Are your photos stoppers?

A red octagonal STOP sign against a blue sky used to illustrate a post on "stoppers". Photo by Douglas Kurn
A stop sign. Photo by Douglas Kurn

What do I mean by stoppers? It is a term that the fashion editor of Vogue magazine Phyllis Posnick attributed to former Vogue art director Alexander Liberman, that meant an image had the power to make readers stop at a page and absorb the content. Posnick even used Stoppers as the title of her book of photographs that she created at Vogue with some of the worlds best photographers and fashion photographers of their time.

Vogue may be a high quality magazine with a raft of premium advertisers and you may be wondering what that has to do with you, but in the world of social media where people scroll through their feeds at pace whilst hurrying from one place to another, or standing in a queue waiting to be served, the same principle of grabbing their attention applies for any brand or content provider.

In fact I would argue that it is even more important, and that it is vital for audience engagement to have outstanding imagery because there is a constant stream of images passing before their eyes, over which you can only exert control of your own pictures so you don’t know what’s coming before or after your post, unlike a magazine editor who can sequence images to make for a compelling publication. Online content needs something to jump out at the viewer to make them stop and read more, and even click your call to action.

It can even apply to the search results returned when people are searching for businesses as images help your result stand out (or not) amongst all the other results – you’ll need your image SEO to be up to scratch for the search engines to find it in the first place, but all being equal a strong image will increase your chances. Do a search and see how your business or brand looks against the results returned – don’t forget to check the image search option too.

So what makes a “stopper”? Obviously, as a professional photographer, I would say well exposed, focussed and composed is a given, although a surprising number of people seem to disregard this as it is incredibly easy with smartphones to point, tap (add filter) and share, but that’s not the point of this post as I’m more interested how the visual content is presented.

Let’s take a look at the photo attached to this article that made you want to read more. It’s nothing more than photograph of a Stop sign (taken in a supermarket car park if you want to know) and it is a bit of a blunt instrument actually using the word Stop but it achieves its purpose, and it is relevant to this article (I’ll address relevance in more depth in another article) because I want to address how to get people to stop at your content.

The image itself is very graphic; it is simply an octagonal sign against a plain blue sky and so is incredibly simple and easy to visually process. They are the only elements other than the pole that the sign is held up by and it is instantly recognisable what the elements are.

The next thing is the bright vivid colours; the blue and the red really catch the eye and it looks like a bright, sunny day which will invoke an emotional response. The contrast between the blue of the sky and the red of the sign helps it to stand out – it’s not muddy and difficult to understand what it is, even on a small handheld mobile device, on which the majority of content is consumed.

The colour red is widely used to signal a warning or to tell us to pay attention so we are subliminally programmed to take note of it, and of course it is a traffic sign which instructs us to do something, so we’re more likely to react to it.

So when it comes to sharing on social media it might be better to share less photos, and use higher quality photography that will stop your audience in their tracks; they also might thank you for not filling their feeds with tons of dull looking and possibly irrelevant posts!

Obviously the photo on its own may not be enough to make them want to click through so it is as important to have a good headline that resonates with the image to really hook them in, but it is the photo that will make them read the text so it makes sense to use good photographs.

Thanks for stopping.


A traffic light on green in Chertsey, Surrey. Photo by Douglas Kurn
Green for go. Photo by Douglas Kurn