Web developers probably look at more corporate web sites than most people do. By continually considering new projects and listening to client ideas, we naturally keep abreast of new design and functionality trends in the marketplace. As we're often reviewing sites specifically in need of a redesign, we also see a lot of pretty awful stuff from years past.
When you take a look at all of the snazzy new themes out there for today's leading CMSs like Joomla and Wordpress, you may notice that design is really starting to mature on the web. We've covered a lot of related material on this site, in fact. (See, for example, our article on Bootstrap.) One thing you'll see these days is that nearly all design templates / themes now come with pre-styled slideshows, interesting animations, beautiful backgrounds, lighting effects, and more. Increasingly, sites are not only incorporating more photos, but the dominance of photos and other graphical elements seems to be taking the spotlight like never before. How many sites have you seen lately, for example, that feature large slide shows or even 100% full-width photos in the page background? We've seen *many*!
It makes sense, though... larger photos are generally appealing to many. Also, monitors seem to be getting larger and larger all the time (and cheaper!). And, cameras are becoming more and more powerful, meaning it's easier than ever to shoot a quality photo at HD (or larger) pixel dimensions. (Heck, as of this writing, there is already a *44 mega-pixel* camera phone available!)
The highly welcome effect of all of this is that sites are becoming considerably more visually inviting. Even if your web site (like this one) needs to contain a lot of detailed copy, at least you can make it all much more inviting by adding graphical elements -- and not just for the sake of doing so, but graphics that relate to the content and help illustrate and reinforce the intended meaning behind it all. The best part: Besides just looking nice, there are some solid business reasons to amp up your visual appeal. I'll cover those at the end of this article.
One of the problems, then, that businesses run into is: What photos are we going to show? Well, if you're a product manufacturer, you obviously can show the product(s). All businesses also have the option of showing employee photos -- the team at work, etc. But, at some point (especially if you have a ton of content), you're going to need more. I'll cover the three most common solutions to this here. We'll discuss (1) paid stock photography sites, (2) free photography sites, and (3) DIY / self-generated photos.
Paid Photography Sites
Some people shy away from paid photo sites for stock photography. However, I suspect that's because they've been scared away by some of the pricier ones. For example, one of the leading stock photo sites, iStock, seems too expensive to me. Instead, try some of the more cost-effective resources. Fotolia, for example, is one I return to quite a lot for their wide selection and reasonable pricing. Instead of listing individual resources here, just Google "best stock photography sites" and you'll get tons of blog articles that rank or recommend them. But, just to give a real-life example: Using a site like Fotolia, you can easily obtain images for about $1 each. So, imagine you have a 50-page web site that's text-heavy at the moment. Fifty bucks is dirt cheap in terms of photo costs for really sprucing up your site. (Keep in mind that I'm referring to smaller-sized, low-res photos intended for web use only. Also, you may have to pay someone to select, download, edit, and place them on your site.) Marketing Portland has an affiliate link w/ Fotolia... check them out sometime via this link. Or, ask around... there are tons of these sites to choose from.
One further note here is that, while smaller photos are generally easy to obtain inexpensively, larger-sized or high-definition photos almost always cost a lot more. Most people don't need too many of these, but it's good to keep in mind because purchasing a lot of large-sized photos can add up quickly.
Free Photography Sites
In my opinion, one of the best ways to acquire "free" photos to use is via Flickr. All you need to do is go to Flickr, do a quick search (e.g., "cats"), and then click on the "Advanced Search" link that you'll see on the results page. Now, what you want to do is click on "Only Photos" where it says "Search by media type" and then also select all three of the boxes shown down under "Creative Commons." This will indicate that you (1) want to view photos specifically licensed as Creative Commons, (2) you intend to use the photos commercially, and (3) you may also change the photo (adapting it somehow for your own purposes).
One would think that this last item is so obvious, it shouldn't even merit inclusion here. However, I can tell you that taking your own photos doesn't always occur to business people. I have a super-long-winded editorial opinion about this, but I'll save it for another time. For now, I just want everyone to keep in mind that, if you need a bunch of photos, doing it yourself is an option to consider. (The elephant pic, above, is a good example. It's not stock photography; rather, it's a pic we took during a trip to Thailand this year.) As digital cameras improve and photo-editing software becomes ubiquitous, DIY photography will naturally become more prevalent. Of course, we didn't discuss the other "obvious" option of hiring a professional photographer to go out and get the shots you need. If this is a preference for you, hit up Craigslist or do a Google search.
The Business Case for Using Photos
Finally, I wanted to list the benefits of using more photos and/or graphical elements on your web site:
- First, these things make your site easier to read. (Mainly, I'm speaking of photos, although I'll definitely cover infographics separately sometime.)
- They make your site more welcoming (so that you don't scare people away with pages that look too text-heavy). If more people are reading your pages, more people are "buying" your stuff!
- They set moods and help convey concepts and meaning beyond what your text says.
- They enhance social media sharing. When someone shares a link from your web site, that share will be massively more effective if it's accompanied by a striking graphic.
- Likewise, if an article looks nice, visitors will be more likely to share it.
- They improve visitor time on your site!
- They can be good for SEO, as they provide you with an opportunity to include meta tags. This is not only good for normal SEM purposes, but the images themselves can also show up on Google Image search, which can be another potential stream of inbound traffic that you didn't have before.
When you've decided to redesign your site and incorporate more graphics and photos, make sure to discuss the matter with your web designer, as you'll want to cover some of the tech best practices involved. For example, what CSS styling will be applied to your photos? How will you achieve the proper meta tagging so that the correct images share on Facebook when people share your content? What size and resolution is best for your site?