Websites that Work: Picture Perfect – how to choose the right images for your site

On the 14th of February 2005, I stood gazing up at the magnificent vault of the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican. It’s etched so clearly in my mind – the vibrant colours, the flowing lines, the faces, their expressions. I stood for ages, just gazing, trying to burn it into my memory somehow… all that blue and orange and green… all that beauty.

Getting there had been quite interesting in itself. A loud explosion had woken me that morning – it was St Valentine’s Day, and I had stayed in Terni overnight. Now, the patron saint of Terni is… San Valentino. So, the exuberant inhabitants of Terni paid him this loud, early-morning tribute. A quick breakfast, a quick coffee and then, on a jam-packed, early morning train to Rome. We emerged from the underground and raced to join the long museum queue at the Vatican. I’d seen pictures, I had read up quite a bit on what I was about to see, but nothing really could prepare me for it all. It was simply beautiful.

In fact, that entire year living in Italy was visual overload.

I’m the daughter of a painter, I know how powerfully an image can ‘hit’. You probably do too, but maybe you’ve not thought about it much?

Websites are a form of art as well, and the images you choose to display have the potential for massive impact. For that reason alone, it’s worth doing well. I’ve written about images before, and you’ll find two posts on my site about where to find good images and how to optimise them for your site. But here is my considered advice about images on website from a design perspective.

You need good quality images

If you can’t afford a professional photographer, then find good images on Unsplash or any one of the other websites I recommend. Professional photographers look at line, perspective, balance and create something of aesthetic value when the shutter clicks. They’re mindful of background and the intent of an image. And technical quality is important too – go for large pixels, high-res.

You must be relevant

Ask yourself three questions when choosing images for your site:

  • Will it help the visitor to my site understand the context of the web page?
  • Will it drive the point home or distract visitors instead?
  • Is it just me in love with this image, or does it provide actual value to the page?

Use real people

The internet has moved on since the 90s, you don’t need bad stock photos anymore. They look staged and cheesy – just don’t go there. People respond to the human touch. Have a bit of humanity in your images, but let it be natural, without losing quality. Don’t be afraid to use team photos or a profile photo of yourself.

Try to evoke a feeling

Use images that convey an emotion. People make decisions on feeling. Logic comes later. The next time you see a photo online, ask yourself why the photo struck you, what is it about the photo that made you look twice at it.

Choose photos that ‘blend’

Be mindful that your images are like musical notes that need to be in harmony. Pay attention not only to the type of images you choose, but also the colours you’re working with.

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