Hero Images That Sell

A Marketers Guide to Commercial Art

”Commercial art isn’t art – it’s art that sells, communicates, and reinforces brands. If your artists don’t get this, get rid of them.”

- Chris Nuzzaco

Who is this Dude? Why Listen to Him?

That’s a great question! I’m a commercial photographer, currently living and working in the Salt Lake City, Utah area. I have over 12 years of full-time professional experience working in the industry. My clients have spanned small fashion boutiques to major corporations with $20K+ advertising photo shoot budgets. In short, I’ve seen and done a lot, and I think I have some great pointers and perspective you can use to improve your return on investment when creating hero images. Beyond my background in art and photography, I’ve also spent a serious amount of time studying marketing and sales. Unlike other commercial artists, I don’t just want to create great looking images, I want help build my clients brand. I want my work to elevate their sales and achieve their campaigns goals. If you’re working with an artist who isn’t asking probing questions about your goals and planned use of an image – you’re working with the wrong artist.

Commercial photographer and author of this article, Chris Nuzzaco.

The What and Why of Hero Images – A Quick Primer

For those not in the know or needing a refresher, hero images are more than full page images used on website home pages. They are any image created to promote a product or service with the goal of creating a specific impression in the mind of the viewer. This can take the form of a landing page image, billboards, backlight displays, product packaging images, in-store displays, etc. There are two primary impressions marketers should be aiming for: favorable view of their brand and desire to take some form of action. A well designed hero image should ideally prompt both of these, but it’s perfectly possible to aim for only one or the other. Outdoor image campaigns come to mind – they really do not prompt any action from the viewer, but they do reinforce a brands visual aesthetic and ideals. Hero images are very valuable assets, but only if produced correctly. Having shot many hero images during my career, I’ve also witnessed the fallout of hero images that were poorly pre-produced. I’ll shoot what a client wants, but I’ve learned from watching the deployment of my work over the last decade that there are five major mistakes made during pre-production, which I now explore with clients prior to shooting what they request.

“You need more than an artist – you need an ally – someone who’s in your corner and understands that desired results should dictate all creative decisions.”

1) Undefined Goal

What is your goal? This question can go pretty deep and needs to be explored carefully. As I mentioned above, hero images have two major functions, brand reinforcement, or prompting user action.

Reinforcement: What are you actually trying to reinforce? The literal product / service, brand ideals (ie: emotions surrounding what you sell), or the literal solution you provide? These three choices can lead you to very different looking images, ideally a campaign should produce numerous hero images addressing all of them, either in separate images, or combined if possible.

If you’re trying to reinforce a product itself, make the image all about it. Really get in and show what people like, key features, etc. then glamorize it according to your brands visual aesthetic. I had a client who was releasing a new design of injection molded water moccasins. It had all kinds of holes in it and was modular in design (mix and match colorful soles and uppers). These features were very important to them, so I created the images below (among many others) to help emphasis these features visually.

The removable sole was a key feature my client wanted to make more obvious.
This image is really cool, it shows the shoe from all major angles, but does so in a stylized manner, while showing off all the available color options.
Extra emphasis on the unique design of the shoe sole.

Brand ideals are best described as the emotions surrounding your product. How do people feel before and after your product or service provides it’s solution? Focus in on images that illustrate these emotions clearly while still visually connecting back to your product or service. The image I shot below was not for a client, however, if the little boy were holding onto a small MLB branded baseball bat, it’d make a great brand ideals image for the MLB. You’d get the emotion of the father and son bonding, while still being able to connect back to MLB baseball games.

Brand ideals images should focus on emotions above all.

Everything for sale is really just a solution to a problem, even if the problem may not seem very vexing or important. If you can find a way to visually illustrate you’re solution, you should do it. This variety of image can often times provide the most interesting and engaging hero images, especially if you sell with a comedic approach. Below is a hero image I created for a client of mine that does exactly this. I’m putting both the product, straight teeth, and the provider of that product into the same frame, while making female viewers feel like it’s them in that chair. It’s a powerful image.

An image that focuses on the solution being offered to the consumer - straight teeth - while still including the service provider in the image.

User Action: Generating a user action with a hero image involves both the image as well as some kind of call to action via copy text – these two elements need to be carefully coordinated with each other. Of all the mistakes I see with hero images attempting to generate user action, terrible choice of imagery and copy space strategy (the area where your copy text is placed), are the king and queen. A call to action hero image must go for the pain point your product or service alleviates – there is no stronger motivator to act – these images will likely require the most elaborate pre-production planning, which brings me to my next point.

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