Finding & Choosing Images for Your Website
If you're starting out with a new website, or if even if you've had a website for a while but want to add more to it, you'll probably find yourself in need of pictures. Pictures illustrate within seconds, what it can take minutes to hours to explain in text. In fact, a study done in 2008 revealed that web users only read an estimated 20-28% of the text on a page1. The users were quickly scanning the page for the most valuable information instead of reading entire paragraphs. This makes the importance of good photographs stand out, since they are an extremely fast way to communicate information. So we know we want to use pictures on our websites, but what some don't realize, is that grabbing pics from a Google image search isn't the right way to acquire them. This article discusses the sources of photos and how to stay out of trouble when posting them on your website.
Free Creative Commons Licensed Photos
We begin our discussion with the easiest (and cheapest) way to get images. Creative commons licenses allow individual photographers and graphic artists to create pictures and give permission for others to use them for free in personal or commercial applications, with certain restrictions. There are six types of creative commons license, which are described in detail on the Creative Commons website. The one that gives the most freedom is the Attribution license, which states that others may "distribute, remix, tweak, and build upon your work, even commercially, as long as they credit you for the original creation." So if you search for creative commons licensed images, you will want to check which type of license of the image has, and then follow proper guidelines for using it. In many cases, the author of the image will simply be asking for a written credit (Image by: Author Name) but some have additional requirements such as a link back, or agreeing not to use the work for commercial purposes. In summary, creative commons images are great because they are free, but any time you want to use them, be sure you check to see which license is attached to it, and follow the guidelines for usage.
Take Your Own Photos
Another option that many businesses on a small budget take is shooting your own photos. Digital cameras have become so affordable that nearly everyone has access to one that takes high quality photos suitable for posting on the web. The more complicated part is in composing the picture itself. If you're photographing products, be sure to isolate them by using a very plain backdrop such as a white sheet or posterboard. To photograph people, try to capture them in soft, natural lighting (such as a slightly overcast day), against a simple back drop. These aren't hard and fast rules, so if you've got a natural eye for photography, experiment to see what shots work best to show off your product or service. Finally, a note of advisory on photographing people for your business - be sure you have their permission to do so. If there are any concerns, get the permission in writing. You don't want to take a superb shot that you want to use in all of your marketing materials, only later to find out that the person in the photo is asking to have their picture removed.
Stock photography has been a staple of the web and graphic design industry for many years, and for good reason: it works well and it's easy. Similar to images with creative commons licenses, stock images are created by artists who then license the image to be used by others. Unlike creative commons license images, stock images typically have a fee. The two types of photos you're likely to encounter on stock image websites are rights managed images, and royalty free images. Rights managed images are licensed on a per-usage basis, meaning you pay a fee for one usage of the photo. Any future use of the photo would incur another fee. Rights managed images can be licensed exclusively to one user, or can be licensed to several different users.
Royalty free images, on the other hand, only need to be purchased one time, and can be used for an indefinite number of materials and an indefinite time span. Like rights managed photos, the image is not exclusively licensed to you. As you can imagine, the more popular choice is using royalty free images, since they are much cheaper and more flexible in their usage terms. The biggest down side, is because they are so affordable, there can be a high number of different businesses using the exact same photo. Your competitor might purchase and use the same stock images as you. Despite this issue, royalty free images are still a great option because of the sheer number of choices available. Chances are, if you take a peek at your competitor's website you can check you make sure you don't buy any of the same stock photos that they're using.
If you prefer a more personalized web experience than stock photos can give you, but you don't want to take the photos yourself, you can hire a professional photographer. Price ranges for professional photography vary widely on geographic area and on the scope of your project. A professional can handle just about any request. Need a photo of happy customers eating at your restaurant? A pro can help you by finding models (if you don't have a group of people lined up already), getting releases signed (remember we discussed the permission issue earlier), and bringing equipment and lighting to make sure the shots you get are well-composed, high quality representations of the experience inside your establishment. Professional photography done right may cost a bit more upfront, but can last you for many years, and is completely unique to your business alone. Be sure to check the terms in the photographers contract to make sure you have limitless rights to use the photographs in all promotional materials for your business.
As you can see, you have many options when it comes to photography for your website. Some provide more flexibility white others provide endless personalization. You may choose to use a mixture of the different sources for the images on your website. In the end, what matters is providing your web visitor with the information they've come for, textually and through the use of thoughtfully chosen imagery.
1 Neilsen, Jakob. "How Little Do Users Read?" Nielsen Norman Group, May 6, 2008 Web. Nov 6, 2013
Need help finding and choosing images for your website? Or looking for professional photography services? We've taken many professional photos of everything from architecture, to food, to jewelry.
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