Are your website images giving visitors a bad impression?
Stock and Do-it-Yourself Photography can do more harm than good.
We humans are visually wired creatures. Therefore, great photography is the anchor and hook of most good website designs. On the other hand, bad photography can be a turn-off and repel the very people you want to engage. You need to figure out what separates good photography from bad photography.
Many commonly used stock photos insult our intelligence or make us cringe; portraying real adults as living in a fantasy world. Business isn’t fantasy. It’s hard reality.
To save time and money, some website owners will snap the best shots they can with a smartphone or point & shoot digital camera but the images are often very disappointing. Amateur do-it-yourself pictures can reflect poorly on your people, products and company itself.
A real image of your business in action, strategically planned, professionally shot and well positioned can tell an entire story or instantly bring home a key message to a website visitor. Sometimes a spontaneous photo, capturing a moment, can be serendipity for a great hero image. Truly, “a picture is worth a thousand words.”
As information architecture and concise word choice can help lead a prospective buyer to take action, pictures of real people in real places using real products make an online message more believable and enticing. Following are just a few reasons why you should invest in the right kind of photography for your website:
- Pictures of your people help website users picture themselves engaging with your business. They like to see the real people with whom they’re dealing.
- Pictures of your location and offices/showrooms will make face to face visits more welcoming.
- Pictures of your people making your products in your location lets your web visitors feel better about your quality.
- Pictures of your products offer visitors an instant way to qualify their interests in color, style, make, model, etc. Naturally, crisp, clear images are required to sell anything by e-commerce.
Bad or useless pictures can be worse than no pictures on a website. Following a few simple guidelines will help you produce highly effective pictures based on your priorities. Let’s examine what works.
Nielsen Norman Group’s eye-tracking studies have documented a dramatic gap in how users approach website images. Mainly, they found that:
- Certain kinds of pictures are ignored. Decorative and large feel-good images are mentally filtered out from actual content scrutiny.
- Some pictures are viewed as important or critical content. For example, “real people,” i.e., the actual individuals representing your business usually fall into this category.
According to Nielsen Norman, the classifications of “good” website photo use include:
- People photos – IF they’re real people (opposed to stock images with models).
- Product detail photos – multicomponent images like craft sets get much more viewing time than wide angle whole product, low detail shots like flat screen TVs.
- Big photos – especially real products and places proprietary to your business.
- Information-carrying images – pictures that show something relevant to what your visitors are doing and thinking.
The common conclusion of these website user-photography studies is this: “Users pay close attention to photos and other images that contain relevant information but ignore fluffy pictures used to ‘jazz up’ Web pages.” This means there are good photos and bad photos (and useless photos) when it comes to website design.
You Call the Shots!
There are 3 basic ways to acquire the photography you’ll need for a great website design: Professional Custom Photography, Stock Photography and DIY (Do It Yourself). Here we advise you to apply careful consideration. We’ll look at each method and weigh its merits.
Professional Custom Photography is listed first because in our experience, it’s the best choice in just about every situation. Today’s advanced optics and digital photography technologies have actually helped lower the cost of this top tier way to get the images you need for a successful website design. The relative ease of digital capture and intense competition among many professional photographers allows you to get proprietary custom images for your business at significantly less than what it used to cost. Of course it’s very important to check the reputations, references, portfolios, pricing and terms of any photographer you would consider hiring.
Do it Yourself Photography (DIY) can be effective in some situations. Thumbnail photos on common real estate listings come to mind as an example. It makes no economic sense to send a paid professional photographer out on multiple locations to set up gear and shoot house photos that change up constantly. Self-serve digital photography with a good point and shoot camera or even a modern smartphone is economical if you need a fast and flexible method for capturing custom images on the fly.
Stock Photography can provide some bang for the buck if you can pinpoint an exact story-telling image or find good highlight images for use in style sheets and other design elements. A major downside to stock photography is that your chosen images might be widely seen on other websites. Other issues with stock images are they tend to look sterile, overly staged or plain old phony. Stock photos will often clash with the authenticity of your messages so be very careful of the images you choose, especially from a branding standpoint.
The Parting Shot
Our overall recommendation regarding photography is this: For the majority of your photographic needs, invest in custom professional photography. Almost all stock images are ignored as “dress up” and irrelevant to the visitor. If you’re like most of us, you wouldn’t trust yourself to take a critical photo or group of photos that will be prominently displayed and have lasting value in public view, right? So use your best judgement and strive for the highest quality possible when it comes to your image.
Keeping your pictures fresh, new and consistently relevant with your key messages is another important consideration. Maintaining your website for the best user experience involves keeping your photos changing enough to keep returning visitors interested in seeing what’s new on your site. Be sure to include photo planning and updating in your website maintenance service plan.