Using Stock Photography in Web Design

Stock photography can either be used very well or very badly when it comes to graphically designing a website, so what should you look out for?

How many times have you seen clean-cut, generic, world-friendly images (like the one on the right) appear on websites, magazines and brochures?  These common photo stock images usually have an underlying message within the image with a cheesy title such as “man frustrated with laptop“, “woman smiling on a beach” or “corporate business handshake“.

The more specific the stock photo title is, the more likely it will get found using specific searches on websites such as iStockPhoto and DreamsTime.  A funny example of ultra-specific stock photography is the “woman laughing alone with salad” list at TheHairPin.com, check it out!

The problem with stock photography is that most images and models have been used countless times and you end up seeing the same person again and again or the same cheesy pose again and again.  The image used in this blog post had been downloaded over 1,900 times on one website alone for example!

Another issue is that stock photography is very generalised, many models look like they’d fit neatly into any western country and they all have the same perfect teeth and skin.  The lighting of the image is very ‘news bulletin’ like, evenly lit with no shadows and sometimes heavy makeup.

Stock Photography Pitfalls to Avoid

- Avoid popular images on stock photography websites. People may associate these images with other websites or even other brands as the images are used several thousands of times over in other places

- Does the image look staged, is it beautifully lit and featuring a perfect looking, clean-cut person? A non-genuine image can reflect badly on your own brand, people may think the fake image reflects on an untrustworthy business or a potential online scam even

- Does the model fit the target market? Each country has it’s own unique dress sense and physical features.  If your target market is the UK then an image of a beautiful Sweedish customer service representative for example could put a little doubt in to the minds of a potential customer ready to call

- Are any watermarks left on the image? Stock photo websites add in faint watermarks to protect their image from the ‘Print Screen’ button.  Some web design amateurs steal stock images (instead of paying a small fee) and stupidly use the watermarked image on the actual website itself!

Stock Photography Tips for Web Design

- Be unique - Use artistic images which a majority of online users have never seen, it doesn’t matter if they don’t quite match up to what message you want to convey, a natural, unique image of a person smiling does wonders.  Web design should be creative not repetitive!

- Be subtle - Stock images should really be used to fill in a few gaps or background images.  If possible hire a good photographer to take all the main images of your website, you could use stock images to create a compelling background or for little images you’ll need next to information such as phone numbers or maps.  If you website is a local business then perhaps you could use stock photography to show your town/city in the best light in a less prominent place.

- Don’t be afraid to use images of normal people – Unless your website features a luxury product or a lifestyle service you should use images of ordinary people. Very few of us have model-like looks, the general public feel at ease dealing with people like themselves. TV adverts for supermarkets, banks and insurance for example features ordinary people operating at the same level as their customers, it instills trust and breaks down defensive barriers.

- Use a high quality image on the homepage - Within 3-4 seconds visitors to your website will instantly judge it and decide whether to stay or go.  Low quality stock imagery may save you £10-£20 but in the long run it could increase the bounce rate of your website (percentage of visitors who come and go). Sometimes you may be required to cut out an image so you can place the subject on a different background; an extra-large image will give you a much higher level of quality when cutting out the subject from the original background and look amazing when shrunk down afterwards with transparent pixels around the edges

We hope these tips have been handy, view some of our clients websites to see some of designs in action…

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