Why your photos have a job to do
Images capture the viewer’s attention and hold it for a moment, they are being processed in their head far quicker than your copy, no matter how relevant and carefully written.
Images need to support and enhance your web site’s message and so it’s important to know how to make photos work for your website
Keith Cooper is a professional UK commercial photographer and discusses what’s important about photos on your web site, and how you can improve their impact and relevance.
What do photos do?
Photos can convey a lot of information very quickly, so quickly in fact that they hold strong sway in a page viewer’s immediate impression of relevance to their needs.
As a result of this, a poor or inaccurate product photo will lose you a visitor, no matter how relevant it might really be in the copy alongside.
Eye tracking surveys show the almost magnetic attraction of images for people’s gaze wandering over your page.
People and particularly faces work well in this respect and can set a tone or mood for a site visit.
But hold on…
Before you rush out and renew your stock photo subscriptions, it’s worth noting that viewers can spot generic ‘stock’ images in a moment, and will rapidly ignore them, with an associated downgrading of the relevance of your site.
Whilst screen layout and attention to typography enhances visitor experience, be careful about too much spurious decoration – images need to be relevant to the task at hand (and you do know what your visitors want don’t you?)
People in your images should ideally look ‘real’ – there is some useful information about this aspect of design by Nielsen [https://www.nngroup.com/articles/photos-as-web-content]
I’m talking about still images here – they convey their message without any conscious choice by the viewer. The same cannot be said for video. It definitely has its place, but remember that a site visitor has to decide to trust you with some of their precious time in return for genuinely useful content. I note that few people selling ‘must-have’ video services for web sites ever mention this aspect…
Photos of products
Product photography is something that many small businesses are addressing themselves, since the equipment needed is relatively inexpensive, and it can make for a quick turnaround between a new product arriving and getting it up on the web site for sale.
The key to successful product photos is a combination of consistent style (e.g. lighting and background) and picking the right view of the product.
By the right view, I’m looking for an image that has enough information in it to help answer potential buyers questions (note I keep coming back to the visitor’s needs, not the business or web site developer’s needs)
One aspect of this that is often overlooked is with thumbnail images, which are simply resized versions of larger photos. This works the other way too where ‘clicking to enlarge’ gets you the same image but only 10-20% bigger.
Whilst a site visitor may not hang around a site with a slew of high resolution images waiting for them to load on a page, once they do want more detail, you have more time to deliver a large high quality image to them.
Sharpening is something that all digital images need in varying amounts. Be very careful when reducing the size of images to avoid losing detail.
Also, be wary when you are told that image sizes are ‘too large’. Simplistic size reduction can easily rob your images of quality.
You need to decide which images can safely be treated this way and which ones will just lower the impression of quality you might want to give?
Here’s the same image but much more heavily compressed (you can see the effect on the text too).
Notice how the smaller sharpened image has held more detail and a feeling of depth to the photo.
So, optimise your smaller images with sharpening, so they stand out. If your web designer doesn’t understand the different ways of processing images at different sizes, move on to one who does.
Sometimes, you may want your product photos to be a bit more than a simple illustration of what items look like, this is where more complex solutions such as 360 degree views and videos come in, but remember, this only happens once your web site visitor is at a stage where they want a lot more info and are willing to take time for find it.
Sometimes your product photos just need to catch attention. The following image for one of our clients, shows tiny electronic components, which it was assumed that viewers would be aware of (something I can’t assume here).
The attention grab is the comparison with the gummi bears – which many people will just know the size of (~20mm high)
Photos of your services
If good product photography can be codified and implemented relatively easily, then representing services can be a whole different matter.
Once again it helps to consider what the site visitor wants to know – you may have several categories of visitor, their needs may well differ.
The temptation is all too often to reach for the stock photo collection, but apart from the risk of the photo you choose also being used on another site (advertising who knows what) there is that ‘photo filler’ filter that we all have and use to ignore irrelevant photos.
Stock photos may be cheap, but so is the impression they can give of your business.
This is an area where creative input is well worthwhile (which obviously is part of what we do for clients…)
The photo below, in a toolmaker’s workshop, shows older (skilled/experienced/precise/expert) staff members at work.
How you use images like this depend on knowing why you are including them and what message they convey.
One pitfall here is to assume that because you know exactly what the picture is about, then your audience must do as well. This may be true or it may not be.
As a photographer with an engineering background I find it easier to appreciate what is going on in such a scene, but I still want to know why the photos are needed.
It may be enjoyable for me to visit a factory and ‘just photograph things’ but it’s a sure fire way of getting some great looking photos that still don’t fit the brief in someone’s head that I was never told about.
So, work with designers and photographers to decide what it is you want and come up with a plan. They should know how to make photos work for your website and your business.
Relatively few designers and photographer may have specific relevant domain knowledge for your business (no matter what their marketing says) so make sure that everyone working on the project knows why things are the way they are.
Conversely, if a photographer tells you that a particular view or location just won’t work well as a photo, listen to them, it’s as much their job as taking the photos.
About the Author
This post was written by Keith Cooper.
Keith is a specialist commercial and architectural photographer with Northlight Images in Leicester and can be found at http://www.northlight-images.co.uk/
Northlight’s aim is “Photography that works for you” and unlike many other photographers they only do commercial work, so no weddings, babies or pet photos. Keith also helps companies take better photos themselves, offering professional photography training throughout the UK. He also tests new equipment for major companies like Canon and Epson and writes widely on photography matters.