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Be a picture research ninja

Efficient picture research saves time and gets results that look great


Pictures are a key part of your web offering. Potential clients coming to your website will take in the content and the ‘feel’ of the pictures you display more quickly than the text. So it makes sense to put time and effort into choosing the right pictures.

The DIY route

Today most people have an excellent camera on their mobile phone, and it’s quite possible to take your own shots. This makes sense for some types of image – perhaps you just need a quick shot of your office, or a product shot. But for other types of image – say you need a picture that conveys ‘traditional values’ – it’s quicker and cheaper to get a stock photograph in. You can spend hours trying to get the perfect snap and then hours more editing it. But all along the perfect image has been waiting for you in a picture library.

Free stock images

There are plenty of sources of free stock photography out there, and some even offer rights for commercial use. Yes, the website for your business counts as ‘commercial use’.

But I tend not to use free stock photography myself. The ‘free’ bit is appealing, but the libraries are often small, which means there’s not much choice of image. They are also badly indexed and captioned, so you may not even be getting a picture of what you were expecting. This might not matter if you just want a picture of some bottles on a wall; but what if you need a picture of a specific species of plant? The caption from the library says it’s a dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) , but it turns out to be Hawkbit (Leontodon hispidus) . They’re both yellow flowers, but that error is really not a good look if you’re trying to establish your authority as a plant expert.

Free stock photo libraries may not be targeted at your market. So, for example, all the cars will be left-hand drive; street furniture just looks wrong and the signs are all in Spanish. A big image library will have a good choice of UK images.

I’ve noticed that the larger image libraries are better for diversity of models, too. By paying for images, you’ll get a range of faces and bodies that actually represent the general population and your client base.

Think about colour

Image searches can throw up an enormous choice, but the best libraries will let you search by colour to narrow down the choice. Look for colours that tie in with your brand identity. For a coherent, professional effect, go for colours that harmonise. Learn more about colour theory and colour harmony with Colormatters.

Get the right format

Like many content management systems, our CMS lets you choose from a variety of pre-made layouts. So when you’re looking for images, it makes sense to select only images that will work with your chosen layout. Choose either portrait (taller than it is wide) or landscape (wider than it is tall).

Do you need approval?

You know your manager best, of course, but we’ve found that the best way to get a quick decision is a small choice of images (no more than five) including one completely off-the-wall option that the approver can dismiss straight away.

A picture is worth a thousand words…

…but we’d love to hear from you. What’s the weirdest picture search you’ve ever done? We recently found ourselves hunting down a picture of dog walkers in a hailstorm in Sevenoaks. Web designers certainly lead exciting lives. Tell us your picture research stories by emailing [email protected]