Effective Use of Photographs in Your Business Website

Photography is a powerful method of reaching your business website audience with immediacy and impact. While it’s absolutely critical to show pictures — including close-ups — of any products that you sell, that isn’t the only reason to use photography. Well-selected and appropriately positioned images can tell a story about your business, your processes, your tourist destination, and most importantly, your people. Good photos are good sales tools!

Sometimes, the web seems to exist in a strangely depopulated part of the universe. Many sites omit photographs, perhaps because of a legacy of concern about download time. Others have photographs only of buildings, machines, products, landscapes, nature, or artwork.

That’s fine, but the most powerful images in the world have faces; our human brains are designed to react to them. When viewers see a picture with people, they can imagine themselves visiting that place, doing that activity, or using that product. They move themselves one step further along the buying process.

While faster access has made it easier to use photos, a page that takes more than eight seconds to download will lose much of its audience.

To reduce download time, be sure to save each photo in the correct format for the web: JPGs with a file size of no more than 85K; less if you have multiple photos on a page. Use smaller images of 10–20K, called thumbnails, that people click to view an enlargement in a pop-up window.

This process is especially common on pages with multiple images, such as catalog pages for an online store. Here are a few other tips for using photos on your website:

  • Photos that work in print don't always work online, especially as thumbnails. Long-distance shots or images with multiple points of interest might look fine when expanded, but not as small images.

  • Crop photos to remove extraneous background information that detracts from the message you're trying to send.

  • It’s worth the cost of digital doctoring if the picture helps tell your story. Some photos might need additional processing in Photoshop to improve their color, contrast, brightness, or hue, or to erase something that you don’t want seen. Of course, ethical and professional constraints limit manipulation of images for reasons other than quality.

  • Start with a high-resolution photo resized and saved for the web as a JPG. You cannot make a low-resolution photo better, but you can easily make a high-resolution photo smaller while maintaining image quality.

  • If you expect users to print pages with photos, make sure the photos are “readable” in black and white.

If photographs are an integral part to the story you’re telling or the appeal you’re making, they need to be good ones. A photo that is too small, out of focus, too busy, or poorly framed makes your company and your products look as bad as the photo.

Hire a pro, buy stock photos from a source like www.istockphoto.com, look for images in the public domain (meaning not subject to copyright) at images.google.com, or search for items on photo-sharing sites like Flickr or PhotoBucket that carry a Creative Commons license for “all rights granted,” which places work in the public domain.

For an example of the role played by well-edited photos, check out Wine To Water , a charity fundraising site shown in the following illustration.

Photos involve the viewer in the site’s efforts to bring safe water to third-world communitie
Credit: Courtesy of Wine to Water™
Photos involve the viewer in the site’s efforts to bring safe water to third-world communities.

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