Your website is often the first impression that customers have with your business. As a primarily visual medium, your website must greet visitors with images that entice them to interact with you.

“Photography will capture the essence of the product or service you’re selling,” says Eric Hagen, a UX designer at Deluxe who has designed dozens of websites for small businesses. “It’s worth investing some thought into how photos represent you.”

According to Hagen, small business owners can get high-quality photos from a variety of sources, each with its own benefits and drawbacks.

Stock photography: $15-60 per image

The quickest, easiest and most popular source for website photos is stock photography from providers such as Getty Images, iStock and Shutterstock. These websites offer millions of photos for purchase, and often have curated collections of photos for businesses like restaurants, contractors, auto shops and more — making it easy for you to find appropriate photos. Users purchase credits for $5-10, and spend their credits on photo files. The cost of each photo depends on its quality and the purchaser’s intended use for it.

But stock photography has its drawbacks: Your customers have likely seen the photos at other places across the internet, which harms the authenticity of your business.

“The problem with stock photos is they’re not unique. A normal small business owner might not notice that they’ve seen a particular image before, but your audience might,” says Hagen.  “Despite that, stock imagery is a great option for businesses who are just starting and need something fast.”

What your money buys:

  • Access to a massive library of images
  • Permission to use the digital file for your website (check terms of use before using a stock photo for marketing materials, advertising, social media or other applications)
  • Videos and illustrations are also available

Do-it-yourself photography: $150-300 one-time cost

For businesses planning to sell or showcase products on their website, Hagen recommends investing in a high-quality camera and photography training to learn how to capture images in-house. With some training, you can learn basic photography principles that result in authentic, one-of-a-kind photos. But he cautions against using a smartphone to take photos.

“You can use your phone, but you’ll get better quality images with a digital camera,” he says, advising small business owners spend $150 or more for a camera. “Taking a one-night class at a tech school or community center on the basics of photography will really set you apart from any other business in the area.”

If opting for the DIY approach, he also recommends purchasing a subscription to Adobe Lightroom at $10 per month. This software helps photographers store and catalog their images for easy retrieval.

What your money buys:

  • The equipment and skills needed to capture unique images
  • The ability to showcase products and other offerings
  • Permission to use your images for any purpose at any time

Hiring a professional: $100-2,000 per photoshoot

While more expensive than other options, hiring a professional photographer is not always cost-prohibitive for small businesses. Some photographers charge as little as $100 per hour for a photoshoot. And because the images are top-quality and depict your unique business, you will get more mileage out of them in the long run, compared to stock or DIY photos. Hagen says hiring a photographer is a good option for all businesses, but is crucial for those offering premium products.

“If you’re selling high-value products, like an artist selling a painting, you’re going to want to fork over the money to have that shot professionally,” he says.

If you choose to hire a photographer, carefully review examples of their past work to ensure they have experience capturing the right types of photos. Don’t hire a wedding photographer to shoot photos of your sporting goods shop, for example. And review contracts carefully: Some photographers offer cheap photoshoots, but will charge an additional fee for each photo the client purchases.

What your money buys:

  • One-of-a-kind images that can’t be found elsewhere
  • High-quality photos that communicate your brand
  • Limited use of your images (carefully negotiate contracts to ensure you can use the final images for your intended purchase, at no additional cost)
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