Apr 07, 2014 • Jessica Jones
Back in January I wrote a post about copyright infringement and how to avoid it, and in that post I touched briefly on the topic of stock photography. Today we’re going to talk a little bit more about stock photography and photography in general as it pertains to your website.
Many website designs feature large image areas, particularly on the home or landing page. Choosing attractive and professional looking pictures to be featured on your site is just as important as having well written copy. The featured image area on your main page is going to be one of the first things a user sees, and is going to play a large part in their first impression of your site.
Maybe your business involves a photogenic product or place. If your website is promoting a retail store, a campground, a restaurant or an historic site, you probably have no difficulty deciding what to feature with your images. If your business is more office oriented or industrial, however, your decision might not be so easy.
If your business is to manufacture a product that is tangible but not necessarily visually interesting - ball peen hammers, for example - there’s nothing wrong with displaying an image of a ball peen hammer, but you might not necessarily want all of your images to be of hammers. You may have a gallery or products page that displays the various kinds of hammers that you sell, and of course a page with that intent will be full of various hammer pictures. If you have a rotating slideshow on your home page, however, consider featuring professional quality images of people using hammers.
On the other hand, if your company’s services are less tangible, think about the feelings you hope your site will promote in response to your brand and look for imagery that falls in line with that goal. Do you want to emphasize that you are a local business? Include an attractive and easily recognizable photo of your city. Do you want people to know that your staff is personable and approachable? Have a photographer take a group picture of everyone - and make sure they get in their morning coffee first!
What if you don’t have the means to generate high quality pictures and you’d rather not display pictures of your staff on the site? Enter stock photography. There are many sources of stock photography on the internet - we generally recommend istockphoto.com. The selection is massive and in most cases you can find options for any budget. I’m a big fan of using the “Price Range” slider to filter out the overly expensive pictures from a search.
You can find some excellent imagery for reasonable prices when it comes to stock photography, but in most cases, yes, you will need to spend at least a little money. Trust me, it’s worth it. If you’re not in a position to generate professional quality photographs on your own, purchasing stock photography is going to be far less expensive than hiring a professional photographer.
Deciding that you’d rather use a photo of your own rather than spend $15 on a stock photo may not be advisable. If you have a nice camera and you’re comfortable using it, your pictures may be great - but photography isn’t everyone’s strong suit. Take an honest look at the pictures you’re thinking of using. Are they well composed? Are they clear? Do they look professional and attractive? If you’ve made an investment in a nice looking website design, this is not the place to cut corners. Mediocre or bad photography will drag down the entire look and feel of your site.
Obviously the more high quality content you can feature on your page, the better, but there are contexts where professional quality imagery is less important. If you have a blog, you may post about events and happenings within your business. A casual/candid cell phone picture from the company Christmas party doesn’t necessarily have to be pro quality. If you happen to have a pro photographer at your party, then bonus, but if that’s the case you probably aren’t in need of these tips to begin with!
Likewise, if you have a gallery section, as previously mentioned, what’s required of the pictures displayed in the gallery will depend on the gallery’s purpose. If the gallery is meant simply to display your various products, then yes, it is important that those pictures be taken well - your potential customer isn’t going to be impressed if your photos are blurry or too dark to properly see the product. Product pictures, however, can be fairly straightforward - they don’t need to be appealing in the way that a large featured image on your home page should.
Showing large images of your work on the home page of your website is a great thing if you’re a landscaper. If you’re a dentist, though, please keep in mind that seeing closeup photos of the inside of a mouth may be perfectly routine for you, but it’s going to be jarring for most users. These sorts of pictures would be perfectly appropriate in a gallery of before and after pictures, where they would be expected, but you don’t want a potential patient’s first response to your site to be a cringe! Stock photography of happy looking people with pretty smiles will do a much better job of drawing people in. If your business involves imagery that might be startling to the average person, think twice before displaying those images 900 pixels wide on your front page!
Whether your home page features a large static image or a slideshow, the first images that you display for your users should be appealing. They should show your professionalism and make it clear that you’ve put some time and thought into your website - an impression will hopefully then be backed up by the quality of the rest of your content!