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How to Find the Best Photos for Your Website

The right images are imperative to your website. Images set the mood, they deliver the first messages received by visitors to your site, and they communicate important subtle ideas about your business and product.

If you’ve paid for a nice website theme or even custom development, you’ll want to maximize that investment by having outstanding photos on your site. It could be very well be the difference between your website looking professional vs. mediocre.

So let’s dive into the details on how to choose the best photos for your website and what you should expect in terms of cost.

How much do website photos cost?
Your cost for website photography can range anywhere from free to thousands of dollars.

Stock photos are a popular choice because they are a low cost option. There’s a seemingly endless number of stock photos on websites such as iStock, Shutterstock, CreativeMarket, Getty, and many others.

Searching through all these options can feel like trying to find a needle in a haystack, especially if you’re limiting yourself to free stock photo sites. Given how important images are to the look, tone, and first impression your website makes, it is often worthwhile to spend a few hundred dollars on quality stock photos rather than limiting yourself to the free images.

However, beware of bad stock photography. The wrong images can turn people off and lower the trust and credibility that visitors have for your business.

How to choose the right stock photo
First, let’s talk about the images you don’t want: Photos look like stock photos.

You’ve seen them on other sites: The plastic-looking people don’t appear authentic, or the style of photography has been overused by marketers. When people can tell you’re using stock photos it may subliminally suggest the following:

  • This company is as fake and insincere as their photos
  • They’re just like everyone else (generic)
  • They didn’t invest much money in their website photos, so the quality of the products and services might not be very good either.

The trick to successfully using stock photos is find images that don’t look like stock photos. Characteristics of these photos may include:

  • Unique and interesting-looking people
  • An artistic style or feel
  • A different way of photographing a common subject

Here are the steps to choosing a great stock image for your site:

  1. Consider what idea needs to be communicated – Ex: Low prices on sweaters
  2. Brainstorm a list of visuals that might express that – Ex: Smiling people in sweaters, or a rack of sweaters
  3. Search on the stock photo site of your choice using keywords – Ex: “Sweaters,” “Smiling people in sweaters,” “Rack of sweaters,” “Holiday sweaters,” etc.
  4. When you discover images that fit the tone of your website and the idea you want to convey, save them to your lightbox or favorites. (You’ll need to be signed in as a user to do this – most sites let you set up a basic account for free).
  5. Review your favorite images in the context of how they’ll be used on your site. For example, if you’re finding an image for a homepage slider and you want text in the image, where will the text go? (If you love a certain photo but aren’t sure if it will fit into your site design, check with your website designer – they may be able to find a way to make it work.)
  6. Choose your image and download a comp – this is a free version of the image that has a watermark on it to prevent theft. Your designer can place this temporary version of the image into your site layout so you can see how it looks. You can do this with several images to try them out and compare.
  7. Once you’ve decided which image to use, purchase and download the highest-quality image available (in case it needs to be resized or cropped).

When to hire a professional photographer
In some situations, you may not find what you need from the stock photos out there and may want to hire a professional to take custom photos for you.

You should hire a professional photographer if:

  • The subject matter is custom – Ex: You have a unique product
  • You have a unique idea to communicate or…
  • It’s important to your message that your photography have a specific or custom tone.

Done well, custom photography can help set your apart from your competitors.

With both custom and stock photos, you may or may not be able to use the photos in other marketing materials – check the licensing terms in the contract if you think you might want to use a photo beyond this single use.

What NOT to do
We’ve all got cameras on our phones these days, so it may be tempting to think you can just snap some hi-res photos of your products yourself instead of hiring a professional photographer. Let me strongly caution you against this. Here’s why:

The art of taking good photos isn’t in the camera, it’s in setting up the shot. Lighting in particular is very hard to get right, and often requires special equipment. Framing the shot, setting up a flattering background, making the colors pop – these are all skills that the pros know and most people with an iPhone don’t. So unless you’ve got training as a photographer, leave it to the professionals. You’ll thank yourself in the end.

Photos matter
When I design websites for my clients, I take great care to use the right photos and illustrations for every project. I hope you’ll do the same. Feel free to reach out to me if you’d like my help to create the best image for your business.


How to Save Money on Website Development

One of the biggest mistakes that people make when creating a website is that they begin the development process too early. They hand over a half-baked set of ideas to their website developer at the beginning of the process, then are understandably upset when the result isn’t what they wanted, and then weeks of triage coding ensue.

In this series we’ve already covered 8 steps that you should take before doing any programming whatsoever. Here’s a quick recap of what we’ve covered so far:

  • Step 1 – State your GOAL. The best way to set your website project up for success is to start with the end in mind by considering what you need that website to do. The more specific you are about what you expect to get out of it, the better. And of course, be sure to communicate this to your website developer.
  • Step 2 – Identify your AUDIENCE. Before you start building a site, get very specific about who the user is, the customer you’re trying to reach. This will allow you to gear your message around who your customer is and what they are looking for, which will improve the conversion rate of visitors into customers.
  • Step 3 – State your MESSAGE. Focus on one key message. This requires discipline that few people exercise, which is why you can use it to set yourself apart.
  • Step 4 – List the necessary ELEMENTS. A necessary element is one that will make your website incomplete if it’s not there. Listing these items will give you and your website developer a better sense of what type of website you need.
  • Step 5 – Create a MIND MAP. Brainstorm a list of things that represent your message, especially concrete, visual things.
  • Step 6 – RESEARCH designs with similar goals. Spend some time on the web identifying sites you like and want to emulate, and competitors that you want to differentiate yourself from.
  • Step 7 – Create THUMBNAILS. Thumbnails are small sketches that are the first visual representation of your website. Use them to play around with different design ideas.
  • Step 8 – Create ROUGHS. A rough is a larger, more detailed version of your thumbnail sketch that indicates what content is going where in your final design.

Now I can understand if you think that after the roughs are done, then it’s time to move on to the development stage. We’re almost there, but not quite. There are two more steps that can save you big bucks if you do them before getting a developer involved.

Step 9 – Create COMPS
This is the stage where your design really comes to life. Once you’ve gone through all the other planning steps, you’re ready to create the desired design using design software, like Adobe Illustrator or Photoshop. This will allow you – and your developer – to know exactly what your website should look like before going through the expense of developing the site.

This process typically does require a design professional, or at the very least someone used to working with the design software. Coding is relatively difficult to make changes and adjustments to; it’s easier and faster to make tweaks in design software. You may want to try out different colors, experiment with fonts, and play around with other details in order to perfect your design, and that sort of experimentation is much more economical at the design level than at the development level.

If designing in-house, you may start your design from scratch or start from a template that includes all of your desired elements.

You can start the comps stage even if your website copy isn’t ready yet. If your design requires a lot of content that isn’t available yet, use “lorem ipsum” as placeholder text – click here to get placeholder text you can easily copy and paste into your layout.

Step 10 – Show your design in CONTEXT
Once you’ve got a comp you’re happy with, you’ll want to view it in the desired space. With a website it’s important to look at your comps in the browser to get an idea of what the site will look like when it’s finished.

You can do this by creating an image (jpg or png) of your comp and dragging it into a blank browser window. Make sure it is sized to the correct pixel width and height in order to accurately reflect what it will look like. (You may have to click on the image to zoom in to full size.)

Get a feel for what the comp looks like as you scroll up and down. Put yourself in the mindset of a first-time visitor to the site and think through what their experience will be. Is it easy to find what they’ll most likely want? Is anything important missing? Is it clear what the next steps are?

Use this experience to further refine your design. Again, it is much easier to make key changes to your design before starting development on your site than it is afterwards.

Get the website design template
If you’d like to receive my free website design process template that walks you through all the steps in this process, subscribe here.