How to Avoid the Photography Epidemic that’s Killing Audiences

Move over “Death by PowerPoint,” there’s a new form of visual content that’s boring audiences to tears. It’s called photography.

The phenomenon known as “Death by PowerPoint” examines how audiences lose interest in presentations when they are poorly designed. It demonstrates how too many bullet points, a lot of text and confusing graphics alienate audiences. Like presentations, poorly constructed photography can also estrange audiences.

Dull photography has reached epidemic proportions. Every day, we’re saturated with images and most of them are mind-numbingly boring. Smart phone cameras have changed the game, providing an easy way for people to capture, record and share both the significant and the insignificant moments of life.

Social media marketing, digital ads, publications and visual content add to an increasingly large expanse of images. In 2014 KPCB analyst Mary Meeker reported that 1.8 billion images are uploaded to social media sites everyday and usage has grown steadily since then. According to “Research and Markets” report, global visual content is expected to grow another 7.86% between 2017 and 2021.

Photography is everywhere but very little of it is effective. Most of it is like white noise, something that doesn’t even register in our consciousness. It’s like the teacher in Peanuts or all those bullet-points in a bad presentations. We know it’s there but we tune-out the message.

Boring photography is a wasted opportunity, especially for brands. It’s not just the selfies, the user-generated images and the stock photography that are tiring. Most product photography is flat and forgettable. Online retailers and e-commerce sites look confusingly similar, making it difficult for consumers to remember what they’ve seen and where they’ve seen it. Even the professionally commissioned brand photography, lifestyle shots and editorial images have become pedestrian. Marketing photography has become homogenized and boring.

So what exactly makes photography boring?

It’s repetitive or common.
It’s fake or not authentic.
It’s insignificant and irrelevant to the audience.
It’s generic and lacks personality.
It’s narcissistic or self indulgent.
It lacks perspective or point of view.
It lacks passion and emotion.
It’s expected and predictable.

Here’s an example of how seemingly good photography can go awry.


Not long ago, Cindy Tjoflat, Principal and Chief Creative Officer for Concord Creative received the three catalogs shown in the photograph. They were all for activewear and they all arrived the same day. At first she thought she’d gotten duplicate catalogs from the same company but in fact they were from three separate brands, they just happened to look a lot alike.

The lack of differentiation is confusing to the customer and it jeopardizes the bottom line. When consumers can’t tell the difference between one brand and another, they make their decisions based on price.

Activewear isn’t the only product category where this happens. Pick up any trade publication and you’ll see that certain types of products look alike. There is a uniformity to their photography. They use similar color palettes, props and camera angles. The images are so predictable they might as well be stock.

When you start paying attention to different product categories and how they represent themselves, you’ll begin to see some very common themes. Take wine for example. You’ve probably seen the ubiquitous shot with the vineyard in the background and the wine in the foreground, or the winemaker in the vineyard or two people toasting their glasses, or the glass of wine atop a wine barrel. It’s pretty predictable.Then, there’s food photography, which usually incorporates an overhead, editorial-type shot of bite-size portions drizzled with herbs, spices, flowers, greenery or some other complementary feature.

Photography can be an extremely powerful way to connect with audiences when it’s executed properly. Brands that lead with their own style and personality are the ones audiences remember.

To avoid “Death by Photography,” focus on what makes your brand special. Make your internal strengths your external image. Find a way to share your brand’s wisdom, its journey and its purpose so that you can help others. If you can capture that, you’ll capture the hearts, minds and attention of your audience.

And if all else fails, remember the wise words of Mark Twain: “Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.”


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