8 Rules for Choosing Images for Your New Website

choosing imagery for blog

Have you chosen a new theme for your website?

If not, go back and read our blog post How to Choose a Theme for a New Website.

If you have, congrats! You’re making some serious headway in the planning stages of your site.

Now that you have a theme, it’s time to gather images for use on your site. Creating a collection of pre-approved images from stakeholders will make the design process go faster and will make sure everyone’s on board with how the theme will take shape. But be warned: choosing images for your new site isn’t as simple as just throwing together imagery from a google search or a stock photo library.

We’ve created a short list of rules we use when collecting images for website redesign projects. These make sure that a new website is interesting, professional, and avoids common mistakes. But before we get into the rules for picking photos, let’s talk about the goal.

The goal is to leverage the enormous volume of high-quality images available on stock image libraries, without making your site look like it was pieced together by a stock image library.

Sometimes we encounter people who assume stock image libraries are bad. They’re not. Tens of thousands of photographers from around the world have captured stunning photos, edited them, and placed them for purchase online. Use them! However, stock image libraries are full of bad photos too. Many commit design faux-pas that a non-designer might not catch. And you want to make sure your website adheres to design best practices.

Here’s what you need to do to make sure the pictures you select will produce a sharp, modern, and most importantly professional website.


1. Fit the Medium

Are you choosing images for banners,  or portrait-shaped containers? More than likely, you’re choosing images for banners or square containers. If that’s the case, don’t use vertically oriented images (meaning that they are taller than they are wider). Don’t put square pegs in round holes, and don’t crop vertical photos into horizontal containers.


2. No Human Subjects

You can break the rules on this one selectively, but, stock image models are awful. I know it might seem compelling to use humans to make your website seem more personal, but no one actually believes the stock image model wearing a headset is a customer support rep at your company.

Introducing humans into your imagery is like introducing characters into a story, and it doesn’t make sense if they appear without good reason, and then are never seen again.

If you want to learn more about what I mean, read this hilarious blog post on the HubSpot Blog about stock image models.


3. Be Picky About Super-Imposed Elements or Computer-Generated Images

Super-imposed imagery such as holograms or data visualizations across a city skyline are cheesy. Accept it.  Your website will be much classier if you avoid this type of imagery.

Futuristic is good when done well.  But if you’re not confident in your eye for design, aim to keep things simple.

Computer generated images (CGI) may seem cool, but they look outdated quickly. The world of CGI moves fast, and you don’t want to need to redesign your website again too soon because of bad image choices. Or worse, you don’t want to go into 2019 using CGI from 2009.

If you absolutely must use some superimposed or CG imagery, make sure the photoshopping is flawless. These types of photos are prone to having small errors that are hard to find.


4. Focus the Color Palette

Avoid using image combinations with clashing color palettes and limit the number of colors throughout the site. A good website is simple – a trait that is actually hard to achieve well. It might be tempting to use images with many different colors. Try to use only images where the most prominent colors match the tones in your branding.


5. Vary the Depth of Field and Texture

To make your site interesting, don’t rely only on color.  Use different depths of field and textures to create visual contrasts. If your theme is skyscrapers, pair skylines with close-ups of windows. Mix shadowy and dark images with airy and light ones. Look for materials within photos such as fabric, concrete, grass, clouds, or blurred lighting to provide texture to a web page.


6. Use High-Resolution Only

If the image isn’t high resolution, don’t use it on the site. For banner images, only use images that are greater than 2000 pixels in width. Before finalizing your website, look at it on a large monitor to make sure images don’t appear pixelated.


7. Strike the Perfect Balance Between Literal and Abstract

Bracken Marketing sells marketing and web design services in the pharma industry. Do you know how many pharma websites we’ve seen that use the same stock images of test tubes and microscopes? There’s no need for this. A website is a chance to standout from the crowd and showcase your team’s creativity. Conduct a brainstorming session. Think about the themes you can go with other than what is the most obvious choice. Then use combinations of abstract imagery with literal imagery around this theme, to provide good balance.


8. Understand your Editing Capabilities

Keeping the above 7 steps in mind, also understand that you can edit photos to make them work even better. Consider converting photos to black and white. Adjust the contrasts. Use filters. For those familiar with Adobe tools, adjust the saturation of individual hues so that specific colors pop.


Let’s recap:

  1. Fit the medium
  2. No human subjects
  3. Be picky about super-imposed elements and CGI
  4. Focus the color palette
  5. Vary the depth of field and texture
  6. Use high-resolution only
  7. Strike the perfect balance between literal and abstract
  8. Understand your editing capabilities
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Elliot Miller