Using photography on your website can have a good (or bad) impact, depending on how you use it. Here are 7 things to keep in mind:
1. Be mindful of stock! Stock photography (published images you buy a license to use) has been a huge ally for website owners. Stock is a cost-effective solution for small businesses who can’t afford a professional photo shoot. It gives you professional quality, well produced images that if you choose wisely, can fit perfectly with your web branding. However stock photography can have drawbacks. Stock photos often feature attractive models and expensive looking (at times surreal) scenes: these images may give your customers a sense you are much bigger (and more costly) than you really are. If this is what you are going for, great! If you are a small to medium businesses competing on price or cost efficiency, this may not be so good. Stock photos can also result in a loss in authenticity - overuse of stock photography can become obvious and impair the trust you are trying to build with your web visitor (they may think you're pretending to be something you're not). It's all about finding the right balance. People are more aware than ever of what 'feels real' and genuine.
2. Size matters. Two considerations of the word 'size' here; the first is that of technical file size (megabytes). It's important to note that photographs kept at high-quality can be very large (in disk space) and potentially take longer to download when someone clicks on your web page. This kind of experience can frustrate your website visitor. The other size consideration is the actual dimensions of the picture. If the photograph is part of your design or page-layout, you need to find the right balance between images and text. A Home page is valuable real estate. You need to make the visitor feel welcomed and excited about being on the page (through imagery). But you also want to make it as easy as possible for them to find the information they are looking for.
Both of these size considerations are even more relevant in the world of mobile browsing. More and more users are browsing the web on mobile devices such as smart phones. If you're serving a massive photograph, the user may give up waiting for your website to load and start searching elsewhere. Ideally your website should serve a mobile version (lighter on the images) for those visitors, speeding up their download time and increasing the site’s readability. New and powerful Content Management Systems (like SilverStripe) can automate a lot of this process.
3. Don't sacrifice quality. Stock photography or not, you shouldn't compromise on the quality of the image if you're going to place it on your website. Stretching a really small image to fit in a larger box or cutting out part of a photo to make it fit, unless managed really well, is a bad idea. It makes the photo look distorted and unprofessional, and may lose its intended impact entirely (and hurt the design around it). Professional photographers work at great lengths to create meaningful and impactful composition (the arrangement of objects and scene in a picture in a pleasing way). This careful work can be lost without properly preserving the photographs when adding them to your website.
4. Ask for permission. A bit of a no-brainer here but simply put, make sure you have a record of approval when using photography on your site (this might be an email consent from the photographer, or a receipt/invoice from the place you purchased the stock image). Don't think just because you downloaded an image you found on the internet, you have the rights or license to use it! Most websites that indicate it is alright to download their images will also declare their licensing terms.
5. Cycle your images. If the images used on your site (as part of the design or layout) are not replaced/renewed regularly, they become stagnant and dated. Fresh images are critical for websites that expect return visitors.
6. Use captions when appropriate. This is especially true if you are using the image for context (and not just design or layout), for example to support a blog or article. Captions create a connection between what the user is reading and what they are seeing. Moreover, if the photography you're using is original (not stock) using a caption near or on the photograph can greatly improve the sense of authenticity, and help reinforce trust with your visitors.
7. Use 'Alt' and 'Title' tags. Tags improve both accessibility (for example, visitors who are visually impaired will have a much better chance of understanding what the page they are viewing is about) as well as in search-ability (how well search engines understand your page and the picture, and serve it in results). Although 'Alt' and 'Title' tags have been around almost as long as the internet itself, they were historically difficult for non-technical site administrators to manage. With the advent of user-friendly Content Management Systems this is no longer an issue.
Questions? If you would like to know more about this or any other topic, please let us know. We love talking about the web!