Building Authentic Imagery Using the Four Cs

By Camille Leonard

Building Authentic Imagery Using the Four Cs

You’ve heard the old saying “a picture’s worth a thousand words”—as a destination marketing professional you want to make sure the pictures you use to communicate the right thousand words. At Stamp, we believe that a visual sense of authenticity comes from capturing, collecting, and curating images that feature both extraordinary moments and everyday life. Read time: under 5 minutes

You’ve heard the old saying “a picture’s worth a thousand words”—as a destination marketing professional you want to make sure the pictures you use communicate the right thousand words. Communicate using images that tell the true story of your destination with character and reflect a sense of place. Attracting visitors with your authentic personality. At Stamp, we believe that a visual sense of authenticity comes from capturing, collecting, and curating images that feature both extraordinary moments and everyday life. And in an increasingly important way, we believe in collaborating with residents and visitors to obtain their user-generated imagery through social media. These images come from different points of view. When gathered together, a vivid picture of your community begins to emerge. It is real. It has energy. It has variety. Why is authenticity so important? Over the past several years, we have seen the trend of consumers turning to crowdsourcing review sites such as Tripadvisor and Yelp and other social media channels including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube as a guide to providing “real-world” recommendations when making decisions. Access to authentic, engaging, sharable imagery—both photography and video—is needed to enable your DMO to take advantage of these measurable marketing platforms. Stamp has worked with DMOs for over a decade and we understand the challenges of creating or acquiring imagery. It’s complicated. But we get it. As a result of our experience, we’ve come up with a mantra—the Four Cs of Authentic Content.


Photography and Videography have changed so much in the last decade. No longer are large crews and elaborate set-ups mandatory to get beautiful, emotional images. Portability and ease of editing are increasingly putting image creation into the hands of the masses. It’s part of the reason authenticity is so important—77.6 million users on Instagram alone are taking pictures of the things they love. Capturing the truth. Recording the experience. It’s the casual nature of that kind of image, that truth that helps create authenticity. Here’s some advice from our professional photographers on capturing moments that make the visitor feel a part of the experience.

Take a lot of pictures.

When photographing an iconic landmark or attraction, in addition to the broad portrait of the place, take middle views and details that have charm. A peek through a garden gate or an architecture detail can tell the story of a place sometimes more emotionally than a less intimate portrait of a building facade.

Dauphin Island Sea Lab and a delighted visitor.

The portrait of a room inside the Dauphin Island Sea Lab tells a story about the quality and scale of the exhibitions in this hands-on museum. And has its purpose. But, the second photo captured the essence of the experience of visiting the attraction and the delight of the visitor.

Don’t forget to photograph non-attractions that lend character and uniqueness to your library of images. Streetscapes can describe the personality of a place and establish local color.

A family enjoying the fresh catch at a popular restaurant versus a relaxed family setting

The same situation presented itself in this local dining shot. The assignment—capture a family enjoying the fresh catch at a popular restaurant. The top image absolutely fulfills the assignment nicely. However, our photographer patiently waited for the diners to relax and captured a very real moment that brings authentic emotion and relatability to the image.

Put people in your pictures.

Your potential visitors are seeking destinations that are experiential, personalized and local. Tug at their heartstrings with images of a child experiencing excitement at a museum. Or inspire wanderlust using images of a sunset walk on the beach. The good news is authentic looking imagery contains real people, not models. Character comes in all demographics. The not-so-good news is that you really have to work to keep that casual, natural, “this just happened” look authentic images possess. Staged-looking images dilute trust. At Stamp, we work closely with clients and with photographers to employ these techniques to keep the image feeling unposed and authentic.

  • Avoid a group of people looking at the camera or at the same thing. (As you can imagine, there are a few exceptions to this.) Catching a big red snapper on your sportfishing excursion or trying on a vintage diving helmet like the images captured on our Dauphin Island, Alabama shoot.)
  • A tried and true method of loosening up people is to encourage them to talk to one another. Given enough time and their level of interaction, they often relax and forget they are being photographed.
  • Movement creates energy. Asking people to walk through the scene adds a more realistic, just-captured quality to an image. Have them do things they would normally do when visiting an attraction.
  • Catch-as-catch-can. Yes, just show up and shoot at an event or location. Remember to capture the crowd and close-up smiling faces. Details like event t-shirts, local food booths and performers add to the local flavor of an image. Of course, arrange for permission if needed and have talent releases ready to be signed by anybody prominently featured in the images.

Capturing real experiences can reap rewards beyond having exciting and authentic images to use in your destination marketing campaign. You can create real emotional, sharable social moments that put likes and shares to work and helping to attract more visitors to your market.


Residents (and loyal repeat visitors) can be some of the best advocates of your brand. Their imagery is truly unique and their voice is truly authentic. They are the actual attendees of the festivals, parades and local events. They know the local scene. Encourage image creation and submission by actively promoting your social media feeds. Look for opportunities to encourage visually authentic hashtag-able moments around landmarks and monuments. Photo contests are not new but are effective and social sharing instantly rewards the photographers. Remember to get permission to use social images outside of social media.


As the virtual gateway and primary promoter of your brand, area attractions, restaurants, and hospitality providers look to you, the DMO for marketing support. Your destination website should feature their offerings and contain images provided by them for your use. Ask to utilize imagery they’ve created to promote the destination as a whole. If they’re good marketers, they are already creating authentic images to attract visitors and guests.

Ad for the Columbus, Georgia CVB.

This ad for the Columbus, Georgia CVB contains images provided by several attractions. Potential visitors get a real sense of the kind of things to do while visiting. This kind of partnership is a win-win for the destination.


Keeping your look fresh and current is an important part of authenticity. Be aware of photographic trends, like 2015's anti-hero, rebellion-based imagery where tattoos and handlebar mustaches are shown on everybody from your local grocers to the executive suite. Enjoy using images that express trends but remember to remove them from your marketing materials as they age out. This same care should be taken and practice applied to all imagery. Attractions remodel, certain foods become hot—like the farm-to-table resurgence—paying attention to the details in your imagery helps to keep it real. Should a Destination Marketing Organization ever use stock photography? Yes, there are times when an image is needed and due to factors beyond your control there’s no other choice. Choose wisely, think of choosing a bad image as equal to writing 1,000 negative words about your destination. In some cases, having no picture may be better than a bad picture. Whoops! I just went over my thousand words. So to close, here’s a picture from one of my favorite destinations:

The Mona Lisa

The Mona Lisa is a rock star at the Louvre in Paris. Star-struck art lovers jockey for position to get a photo of the lady. You can feel the movement in the crowd—except for the man in the black sweater, he seems transfixed and she seems to be looking at him.