Sourcing images for your website
Image, Emotion and Brain Processing
Many of us have heard the saying 'a picture is worth a thousand words' and 'we process visual information 60,000 times faster than words'. While these are fascinating and impactful statements, if you're as nerdy as me, you'll be disappointed to hear that they are anecdotal and not grounded in science. Boooooo!
That said, imagery has been with humans a lot longer than words. We only need to open our eyes to see and process visual information, while spoken language is a relatively new human invention.
One of the purposes of your website is to evoke an emotional response-via both imagery and words. You want to 'move' people to take action. There are differences in the brain when processing pictures and words, but the emotional system response is the same. Both positive imagery and words are able to evoke comparably strong emotional responses. At least according to one study.
So, we know that both images and words are important in gaining an emotional response from visitors to your website. In this blog post, we'll focus on imagery and where you can source it.
Your key options for sourcing images are:
- Take your own photographs
- Hire a photographer
- Use stock images
Everybody's budget and needs differ. For example, it would be pointless using stock images if the images you need are images of your own products. There isn't a right or wrong option as such, but there are some pros and cons to consider.
Take your own Photographs
Advances in technology have made it easy to take good quality photographs and upload them directly to your website. And this is the least expensive option if you already have the tools you need to take the photographs.
However, there's a huge caveat–if you haven't had any photographic training and you aren't creatively talented, the photographs you take are unlikely to have the impact you need on your website. Especially, when trying to gain the emotional response. There are two factors at play, you need to have the technical ability and knowledge to take a good shot (e.g. lighting set-up, camera use, etc), as well as having a creative eye for things like composition, contrast and colour. This could be the difference between making a sale or not.
It can be really hard for people without experience to objectively look at photographs they've taken and discern good imagery. When you take a photograph of an object, you know what the object looks like, because you can see it there in front of you. The photograph may not represent it very well, but your brain fills in the details and you see the object perfectly in your photograph. In contrast, someone who hasn't seen the object in real life, only the photograph of it, will observe it differently. If they can't see your products for what they are, they could be turned off, or even worse, purchase a product and then be disappointed and frustrated. The next thing you know you have a disgruntled customer writing bad reviews and it's downhill from there.
I don't want to put you off though. If your budget is limited, then you may only have this as an option–you could go for it, with a view to hiring a photographer in the near future. But, know that your images could be less effective on your site. I have one client who intended to use a photographer until she found she couldn't afford the fees. Instead, she took her own photos with her phone, then paid a photographer to edit them for her. These were good enough as a temporary measure. Bear in mind that as a designer, my client is loaded with creative talent. She had the creative part of the equation, but needed more help with the technical side–so it may not be a good option for everyone.
Hire a Photographer
This can be an expensive option, but can also be a great investment. It's not always the case that a good photographer will be the most expensive, so shop around-look for work that you love at a cost that you can afford. You may find someone within your area who is oozing with creative and technical talent, but just starting out on their career and charging lower fees. If your budget is low, you could consider asking at a local art school. There could be a budding photographer who, with support from their tutors, would value the experience and income.
If you have a decent budget, this could be the best option for you, depending on the type of images you need for your website. Be wary though, there are plenty of 'photographers' out there who have the technical ability, but lack the necessary creative talent. You could end up with less effective images at a high price. Always shop around for quality work that you love, within the cost you can afford, then get friends and family to give a second opinion.
Use Stock Images
This can be expensive, but these days you can find plenty of good quality images, free! I'll come to that soon.
Squarespace works with Getty Images, one of the market leaders in stock photography. And, due to the Squarespace/Getty Images partnership, you get amazing quality at a great price. This is a good option if you're building your own Squarespace site, or if you're hiring us–or someone else–to build it for you. The Squarespace cost, per image, as of Aug 2018, is:
- $10 USD
- €9 EUR
- £8 GBP
- $14 AUD
This is billed directly through your Squarespace account. You can also pay more for an extended licence, which allows you to use the same image for other purposes such as print. It's a really great option, but there are other options too. Let's cut to the chase and look at free images.
Free Stock Images
Pexels is my favourite free stock image site. It's truly a feast for the eyes! Dare I admit, I browse the site, sometimes daily, for a 'wow' fix–could I be addicted? Often I'll gain creative ideas for marketing whilst browsing, so I can justify spending the time on there.
The quality of the images is fantastic, as are the creative factors like composition, colour and current imagery trends. They even have a browse by colour option. Chose your favourite colour, or the colour you're matching to your branding and be prepared to be blown away–see screenshots below.
There's another fantastic free stock photo site, Unsplash–another feast for the eyes on par with Pexels. Be sure to check out both of these.
Free images are generally smaller in size, but still larger than the recommended size for websites. Larger images on websites slow down the site loading which puts your customers off–people don't have the time or patience to wait around for a site to load. And there's nothing more annoying than a website which jumps around as the images load one by one. At worst, you end up clicking on an ad accidentally, as it jumps. You know what I'm talking about, I know you've experienced it. Fortunately, your Squarespace website doesn't do this.
Often photographers share their work on these sites to gain exposure, take donations as well as potentially selling their work. People sometimes want to use the same image for printed marketing materials, which calls for a larger image size. They go on to purchase a larger version of the free image.
The thing to be wary of with any free images is to check the licence use and make sure it's appropriate for your needs. You may need to credit the photographer and some images may not have had the subjects sign a model release contract–often there's no way of knowing that, it is a small risk.
In fact, even when purchasing images, it's important to check the licence. Usually, you can't purchase a standard licence for an image and use it for more than what you purchased it for. For example, you can't use it for both a website and a PowerPoint presentation unless you've purchased an additional or extended licence. And some stock image sites' licences don't allow images to be used for social media. Each stock image site and licence is different.
Stock Photo Secrets
Another stock image site I want to recommend as an affordable option is Stock Photo Secrets. If you're going to need a lot of images and you need to use them over and over again, for different purposes, then this could be a good option. Their 99Club offers incredible value compared to many other stock image sites, where you can quite easily blow your budget. They offer 200 XXL images for $99, for the year.
Personally, I use all of the above-mentioned sites plus more, because sometimes, the image in my head isn't available on my favourite stock image sites. And, sometimes, the same images are available across several stock images sites, so I'll go for the one which is most cost effective–it really does pay to shop around. I recently saved myself around $50 for one image I really wanted. If there's an image you really want and it's outside of your budget, don't give up on it, a thorough search will often reveal you can purchase it elsewhere at a great price.
The Caveat in Sourcing Stock Images
Here's the main caveat when sourcing stock images–many stock images are ultra-cheesy. Over the top and badly posed spring to mind. These images can transform your website into something really quite terrible. Some stock image sites have plenty of cheesy images, especially if they are more cost effective and it can be time-consuming filtering through to find the right image. So be careful with your choice of image. Just because an image popped up in your search and the subject matter is relevant, doesn't make it the right image. A bad choice can be detrimental to your website and business.
There's no right way to source images for your website, it all depends on your talents, budget and time available, as well as your business type and offering. I hope I've given you the tips you need to help in your quest to source images. Any questions, post a comment or contact me directly.
P.S. One of our additional services is stock image selection. If you're concerned about picking the right images, or simply don't have the time, we can take the pain out of it for you. You can check out our optional extras here.