Like it or not, images and imagery will make or break your website. Although content might be considered king, if your site has either no images or substandard ones, it just won’t stand up to modern browsers’ scrutiny.
In a world where people are searching for the perfect answer to their unique problem, showing them high-quality examples of what you do is vital to gaining trust. In this series of articles I’m going to go through the many options available to you, outlining the pros and cons for each and perhaps how to save a little bit of money while still getting good results.
First up is the obvious one: photography. When it comes to photography you really have four options: self-taken pictures, setting up your own stdio, professional photographs or stock images.
- Pros: cheap, easy to build a good stock, precise, unique to your business
- Cons: can look cheap/unprofessional
For many small businesses, self-taken pictures – captured using a phone or compact digital camera – seem like the only option. They cost nothing, you can do them yourself when you get a minute and you can take unlimited shots of exactly what you want without having to bother giving directions to a pro.
In certain situations, self taken images are exactly the way to go. If, for instance, you’re selling handmade items and are actively promoting the handmade look, then an iPhone snap, perhaps with an Instagram-style frame or border, will do the job perfectly. With the addition of an app, you can even implement creative effects to your snaps.
With a few considerations for lighting etc, and a quick bout of quality control, these kind of self-taken shots will perfectly capture your company’s ethos and provide the visitor with a genuine reflection of what you are trying to do.
Where self-taken shots can fall down is with images of people. Pictures of people really do require good framing and decent lighting (or at least an understanding of how to get the most from adequate lighting). Again, if you’re aiming to take a spur-of-the-moment snap of your team having fun, for use in a blog or Facebook post maybe, then an instant shot might do it. If you’re putting together a page of your staff, then well-lit, uniformly-shot images (not necessarily in the same pose) are a much better option.
Your own studio
- Pros: high-quality images (with practice), ultimate direction, cost effective in the long run
- Cons: initially expensive, time consuming
This is not as crazy as it sounds. With a decent digital SLR camera, the right lighting and staging equipment (and a bit of research and practice) this could be a really great solution if you know you are going to be taking a lot of pictures.
The emphasis there is on “a lot” – in order to make this approach cost effective, you’d need to be running a fairly large-scale online shop which requires high-quality, uniform images. That’s not to say it’s impossible. I’ve known clients take this exact approach in order to produce consistent product images.
One other aspect of this approach to consider is post-production. You will need some form of editing software in order to balance all of the images. But again, this can come for free in the form of GIMP or similar. And even a subscription to Adobe’s Creative Cloud to get your hands on Photoshop is not that prohibitively expensive if you know you are going into large-scale production.
- Pros: good quality, high resolution
- Cons: can look cliched, not unique, can be expensive
Unlike self-taken pictures, stock photography can be used to great effect. You just have to bear a few things in mind. For general illustrative purposes – such as showing a generic office setting, or an outdoors shot – they can be perfect.
But, like with self-taken pictures, stock images can fall down when it comes to people. We’ve all seen the hideously generic man-pointing-at-whiteboard images, or the far-too-happy family unit gurning at the camera. They look unnatural, and you have to think: does an image of four middle-aged men in suits fit with my business? Will people feel misled if they see four models on my website, all dressed in designer gear, and then turn up to my office to see just me, in joggers?
Stock images can also be expensive, and you must be mindful of the usage limitations. You must also make sure you buy images that are large enough to be used in your website (speak to your developer if you’re unsure).
- Pros: unique, tailored, high quality, ability to influence direction
- Cons: can be expensive
Unless you’re going for the completely handmade look, when you’re budgeting for a new website or marketing push, I would strongly recommend you include a little bit of money for a professional photographer. You may think it would be expensive, but it doesn’t have to be, and you have to think of the relative value to your branding and the situations in which you can use the images. They won’t just be for the web, you can use them for all of your printed matter as well, and on social media.
A good photographer will be able to perfectly illustrate what you do, and who does it. They can also give you guidance on how to pose, how to set a scene, how to tell your story, with a single image.
Hopefully I’ve summed up each solution’s advantages. For that homemade feel, go with snaps and add quirky effects – all of which can be done through your phone or online. If you are going to need hundreds of consistent images of products, then look into putting your own mini studio together. To give a more general impression of what you do – say to show you work in the petrochemicals industry, or solar power, where it’s not feasible to take your pictures, then carefully chosen stock photography will work best. If you need pictures of people, or you aren’t confident with staging and editing, then a call to a good local photographer will save you time, hassle and, in the longer term, money.
Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.