This podcast/post is for all of you out there who are continually updating your websites as well as for the people who are remodeling or building a new website. Images are super important on a website — they’re a huge component in telling your story, so you want to make sure you have the right images for the job.

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Hosted By
Monica Maye Pitts
Monica Maye Pitts Chief Creative Officer

Choosing the Perfect Images for Your Website

This podcast/post is for all of you out there who are continually updating your websites as well as for the people who are remodeling or building a new website. Images are super important on a website — they’re a huge component in telling your story, so you want to make sure you have the right images for the job.

There are a lot of different types of images you could feature on a website; the types of images I’m advising you on here are the ones you’ll use to tell your organization’s story, not the floofy extra filler icons and background images that are meant to just make things look pretty.

The MayeCreate Perspective

Some clients are really interested in the overarching framework of their website design; they want to make sure the colors and fonts are perfect, that all of the elements and components are in the right places. Some are extremely concerned with the words that will go on the pages, and rightfully so — they’re essential, right? 

Other clients can’t see past an image. If I put the wrong image in an initial web design, they look at me like I didn’t listen to them at all and have no idea what they want, even if the rest of the design is spot on. That said, I always try to make sure I use the images our clients really want to see within their initial designs to better guide them toward understanding how the end product comes together.

This is something I always talk back and forth about with the designers as their Art Director. Sometimes they go in and plop in images because they’re busy. They’ll just use the same image over and over again as a placeholder. It’s not so much that they’re doing the wrong thing but I call them out on it because using a variety of original images in the website design is how we better understand what imagery resonates with clients and what they feel will connect with their audience. 

It’s a bit of a trial and error scenario: if I don’t start out by giving people options, I end up using the wrong pictures in the end. 

So what makes a perfect image for your website?

1. They have to be REAL.

You might be thinking, “Aren’t all images real?” Well, yes, a file of an image is real. What I’m talking about is those phony stock images with actors and models. You know one when you see it, right? Perfect lighting, perfect smiles, perfect everything. Too perfect.

Back when I started doing web design, stock images weren’t nearly as available as they are now and it was expensive, so most of the pictures we had were pictures our clients took, which was a god-send, or there were just no pictures at all because everything loaded so darn slow.

For many years, people were just happy to have a website. Nobody cared what type of imagery was there. Just having a site put you ahead of your competition. Now, your website is like an extension of your organization and your fundraising staff, so it needs to represent you as well as your office or your Executive Director. This is why pictures of random people you found in a stock library just don’t cut it anymore. 

Going Pro vs. Taking Your Own

Your images don’t have to be crazy large with high resolution. You can literally just take them on your phone, it’s okay. Don’t freak out about it, you’re gonna be fine if you don’t have the money to hire a professional photographer. I mean, professional photographers produce the most amazing pictures. So I am not advocating that if you have the budget to get a professional photographer that you should not hire one, I think you should. I love working with their stuff. Sometimes their pictures come back and I get emotional because I’m so excited that I’m going to get to build a website that’s going to be that much better. It’s going to be so awesome. But if you can’t do it, like if you just can’t afford it, it’s okay man, just use your phone, go out and take your pictures. 

For those times when you’re left with no other choice….

There are times when you absolutely can’t find other pictures or don’t have an option of taking your own, and in those instances, by all means, use a stock photo. Just be very careful with what you’re using. 

For example, when stock photos became really big in our city magazine, there were multiple companies using the exact same family from iStock in their ads. I was mortified for them, wondering if these people know that this was happening. It was an image of a very attractive Caucasian family, and they were plastered all over everything from furniture ads to sound systems. Maybe I was the only one who noticed back then, but I thought it was really strange. So aim for something really original, something that’s very unlikely being used heavily somewhere else in town or in your industry.

2. They need to tell your story.

As you’re going through and collecting and/or taking pictures for your site, think through the different processes and points at which people contact your organization and how you want them to see themselves through your pictures. They need to tell your story. 

You have the story of your volunteers, of the people you serve, the people who work for you, those who donate to you — you’re going to tell all of those stories through your images.

Take photos throughout the year and hold onto them so you’ll have them ready for when it’s time to pull them together to tell your story.

3. They need to match your story.

What does that mean? I said they should tell your story, and now I’m saying they should match it. 

Matching Your Story’s Tone

I’m talking about tonality. You have a tone associated with the way you present your organization to the public: your images need to match that tone. 

image from Mobility Worldwide-Columbia website - children with boy on cart

Example 1 – Uplifting Tone

I have a client who makes mobility carts – Mobility Worldwide-Columbia. Their story is an uplifting one: they bring people literally out of the dirt in underdeveloped countries and give them a means of transportation. These carts enable kids to get to school for the first time, they allow parents to support their families because they can now get a job with their newfound mobility — some even use their mobility cart to create a career for themselves by becoming a mobile kiosk of sorts, selling items from their carts. None of their photos make you feel sad; they’re not images of people crying or suffering. Because their goal is not to make you feel sorry for the people they serve. The goal is to show you that you have the power to help these people and uplift them. 

Example 2 – Sad Tone

Then there are organizations like ASPCA (American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals). Their story is a sad one — they want you to feel pity for these animals, which is how they get you to donate (the maudlin sounds of Sarah McLachlan certainly help, am I right?). If you go out and look at their website, they do have bright, colorful pictures. But if you look closely at that puppy, he has a cut over his eyes. If you look at those kittens, they don’t really look healthy and happy. Many of the pictures of these animals are dirty, sad, lonely in cages. 

Matching What Your Target Market Needs to See

How are you communicating with our target market? What are the things we hear them say, their challenges, their concerns, their objections, their questions? How can we use these photos to tell that story? 

You don’t want to have a photo that doesn’t connect with them at all. The images on the ASPCA website are of really cute animals, which is what I want to see. If you go out to the Mobility Worldwide-Columbia website, you’ll see their photos are of groups of people rather than just individuals with carts to show you that these people are part of a family, part of a community. They’re real people like you. And maybe they don’t live in the same world you do, but they are a person just like you with a mom, dad, brother, schoolmates, many of the things you have in your life. 

4. Get a waiver/permission to use the images.

If you are going to be collecting or taking photos, especially of youths or minors, you have to have permission to use their photos in your marketing. This also goes for taking pictures of those you serve. Think about it: you want to be sure you’re not putting anyone in a bad situation by sharing their photos. 

Free Stock Images Websites

There are tons of free stock image sites these days. One of these might say an image is free to use, but is it free to use for commercial purposes? Do you have to give credit to the photographer? There are often certain guidelines or stipulations, so you be careful when selecting images from these sites.

Google Images

You can’t just go out and grab photos off of Google; those are photos somebody else took or purchased for their own website. I have had clients who’ve come to us from other designers and have gotten letters telling them they’re going to get charged thousands of dollars from an image that was taken from Google. There’s good news, though, if you’re guilty of this in most cases you can just take the picture(s) down to avoid receiving a similar letter. 

There is a very specific way to search for images on Google to make sure that you have the proper rights to them. 

When you’re in Google Images:

  1. Click on Tools on the far right
  2. Underneath that there’s a drop down called Usage Rights. By default, it is not filtered by 
  3. Filter by license, choose “labeled for reuse.” 

You’re going to notice when you select any of the “labeled for” options, many of those really darling pictures will go away because they’re images you have to purchase and/or have the proper licensing/permission to use. 

Stock Photo Libraries

There are all kinds of free stock photo libraries that you can use — I use them all the time. We covered options for finding free stock imagery online in a blog post last year – go check those out

Whichever site you choose to get images from, be sure to check the usage rights — you don’t want to get a letter in the mail telling you that you need to pay somebody thousands of dollars for the image that you didn’t even know you stole. 

5. Your images can’t break the rules.

Your organization has certain rules — there are certain laws you have to abide by. You can’t break those rules in the images you use on your website, regardless of how cute it is. 

Our construction company clients have to follow certain safety rules while on a job site, and because of those rules, they have to make certain all of their workers are in proper safety gear in the photos they use in their marketing. 

6. Your images should show diversity but not be rainbow.

People get pretty wrapped up in diversity. And of course, yay diversity, right? The thing is, it’s really weird when every picture has someone of every ethnicity in it. I suggest you use diversity throughout your website with the goal of featuring diverse people and ethnicities throughout your website as a whole rather than in every single image, or all in one image.

Ultimately, just be cognizant and represent your diverse audience in your photos, but don’t get super wrapped up in making sure every single photo is a rainbow of diversity.

7. Your photos should be reusable in the rest of your marketing. 

The goal is to tell your story consistently throughout your marketing. Your website photos are recyclable. That said, save them somewhere that makes sense, and make sure you’ve got a spot where you can save all of your images together, so other people on your marketing team can find them and use them for marketing materials. 

woman selecting images from her computer

8. Consider the orientation of the images you take and or select for your website. 

Vertical images, no matter how great of a picture it is, are no good for your home page slider or hero image section (in other words, the slideshow at the top of your home page), which is designed for horizontal images.

Start with the end in mind: if you think you’re going to mostly use horizontal photos, take mostly horizontal photos. Another great tip: zoom out or take images from a bit farther away so you have some flexibility in the way you want to crop it or use it. 

When you’re picking pictures, rule out the ones that aren’t the right size. In istockphotos.com, I sort by orientation so I only see horizontal pictures in my search results, because the last thing I want to do is fall in love with an image and then not even be able to use it.

9. Consider if you’ll be putting words on top of the image.

If you’re going to put words on top of your photos, pick a picture that can actually handle that. Usually that means you’re going to have the subject of your image over on the far left or the far right and the words on the other side. That way, you can overlay text onto your image and see see the image itself.

A lot of times, you won’t want a photo with a super busy background because words are  really hard to see on those kinds of images, at least without some kind of image overlay, which is not a bad thing — you can enlist your designer to do for you.

For our clients, we programmatically build their website sliders with the option to have words over them that carousel around. Then our client can put whatever pictures up there whenever they want to. That also means that means they need to pick pictures that actually fit in the allotted space that can have words on top of them and don’t look strange. 

Happy picture taking/hunting/gathering!

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