- First the basics, give your viewers bright images. This may seem obvious but I see a lot of dark photos. You may have a new, high-res monitor but the average viewer is on an older computer that may have a much dimmer, lower resolution screen. Appealing business images are usually bright and lively - even night scenes. If you look carefully you'll notice that what makes a beautiful dark photo is often the contrast within it. Avoid low-contrast, dark images.
- Give us sharply focused shots. Blurry images - unless the blur is being used as an effect - should be avoided. You don't want users squinting at the screen and wondering if their eyes going bad. Don't use pixellated images (the ones we've all seen with the jagged edges). This usually means that a small image was resized to be larger, which just makes each pixel bigger.
- Use the right resolution range for the web: 72-96 dpi. Higher resolution images look better but take longer to load. A good balance is 72-96 dpi at the proper dimensions to fit the layout. If you don't have Photoshop or a fancy image editor, free online editors like Pixlr.com work great.
- Crop to feature your subject. Images should have a clear point in terms of meaning. Minimize busy surroundings when taking photos (especially of people and objects) and crop out unnecessary parts of the images when using snapshots. I often see event photos where the photographer has captured a scene but the point of the image is the two people off to the side. Crop the image so that the people we're supposed to be interested in are at the center. Think of cropping as an art form and experiment with how different an image looks when cropped differently. Take a close look at major websites and begin to notice how carefully the images are cropped.
- Color coordination matters. While researching house painting, a painter friend pointed out to me that unless you're going to change the color of your roof you will want your new color scheme to match it - a fact frequently overlooked by people giddily holding paint swatches up to their walls and door frames. This applies to websites too. When choosing images, look at them side by side (or on top of) your website. Often times an image that looks great on it's own looks dreadful on your burgundy website. It's also a great idea to chose images with clothing or background elements that match your site colors - it leads to a more cohesive look.
- Now some psychology, have your subject look in to the camera. People are drawn to faces, that's why so many advertising images feature typically attractive faces with emotionally-open expressions. These types of images convey a welcoming, trustworthy feeling. If you're buying stock images, just be careful not to chose tired, cliche images - you know the ones. The multiracial group of people shaking hands with joyful fake expressions ... we've had enough of those.
- Show us the action. If you're posting photos of your tradeshow booth, we want to see the faces of your attendees and what they are interacting with - not the backs of a bunch of people huddled around a table. I think this is common because we can be a bit timid as photographers. Get in there! And if you're buying stock images, show people's faces as they do things, not just hands or backs of heads.
- Color matters ... again. Different colors (and shapes) appeal to different demographics. It's not as simple as cold or bold colors for men and warm or soft colors for women. Think about your target audience and visit the sites of major brands that cater to the same group. Colors can also elicit emotion. I once had a client say he wanted his site to have "warm" colors. When I sent the design sample in an off-white/beige/red palette he said that wasn't "it" so I asked him for a specific color he said green. He wanted welcoming, soothing colors that were warm in an emotional sense not warm in a temperature sense. Think about colors as a means of visual and emotional communication. For more on this topic see The Science Behind Colors In Marketing.
- Be stylistically consistent. Use images that are composed in the same - or at least similar - image styles. If you are adding an image to represent each of your ten service offerings, take the time to pick out ten images with the same sort of framing, focus, and colors. Jumping from a distance shot to a close up or from a face to a crowd might look fine individually but remember that the images will be viewed on the same page or one after another as the viewer navigates your site. You want a smooth, consistent flow.
- Choose imagery that reflects your brand. If you're selling skateboards to teenagers then grungy is cool but for most professional services you want to use images of clean, vibrant people in nice clothes. If you're audience includes parents, use images of clean, happy, laughing kids. Perhaps this is obvious but I mention it because I have gotten images to post of kids with dirty clothes and fingernails. That's not what you want your precious company image associated with.
That's just the tip of the iceberg as far as web imagery goes but I hope you'll find it useful and thought provoking. I'd love to hear your ideas too, feel free to add them to the Comments below. Thanks for your time and here's to making a better web for everyone.
Ame Stanko is the web developer/designer/graphic artist/geek behind Pixel Lava Interactive and has created hundreds of websites since she ventured on to the interwebs in 1997.