. Choose the right style and use the right size. Contrary to what police dramas would have you think, there is no magic zoom and enhance button in Photoshop. You cannot take a tiny corner of a low resolution picture, enlarge it, and magically produce an image that is crisp and full of detail. The information is just not there. Pictures that are grainy, out of focus or too small just do not have enough pixels within them to make them usable for design or marketing applications.

Just because a picture is aesthetically pleasing does not make it perfect for every application. The style must fit as well. Part of distinguishing your firm from the sea of competition is using imagery in unexpected ways. But unexpected for unexpected's sake is meaningless. Being creative and, depending on your firm's personality, even quirky can produce fun, memorable and effective marketing materials. But being different takes thought, planning and direction. If a picture does not fit that plan, move on.

Do not be afraid of illustration. Sometimes the best photo is an illustration. Attorneys are often afraid of illustration, thinking it might make their firm seem childish or unprofessional. The style of illustration you use, whether it is stock or something you have a designer create, can speak volumes about your firm. Are you cutting edge? Modern? Classic? Do you want to emphasize your creativity and ability to innovate? An illustration can show all of these things. And since illustrations are so rarely used by law firms, they are certain to set you apart.

We may continue to tell our children not to judge a book by its cover, but the truth is, we all do. The wrong picture or illustration will prevent people from seeing what is inside, no matter how wonderful the contents may be. Do not let this happen to your firm. Tell your story with meaningful photography and open door to new cases.

Kristen Friend

Kristen Friend is a staff contributor for Bigger Law Firm Magazine. She has covered political stories on radio stations like WMNF in Florida and has had her work broadcast by Free Speech Radio News (FSNR). As an Award Winning Art Director, Kristen has been recognized by the WebAwards, Davey's Award, W3 Awards, Webby Awards, and others for her work with law firms.


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