17 Ways To Improve Your Website Images

By Chelsea O'Brien,
Designer/Owner

If you’re reading this, I’m betting it’s because you have a website that you want to improve for your business or you’re thinking of building a new website.

Maybe you’re learning more about this stuff so you can work on your website yourself, or maybe you want to hire someone and you’re considering the options.

Because I love sharing with people that are curious to learn, I promise to pour the best information I can into these emails. You’re taking the time to read—I want to make it worth it!

So today, I want to share insights with you about images for your website.

Almost every webpage in existence has something in common: images. Besides making a webpage look better, visual elements have been psychologically proven to be more effective at helping a reader retain information than just text alone. (Nerd note: This phenomenon is called The Picture Superiority Effect, and is based on Allan Paivio’s 1971 dual-coding theory.)

In my opinion as a professional designer, images are the MOST critical element when it comes to making a first impression on your website. Headlines and layout follow closely behind, but an image sets the tone immediately.

Handled well, images compliment your website by building trust and familiarity (i.e. if you use actual photos of yourself) and illustrating the ideas in your copy.

Handled incorrectly, images can make your site seem impersonal, cliche and unprofessional.

With that in mind, here are 17 ways to improve your website images.

How To Improve Your Website With Stock Photos

Stock photos are the easy solution when finding images for your site. There are literally millions of photos available, from high-quality premium images to free ones. Stock photos are an amazing tool to use to express your ideas on your site for this reason!

Choosing the right stock photo for your website is about more than grabbing the least expensive option. We’ve all seen stock photos of professionals in a business setting laughing at the camera, holding up random charts, or giving an enthusiastic thumbs-up. Or we’ve cringed at the staged images of a desktop or laptop with a random cup of coffee strategically placed next to it.

Good stock photos—authentic-looking ones that won’t make you gag—are out there. Here are some strategies for finding images that won’t ruin your marketing efforts or site design:

  1. Select imagery that reflects the content you are trying to communicate, even articulating the message and evoking emotion—not just something that’s “pretty.”
  2. Use well-lit photos—images obviously shot with good lighting in mind. And make sure the photos you choose are consistent in lighting so they seem like an actual set.
  3. Use high-res, high-quality images—anything less could harm your brand.
  4. You can make images you own! Edit your stock images in Canva or Photoshop by adding transparent color overlays or blurring or cropping them.
  5. Images should reinforce your brand’s voice, style, and mood, and even reflect your audience. Check demographic data and your personas, and use that info to pick images of people at the right age and income.
  6. If you are looking for a technology photo, rather than using an awkwardly cropped image of someone’s hand on a keyboard or table, find a picture of an entire person interacting naturally with a device in an authentic setting.
  7. Credit the original owner if you post a stock photo on social media; it’s a simple but easy way to build trust and avoid confusion in your online community.
  8. Look for stock photos that have elements that humanize the photo’s subjects so that they seem more than just models (food/drink, cell phones, clothing choices, relaxed poses, more genuine smiles).
  9. When searching for people in stock photos, seek out “candid shots”—natural poses in which the subjects aren’t perfectly posed. For example, consider these 2 options:
how to use stock images on your website

This is the typical cheesy stock photo of professionals in suits smiling at the camera. Besides it being obviously staged, there is too much contrast between the lighting behind the subjects. Also, their suits give off a stark, cold feel. These “employees” might be happy for the camera, but the vibe emanating from the picture is that they’re faking enthusiasm.

Here’s a professional in a modern office, posing naturally (if posing at all), interacting with someone off camera. A person is cropped on the right side to give the photo a more candid feel, as if this took place during an actual meeting.

Here are some sites where you can find free photos:

Unsplash – Includes authentic and casual stock photos that include a wide variety of nature and objects. You can easily search or a photo or browse their curated collections.
Pexels – Browse by popular search collections or with filters that include choosing images by color.
Stocksnap.io – With hundreds of images added weekly, this site keeps generating new images as you scroll down the page so you can avoid the hassle of clicking on “next page.”
Burst – Powered by Shopify, Burst is a free stock photography site for entrepreneurs that was created to help small brands stand out by providing instant access to high-quality, royalty-free product photos.

A couple premium photo services include:

iStock – Offers different tiers of subscription plans, ranging from team subscriptions to stock credits for individual image purchases.
Shutterstock – Another option that includes millions of royalty-free stock photos, illustrations, and vectors.

How To Improve Your Website Using Actual Photos

When it comes to images on your website, it’s not so much about having images as it is about making sure those images to give your visitor a sense of context, relevancy, credibility & brand.

According to MDG Advertising, 67% of online shoppers rated high quality images as being “very important” to their purchase decision, which was more than “product specific information”, “long descriptions”, and “reviews & ratings”.

So why do so many lean on stock photos instead of hiring a photographer and taking actual photos?

It’s cheaper.
It’s faster.
It’s easier.

So you go to Unsplash or iStockphoto or Shutterstock, run a query, and try to find the best representation of whatever vague concept you’re trying to communicate in your copy.

You pay, download the stock photo, jury-rig it into your design & look at your work with a mixed sense of pride & shame. Obviously it’s not a photo you’ve taken…but it fills the spot on your webpage so you can move on.

Here’s the problem:

How many other people have been in this exact situation and have used the same photograph?

In addition, how impersonal does your website appear when it’s obvious you’re using stock photos of generically happy people in cliche settings?

This is likely the real reason why when Marketing Experiments tested a real photo of their client against their top performing stock photo, they found that nearly 35% of visitors would be more likely to sign up when they saw the real deal.

What do you think?

Homepage A: Generic Stock Photo

Homepage B: Actual Photo Of Company CEO

Your clients are pretty savvy. They know that a smiley woman in a photo like this doesn’t work for the company. Do you think that deepens the sense of trust and familiarity with the company?

Stock photos in & of themselves can be a useful, quick & effective way to communicate your point, but they can’t take the place of actual photos when it comes to building rapport with your prospective client or customer.

“Ok, Chelsea, I can get that. But what if I don’t have time or funds right now to hire a professional photographer?”

When researching for this article, I came across an anecdote of a designer who spent 15 hours searching for the perfect image of a bowl of blueberries, only to remember that his smart phone took amazing photos and the grocery store was right across the street.

Don’t get me wrong—if you can get a professional photographer to come in, do it. They’re going to know a lot more about lighting, staging, composition & how to get the most emotion out of a person being photographed. Those are the qualities that make a professional photographer unique, not just their ability to produce a high quality photograph.

But why not take the best of both? Use stock photos for the convenience and cost savings when you need, and mix in actual photos when you can. A smart phone, a few props (from Amazon, a whole basic studio setup kit only costs $225) and some tutorials on Youtube is more than enough to get you there.

Here are some tips for taking actual photos for your website:

  1. Before you use a stock photo, ask yourself if you can take the photo yourself.
  2. Use original photos when you want to tell a personal story to create a deeper connection with your audience; use stock photos in campaigns and marketing projects.
  3. In addition to taking your own photos, what about making your own illustrations? They can be very simple, like Tim Urban from his popular WaitButWhy blog:

4. Go outside. Good natural lighting can eliminate the need for additional special lighting.
5. Follow the rule of thirds. If you have an iPhone, there’s a grid option available which can aid you in lining up photographs so that they follow the rule of thirds. (Turn this option on by visiting Settings > Photos & Camera and enabling the Grid switch.)
6. Use a tripod. A tripod will keep your camera or smartphone perfectly still during shots and can be purchased online for a minimal cost.
7. Use basic photo editing software to clean up or brighten up your pictures. Consider checking out some free third-party photo editing tools, like Canva.
8. Think ahead for future photography needs. When you take time to do a photoshoot, consider planning ahead to take pictures for future photography needs as well. Think about future blog and social media posts, upcoming product or service launches that will need promotion, and any seasonal photography needs. One photo shoot could turn into multiple pieces of material that you could spread out use over the course of the year.

In Summary

Images are more than pretty ways to fill space on your website. Images are extremely powerful tools of communication that can enhance your message and brand or detract from it. There’s a lot you can do with both your own pictures and stock photography. There’s nothing wrong with using both in your work. Taking time to consider how to choose and use great images on your site can be a game-changer when it comes to website conversions.