Rules for Choosing Great Images for Your Website

Beautiful image for a website.I have been shooting photos since I was old enough to hold a camera. My father was a freelance photojournalist when not teaching and I followed him around first with a little Kodak Instamatic and, ultimately, with a Nikon 35mm (and then a Nikon DSLR) of my own.

One of the more interesting challenges when building great business websites is how to handle the photos used therein. From giant “hero” images that introduce the first page of your website to the world to the photos that will help to fill out the substantive pages throughout the site, making the right choices leads to a better looking and more impactful web presence. Here are a few rules to follow.

Rule #1: Sometimes an illustration or video is a better choice.

Ironically, the first rule is about not using images at all. The truth is that, in many instances, a well-designed graphic or a video will make more sense for various areas of your website. Maybe a schematic drawing or a how to video will be better for your customers. In some instances, the minimalist approach without using any images, particularly on the front page, might be the way to go. The main thing is to remember that you have choices and to make them wisely.

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Rule #2: Stock photos are your friend.

While they can be dry and overused, stock photography has its place on nearly every website. I’m not as big a fan of people stock images as I am objects, but what you need will depend on your business. Stock photos can also save a tremendous amount of money in photography expenses and licensing.

Rule #3: Whenever possible, shoot your own.

Having said Rule #2, I would be remiss if I didn’t say that using a professional photographer is almost always the best choice. Not only are the images you will use unique and exclusive, there is a quality they have that you can’t often get from stock. It may in fact be necessary to use a photographer, particularly if you want hyper-local shots of your city or town. The only place you may be able to find the photos you want is through the lens of a pro.

Rule #4: If you don’t want to hire someone, try searching Flickr.

Many professionals and amateurs still use Flickr to store and display their photographs. If you can’t find the image you want through a stock library and are hesitant to hire someone, it’s possible a photographer on Flickr might be willing to sell you an image or the rights to use one on your website. The Flickr image search is fairly extensive and many amateurs would be thrilled to get some money for an image they shot for fun.

Rule #5: Go for beautiful rather than applicable.

One of the tougher things for my clients to do is distance themselves from the need to find images that are specific to their surroundings or circumstances no matter what the quality of the image. Just because a plant manager with his iPhone shot a photo of the inside of a facility where you did a job doesn’t mean it is an appropriate image for impressing your customers. Generally, the better the image, the greater the impact.

Rule #6: Abstract is often more effective than literal.

Far too often, I’ve had clients get hung up on a photo because it had one tiny thing in it that didn’t conform exactly to their location or industry practice. Resist the urge to micromanage photos and go instead for abstract. Conceptual ideas for imagery can balance tremendously well with very specific content. Obviously, you want specific images if you are showcasing your work, but for decorative images with visual impact, consider thinking outside the box.

Rule #7: Never use a photo that hasn’t been licensed.

You would be amazed at the number of large companies that have simply taken images they found online and used them without permission. Frankly, it’s appalling. Don’t skimp. Pay the money and avoid the hassles of cease and desist letters, nevermind fines. Photographers work for their money just like you do.

Rule #8: Don’t take group photos that might need to be re-shot later.

Group shots are commonplace among firms and companies with a desire to demonstrate strong leadership. But, be careful. If that photo is featured prominently and any of the people in that photo change, you’ll be forced to re-shoot it, sometimes repeatedly. If that’s OK, then go for it, but if you want to avoid the inconvenience, make another choice.

Rule #9: Most people don’t care about your office building and your office.

I’m consistently amazed at how many companies really want a photo of their place of business right on the front page of the website. On the contact page, fine, but the front page should be reserved for visually dynamic images that help define your business philosophy and work experience. While your office building may be prestigious or your offices designed by an award-winning architect, the vast majority of people will find photos of those things uninteresting at best, pretentious at worst. Stick with what you do for your primary images, not where you work.

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