I’ve spent countless hours in my career poring over stock photography to find that just-right image. All the photos were taken by someone else, and I never find exactly what I had in mind when I start a search. Maybe that’s part of the reason I’ve been so drawn to photography.

Some (like my wife) say that I’ve become obsessed since the birth of our first daughter about 8 years ago. My @onedadshow on Instagram has become a sort of laboratory for me as I hone the art and science of photography while capturing the extraordinary yet everyday moments in my girls’ lives.

It always amazes me the power that one photo can have – to evoke an emotion, to draw you into a place and time that you’ve never been. People often tell me that my photos make them feel like they know the person even though they’ve never met them. That is the ultimate compliment.

A few weeks back, I did a portrait shoot of my friend and personal trainer, Andrew Berman. He’s an enormous, hairy guy who in most photos looks like he’s going to leap off the page and punch you. But, when his friends saw the photos from our shoot, they said, “That’s the Andy I know.” He’s a guy with big muscles but an even bigger heart. That’s exactly what I aimed to capture.

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Below is a recent photo from a shoot I did with Ann Russell, a yogini and a peaceful, well-grounded person. My goal was to capture and communicate her contemplative kind spirit in one image. To achieve this, I simply (and quietly) observed Ann as she went through a series of poses. The resulting photo reveals the grace, beauty and peacefulness of both Ann and the practice of Yoga.

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Photos, with all their power, can humanize a person or even a brand online. Sure, you can go the route of stock photography and in many cases that’s perfectly fine. But, when you’re looking to convey a message visually that creates a specific emotional connection, you should consider investing in original photography.

For example, the “hero” image on a website is rightfully named as it is the main, large image you see when you land on a web page. It carries a lot on its shoulders. While it’s often helped by the words surrounding it, the hero is what the eyes see and process first. It sets the tone, creates a mood, and makes a first connection with the viewer’s brain. In 2014, MIT neuroscientists conducted a study that found the brain can identify images in as fast as 13 milliseconds. That’s a little over 1/100 of one second. To put this in perspective, it takes us 300-400 milliseconds to blink – which means it takes us 30 times longer to blink than it does to identify an image. Before a person even reads a word on your site, they already have a visual impression.

So, whether you’re designing a website and need the right hero image or adding a headshot to your LinkedIn page, always remember the potential power that a single image can have. Ask yourself, does the photo convey the right message or emotion? Does it make someone feel closer to you or your brand, even if they’ve never met you or tried your product? Good photography draws people in and that’s exactly why these days I spend most of my free time behind my camera.

MillerSmith offers photography studio services for its clients, including: selecting stock photography, directing photoshoots, and capturing original photographs.

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