Taking photos for your website

Doctor Digital, I won’t lie to you, the photos on my website are awful. I can’t afford a photographer, how can I make them better?

Doctor Digital Says

In the pantheon of crimes against aesthetics, badly shot, wrongly sized and shaped, poorly positioned and simply irrelevant photographs are repeat offenders. Using images the right way is crucial for a contemporary website to rank, retain and convert. Bad images and images that load slowly (especially on mobile devices) result in dramatic statistics on visitor bounce, so not only do they hurt your eyes, they hurt your hip pocket too. Users do want to see photos on websites, but they want them to be relevant. A webpage that doesn’t have any visual images is preferable to a webpage that has lots of photos that make it heavy and cluttered. The key in using images on websites is based on the following conventions:

Image fundamentals. Size, composition, quality and exposure.

Effectiveness. If the picture creates excitement or interest, then it works. This is driven by three characteristics:

  • Emotional appeal - does the product in the picture look good and make the user want it;
  • Rational appeal - does the image show the benefits of the product; and
  • Brand appeal - does the picture fit the brand?

Transmitted message. The image has to send the right message to the website consumers.

Anticipated user response. The image should help decision-making and create a desire for the product.

Purely decorative images tend to be ignored unconsciously, if the images are there only as a filler, the brain will ignore them. Stock photos tend to feel posed and inauthentic, and can diminish users trust in the website and brand. We’ve all eyed suspiciously that generic group of happy people that seem to be on so many websites.  If you do need people on your site, get people that look authentic to your brand. When snapping humans:

Make sure the eyes are visible. Eyes are what people look at when they look at photographs, so a photo where the eyes are hard to see or in shadow is going to be less effective than one with clear visible eyes.

Zoom in on faces. Just like with the eyes, faces are more interesting than the entire body in most cases.

Have them interacting with your brand. Action is more interesting than static, and what is more interesting than them loving what your business does.

So you’ve zoomed in on the face but what’s in the background? If the background has too much clutter or noise, the photo will be hard to look at. If you can’t get a good background from where you’re standing you should move or have your subjects move. Be aware of more than just clutter. Does the background look messy? Are there other things in the frame taking the focus off your subject? People need releases to be on your website, so use a release form, and if you are photographing minors, of course make sure their parents sign the release.

If you’re photographing products for your website, you want to make sure that they stand out. Many people rely on photos to make their purchasing decisions, so having a good product photo could make the sale.

Zoom in on the product. If you can’t zoom in, then crop the photo down to just the product you’re highlighting.

Light your product well. People won’t want to buy it if they can’t see it.

Provide multiple angles. If you can, take photos of the product from multiple sides. This gives your customers more information.

Always photograph products on a white background. This makes the product stand out, and makes shadows more effective. If you want to use a coloured background, make sure that it’s a solid colour. When you can’t get a solid colour background on your product image, use photo editing software to blur the background slightly. This will make your product stand out more even with a less than ideal background. Be aware of the lighting too – strong natural light is best, but not squinty sun for your subjects or super flared.

Photos on a website are like condiments, they have to enhance the main dish, not dominate it, and they need to be fresh, well prepared and used aesthetically in moderation.

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