Image-heavy, visually stunning websites are at the forefront of web design trends in 2017, which means that taking care to select images that represent your brand well, and carefully deciding where to include them in your site, is more important now than ever. Mike, one of our designers and Key Web’s Keeper of All the Stock Photos, has compiled a list of guidelines to follow when considering imagery for your site.
First, ask yourself why you’re looking for an image or images for your site. If it’s just to fill or decorate space, you need to reevaluate your page or site structure. Think of each inch of your website as valuable real estate that can be used to market your brand or product or to inform existing or potential customers. Use photos that represent your brand or company’s personality and that align with your target market—consider colors and photography style along with subjects.
Images can even take the place of text in some capacities—many designers are favoring one bold, full-screen hero image (with just a few clarifying words) at the tops of homepages to show rather than tell the company’s purpose. This style is especially useful for businesses that have a visual focus—like design and architecture firms, clothing boutiques, and art studios—and need a vehicle to show off their work and grab potential clients’ attention.
Other companies that should pay especially close attention to the photography they’re using are those that need to elicit an emotional response from potential customers, like schools, churches, and philanthropic organizations. Images of people can be powerful, but watch out for shiny, cheesy stock photos where all of the subjects are staring directly at the camera and smiling. If they can be used legally and with consent, professional photos of real members or customers are much more inviting than stock images, but finding sincere-looking stock photos is possible, just time-consuming.
If you’re lucky enough to have authentic, professional images of your business, clients, staff, or products, you may not even have to worry about curating stock photos, but you’ll still need to pay attention to the quality, transmission, and placement of your images.
To avoid pixelated or skewed photographs that give your designer a headache, always send the original file in a JPEG or PNG format; don’t copy and paste or insert images into a Word document before sending.
Also keep in mind that Photoshop can’t make a tiny, low-quality image large and stunning. If you’re sending a photo that will be used as a header image, it needs to be at least 2500px wide; photos inserted into content should be at least 1024px.
Stock photography is necessary to your website design if you don’t have professional photographs available, but because they’re generic by nature, it can be difficult to choose stock images that gel with your brand and look natural once integrated into your site’s design. Avoid images that are staged visual representations of your content—in other words, if the image shows something that you would be hard-pressed to stumble upon in real life, keep scrolling.
Shiny veneers, extra-large smiles, and overly dramatic expressions are also stock photography dead-giveaways.
Look for images that feel familiar and real, not staged or overly edited. Can you see yourself in that setting, with those people, wearing that outfit and facial expression? If not, keep looking.
Generally, we work with paper or screens that have words written or typed on them, so this is one exception to the “what looks most natural?” rule: do not use stock photography that includes words. We engaged in a playful bet with our boss when we ran a Facebook ad a few months back for our subsidiary’s Small Business Startup Package. We ran the same content with two different images: his, which features a sign that says “Be Your Own Boss” hanging from the side of a building, and ours, which is actually a photograph taken in-house on an iPhone and simply shows a designer’s hand sketching a logo. The ad with his image garnered 57 link clicks. Ours? A whopping 499. Facebook even penalizes—and sometimes refuses to run—ads that include images with a certain number of words in them.
We’ll always offer guidance when you’re selecting photography for your new site or redesign, but if you have a question that we didn’t answer here, you can always give us a shout.