Some good news and some bad news. Good news first. The right image can wow your website visitors and move them to part with their cash for your product/service. It’s simple:
Images evoke emotion
You want your brand to invoke a particular emotion—for example, hype/aggression for a cross-fit gym, peace/calm for a retirement home, fun/joy for a preschool. That initial, visceral response to your website by a new customer can be the difference between them staying on your website, or leaving. Take a look at the website we developed for the Humane Society of Fairfax County. Notice the use of large images containing children and animals in an automated carousel.
Anyone who wants their website to get noticed these days needs to use the right images. Good imagery, especially tight images of faces, reduces bounce rate and increases traffic. The website we built for Susan Greeley welcomes the user with a friendly smile (and utilizes colorful, high-quality imagery throughout the site).
Alright, let’s get us some images! you say. Hold on. I haven’t gotten to the bad news yet. Here it is:
Good imagery isn’t cheap
Sure, you can right click on and “save as” pretty much any image you find on Google. But many/most images have copyright protections and re-using an image created by someone else without permission is illegal. The vast majority of the world has adopted the Berne Convention, which states that copyrights are granted to the author by default—even if not specified. You don’t actually need to put little copyright notice footers on your image. If an image doesn’t specify that you can use it, then you are not allowed to use it for your project.
So… you may need hire a professional photographer—one who knows what he/she is doing—and that can be an expensive affair. Most professional photographers charge based on a half-day or full-day rate. A good photographer—not even the best photographer, just a good photographer—can charge upwards of $1,500 for a full day. (A full day is anything over four hours—even one minute over!)
I think it’s worth it, though. The imagery makes such a big impact that using something professional versus something the client took on their iPhone and later uploaded to Facebook is night and day. An image that is clearly “amateur” says you’re an amateur outfit.
Of course, you can skip the photographer and just use “stock images”—from sites such as iStock or Depositphotos. Depending on the subject matter, stock photography can be a valuable option for small businesses. Two things to keep in mind:
- Sites such as Depositphotos charge for their images—either by the image or on a subscription basis. While cheaper than hiring a photographer, you don’t have any creative control over the photos and you’re stuck searching for just the right photo (which may not exist!).
- Stock images can look, well, stocky. The models are so beautiful—they’re clearly not “real people”—and the scenes can be so cliché, so… forced. And false—people don’t smile that much when they’re in a business meeting considering a bar chart! They look spammy.
If you have to shoot a specific product (say, something exclusive to your business), you have no choice: You have to hire a professional. The website we developed for Lights Out Exotics required a photo shoot, because it’s nearly impossible to find and purchase stock photography of branded vehicles.
All that said, there are plenty places to find free stock images. My two favorite are Pexels and Unsplash. The imagery available from both are high quality, no question—many invoke certain moods—and absolutely free. And not so stocky.
Another option is Flickr. Flickr contains images from Tom, Dick and Harry, which includes a fair number of people who are very adept with a camera but also includes a lot of photos that, well… you know the kind of images I’m talking about: the kind you had to sit through during the slide show at your great aunt’s house. Yawn!
To use a Flickr image for commercial purposes however, you must give credit to the original photograph. I don’t find this to be very professional for a business website.
Now with all the foregoing discussion of the importance of great imagery for your website, it shouldn’t surprise you to learn that I advocate making your images as big as possible.
However, this is a double-edged sword. Large images can take a long time to load on a web page. If your website takes too long to load, you may lose viewers because they choose not to wait.
So… compress your images as much as possible. What does that mean? Image compression is minimizing the size in bytes of a graphics file without degrading the quality of the image too much. For use on the web, the most common compressed graphic image format is JPEG/JPG (Joint Photographic Experts Group). Even if you don’t have a fancy image editing program like Photoshop, you can use one of several free WordPress plugins to reduce your image file sizes, such as Imsanity or Smush.
So you’ve got your main images chosen. Now what?