More than a Thousand Words: Using Pictures and Text to Effectively Tell Your Story

You’ve likely heard the saying, “a picture is worth a thousand words.”

It’s a saying that sends writers into internal Linda-Blair-esque, head-spinning, rage. Some normally rational people take great offense to the idea that a simple shutter click can replace the written word – or do in a 5x7” piece of real estate the same job as three or four pages of text.

Step away from the ledge, writer-types – and put down that Kool-Aid content curators – what’s missing from that statement is an adjective. Because while a picture may be worth a thousand words, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s worth a thousand good words.

Both disciplines, writing and photography, are readily accessible and can be done passably with a modicum of training. However, both disciplines take years to do well; and both disciplines afford you the opportunity to continually learn, develop new skills, refine old skills, and explore new techniques.

Best of all, both disciplines work extremely well with each other – and that’s where you can reap a huge return on their investment by using the written word and imagery to complement and augment your business efforts. A well-composed image can both convey and inspire emotion, it can educate and inform, but it's just a moment in time. Well-crafted words can also convey and inspire emotion, and while they can take longer to educate and inform, they can do so in a way that provides more depth and a greater understanding. Combining the two? You have a recipe for success -- an instant, arresting response supported by depth and understanding. Of course, that's only if it's done well. 

Whether you’re building a Web site, preparing a brochure, or planning a television advertisement, the combination of quality text and engaging visuals is key – and, fortunately, the basic principles of creating good content applies to both:

GRAB ATTENTION: Follow your local newspaper’s example. What do you see on the front page? A catchy headline? An interesting lead? A dynamic photo? Now, pick up that latest political bill submission: maybe you get a standard image; likely you have a long-winded, jargon-heavy title; and the opening paragraph is a paean to the God of Run-On Sentences.

Which would you rather read? Now apply the same thinking to your business communications efforts.

You don’t have to try to be funny in your text; you don’t have to be graphic in your imagery – but you do have to write and shoot in an engaging way. If you’re in business, you’re selling something – a product or a service. And even if you’re building a community on social media, the overriding goal  is to convert your fans into consumers and brand advocates.

FRAME YOUR SUBJECT: It sounds simple, right? And while I consider myself a good photographer, I’m not great yet. But I’m reminded how good I can be when I hand my camera off to someone else to take a family photo (with me in it). True, we may be in the photo – but we’re overwhelmed by the background. And you’ve likely heard about burying the lead in text – sure, the important facts are there, but they’re lost in a meandering, over-expansive block of content.

So learn how to frame your subject. Ensure that point of interest is prominent in your piece. In photography, you’re limited to the expanse of your viewfinder – so make sure the image is taking up the majority of the real estate. Text-wise, you’re limited either by the constraints of your medium (print costs…) or the attention of your reader (for on-line reading, time is at a premium). Make sure that what you want to highlight represents a majority of the real estate you’re allowed to have. If you’re shooting a product, it should be the focus – and use your text and ancillary images to complement it. If you’re writing a product page, the text should focus on the item – again, with complementary text and images to support it.

FOCUS: You can have the best subject matter in the world, but if it’s out of focus, you’ve wasted an opportunity. After all, how many Bigfoot or Nessie videos and photos are out there, yet still we can’t prove they exist? One clear photo would solve the problem. Text-wise, if your compelling-selling message is lost amidst a sea of blog posts and Web content that don’t support the overall goal, then you’ve lost focus.

On-line, business writing doesn’t have to be sell-sell-sell! But gone are the days (thankfully) where you could opine about your lunch on the corporate blog – well, unless it was a staff lunch, then it’s fair game. Use your on-line content opportunities to sell who you are: it’s not all hard sales, but also talk about your corporate culture, experience, and beliefs; share successes, testimonials, and information. Focus on the value – both of your organization and for your customers.

PEOPLE FIRST: In print or in images, the people are the most important thing. You can be impressed by a photo of 10,000 people gathering for a protest, but you can feel the protest in the close-up visual of a shouting protester, her face streaming with tears. When you read a story, the facts can provide context, but it’s the personal stories that provide its heart – and those are what create attachment to a story.

It’s no different in business. The facts about your product and service are important, but it’s the personal touch that generates revenue. Photo-wise, what creates more of an impression and tells more of a story? The grip-and-grin, giant cheque presentation or the photo of an actual employee helping out a child at a charity event? What story generates more action? The bland corporate statement (usually written in passive voice) about the amount of money that was donated, or the tougher-to-get-but-eminently-more-rewarding story about how that money was used?

Apply the same to your product promotion: Complement with product shots, but focus on the product in action! Share your customer testimonials, prioritize the WIIFM messaging (what’s in it for me!), then back that up with a foundation of facts.

On-line or off, a combination of dynamic visuals and quality text is a sure-fire way to engage customers – both existing and potential. To do it right takes an investment in time and effort – and it’s never a bad idea to reach out for help.

After all, an improved bottom line? That’s an image everyone wants to see for their business – and it’s a story we love to share!




Questions Answered

How do I use photos on my Web site

How do I combine pictures and text effectively?

How do I compose a photo?



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