In this two-part series, we're going to examine the significant role that photos play on your website and provide some tips on how you can use photos to improve the site experience for your audience. In part-one, we'll review your options as a site owner and provide resources for those on a smaller budget. For part-two, we'll take a deeper dive for those who have invested, or plan to invest, in their own equipment to produce professional photos themselves.
Why is website photography important?
You’ve probably heard the phrase, “A picture says a thousand words.” Well, it’s true. Studies have proven that the brain interprets visual information directly, whereas spoken or written words must be interpreted or decoded. Some site owners don’t seem to grasp this concept and fail to budget for a professional photographer, believing that stock photos and iPhone snapshots can achieve the same results.
Now don’t get me wrong… The iPhone has a great camera and, in the right hands, can produce very nice photos. Most stock photos available these days are captured by professional photographers who make their living licensing the photos they shoot. But while there are great stock photos available, selecting the proper ones for your site requires skill and finesse.
Pictures tell a story and this happens whether you intend for them to or not. Site owners should place just as much, or heck, even more, emphasis on a page’s photographs as they do its text. To help prove this, give this little experiment a try. Ask a friend if they’ll give you their opinion on a website. Pull up your favorite news site on your phone and hand it to them. Count to 5 then take the phone back and ask your friend what they recall from the site. In most cases, the answers will be primarily be related to the site’s photos.
It’s human nature for the eye to be drawn to visual images. This is very evident in children as I’m sure you parents have heard your child complain or ask how you can read a book with no pictures. Savvy site owners take advantage of this and use this trait to their advantage. Whether you’re selling products or a service, compelling photos will enhance your marketing efforts and help you stand out from your competition.
A great resource for additional information and examples to demonstrate the payoff of impactful photography can be found at: http://www.smartinsights.com/online-brand-strategy/brand-development/brand-photograhy/
For example, “A case study by VWO, found that simply changing an image on a webpage increased conversions by over 40% (tested with 11,000 visitors to each version of webpage).”
How can you improve your photos?
The first and least expensive option is stock photography. There are now a plethora of sites providing stock images, a lot even free. Most of the sites provide images for a wide range of different categories and industries. For smaller businesses doing common, everyday things like dentistry, plumbing, real estate, etc., there are usually many professional, high-quality images to choose from. The selection of the images is the critical part.
We'll go into greater detail on the mechanics of a great photo in part-two of this article, but for now, the first recommendation I have for stock photography is consistency. There are many styles and techniques used in photography. Probably one of the most significant is depth of field which creates an effect called "bokeh." This is where the primary subject of the photo is in focus while the background and less important areas of the photo are blurry. The eye is drawn to sharper parts of an image and this is a way to guide the eyes of your audience.
In most cases, the photography within a website should be consistent. Mixing different styles of photos on the same page causes tension and is a distraction. For the best results, you should strive to maintain a particular style of photo when you are selecting stock images. For instance, if you use images with shallow depth of field for one product, other products should have images with similar bokeh. Another example is with lighting. If one product uses shadows to enhance an area of a product, other product images should also include shadowing.
Much like you use consistent colors and fonts to create a theme or brand, photos have this same effect. Look for photos that have similar coloring, contrast and exposure. The photos should not be drastically different in how they appear.
Hiring a Professional
The next option is to hire a professional photographer to take the photos for your website. This will be considerably more expensive than stock photos, but there are many advantages in going this route. As we previously mentioned, consistency is a critical part of great website photography. Hiring a professional means that you will have the ability to create any number of images using a consistent style.
Another great thing about using a pro is that you can ensure that your photos are 100% unique, never used on a competitor's site and they will be a more accurate representation of your business versus the more generic photos usually found on stock photography sites.
There's no equipment or software to buy. The photographer you hire will provide all materials and supplies and usually will handle the camera work as well as post production. You will simply need to upload the image files they provide and place them on your site as desired.
When selecting a photographer, you should look for one that has experience in your industry. While there are many "do-it-all" photographers, I've found that most great photographers tend to be better at shooting particular things. For instance, a great wedding photographer may not be as good at shooting products or inanimate objects. Ask prospective photographers how they would shoot for your needs and if they've done similar shoots before.
Finally, be sure you have a clear agreement regarding the photo licenses before you sign a contract or provide a down-payment. Photographers, by default, own the license to the photos they take. Oftentimes, they are unwilling to provide the source files for their photos and the de facto license they provide may not allow for usage on printed signs or materials. Make sure you either own the photos outright or that you have predetermined pricing for how you intend to use the photos.
In the follow-up post, we'll look at the third option, which is to take your own professional photos. We'll also go over the mechanics of a great photo. Until then, best wishes on your efforts to make the most of your website with great photos.
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