How To Choose The Right Images For Your Website

How to choose website images

The images that you choose for your website should be more than pretty just snapshots. If you choose wisely, you have a whole stack of psychological processes running behind your images to help your clients remember you and the message you are trying to convey. Here’s the latest research to help you choose the right photos for your website.

A picture paints a thousand words. Seeing is believing. Show don’t tell. The soul never thinks without a picture.

There are oodles of research papers and mountains of memes about the power of images to convey meaning and create emotion, which is why the images that you choose for your website are so important.

Images carry power simply because our brains tend to process and retain visual information better than word information: Our minds are visual processors and not word processors.

When someone looks at an image, they instantly can translate and remember the message, whereas reading the words takes time.

Your brain is hardwired to retain images and the meaning through a process called Dual-Coding Theory (for those that like a good scientific label and a study to go with it).

Ask your brain to remember your senior school dance, or your wedding, or the birth of your child, and you get images flash through your mind. You didn’t consciously have to tell your brain “remember this image” at the event, it just did.

Images carry such power that they can sway wars (e.g. the napalm girl during the Vietnam war), change public sentiment towards a group of people (e.g. the little drowned refugee boy face down in the sand), or to trigger public debate (e.g. the images of the bush fires at Mallacoota in Australia).

So, when you are having a website built for your business, the images that you choose for your website should be more than just pretty snapshots.

If you choose wisely, you have a whole stack of psychological processes running behind your images to help your clients remember you and the message you are trying to convey.

But how do you choose the right images for your website? Unless your web designer has a psychology degree (like our web design team has), then here are a few pointers.

Use Iconic Photos of Yourself and Your Team

Let’s start with the gold standard of website images – use iconic photos of yourself and your team.

There is something incredibly seductive about originality, honesty and authenticity in a business. In a world full of fakes and shams, showing the real you and your business is a game-changing marketing strategy.

Research shows that websites with photos of people’s faces are viewed more favourably than sites showing people without faces (e.g. hands), or no people.  So, if you are adding images to your website, always go for photos showing people’s faces.

When you overlay that research finding with some other studies that show people spend more time looking at photos of people who look like “real people” and ignore pictures that are obviously stock images, you start to realise the importance of getting over your fear of being in front of a camera and getting real photos of you and your team.

Photos of you and your team in action also get better results with your clients.  We tested this research using stock images of a tradie compared to using actual photos of one of our tradies (who is no oil painting) in his Facebook ads.

The “real” photos got double the conversions of the male model images at a much lower cost per click. If you want the best results, be brave and get in front of the camera and get some iconic shots done!

Our test has been borne out by other people’s split test studies that showed that photos of a real person vs a generic icon increased contact conversion rates by 48%.

Other studies show high-quality real photos are trusted significantly more than stock images or poor quality images, so the quality of the picture also matters. Trust is a competitive advantage in business.

Which brings us to the importance of iconic photos.

These are the photos of you or your business that are unique to you. No-one else can show that personality, service offering or goods in the same way that you can. As a result, they are real, authentic and relatable.

The challenge is that iconic photos that were taken in a studio often are more expensive as the photographer is highly skilled and knows how to trigger and capture those micro-facial expressions where you are deep within an emotion, into high-quality images.

As you head down the price scale, you get photographers who take nice headshots. They look good and are a reliable representation of what you look like, but they are missing the iconic layer to them. They are nice but miss the “wow” factor.

Another option for your iconic photos if you clam up in front of a camera are photo-journalistic style images, where a photographer captures you in your natural environment doing your day to day thing. Good photojournalist photographers can still guide and direct you to a minor degree, but the result does not look staged or fake.

For the strongest results from your website images, you need photos of you and your team. Invest in the best photographer you can afford as your images will last for years.

Ingrid Moyle

One of my wonderful iconic images from Louise Williams.

Use Before and After Photos

If your business offers any form of transformation service, whether it is a trade putting in a new kitchen, through to a stylist working with clients, you need before and after shots to effectively sell your work.

Too many transformational businesses either don’t do before and after shots or do dodgy out of focus shots on their smartphones, so that the impact is lost in the blurred focus and poor lighting.

If you are a tradesperson, then invest in photoshoots from a real estate photographer to get real before and after shots that showcase your work. Great shots are more compelling than a million words on your website (although you still need words to keep the Google gods happy).

Stock Photo Tips

If you can’t afford a photoshoot and don’t have a before/after shots, then stock photo libraries are the next best thing. These are where you pay a photo library to get the license to use a photo in your website or marketing.

However, there are a few rules you need to know before choosing the perfect stock photos.

Buy Don’t Steal Website Photos

Copyright laws cover photos, so you can’t just lift a random picture off Google or social media and use it on your site.

Also beware of many of the free stock image libraries, as there have been many cases in recent years where businesses have downloaded an image off the stock image library only to be pursued later by the photographer for licence fees as their photo had been uploaded to the library without their knowledge.

In these cases, the business wears the whopping cost and not the stock photo library (thanks to all the tiny legal print in their terms and conditions).

I prefer to use reputable paid stock image libraries to reduce this risk – such as DepositPhotosAffiliate link: Which means if you purchase anything I will receive a small commission. Thanks for your support. (App Sumo regularly has good deals on them), Canstockphoto and Stockunlimited. There are heaps of others on the market, but they can be costly and out of the budget of most small businesses.

Wherever you get your images from, always read and understand the fine print of the license to use the picture.

Bad stock photos

Never do this. Token Asian. Token Black American. Token Latino. All put your thumbs up and encroach on each other’s space!

Choose Natural Poses

Search any stock image library, and you will find them filled with stiff, unnatural and cheesy poses.

  • The ridiculously good looking young call centre woman holding her headset mouthpiece.
  • Photos of hands shaking.
  • Businesspeople pretending to be Superman and ripping perfectly good shirts.
  • Teams of people jumping for joy and pretending to look happy.
  • Teams all with their hands in the centre.
  • People looking intensely at a computer or a piece of paper.
  • People drawing words on clear glass while looking moodily through the glass.
  • People with their arms above their head showing celebration (or that they don’t have sweat stains).
  • The thumbs-up sign in all its variations.
  • The multicultural team of people who have no personal space issues and insist on huddling while they talk.

Ban these images from your website! Choose stock photos with relaxed or natural poses, or which convey emotion.

Images that convey emotion trigger a similar feeling or empathetic response in the viewer. Go for strong images that have an emotional component rather than bland and beige.

Choose Real Looking Models

Some stock photo models have made a killing through their photography fees. Some models are so commonly used that they have entered into meme status and have websites that track where their photos have been used.

If you use any photos of these models, know that every other website also has them – promoting everything from male enhancing tablets to childcare centres.

Don’t use their photos. In the best case, you look like everyone else, at the worst case your competitors already have used their photo and your clients associate the model with your competitor, which means you end up promoting them!

If you are going to use a stock photo, remember the research and choose people who look as real and natural as possible.

Do a reverse image lookup on your browser to see who else is using that image to make sure it has not been over-used (e.g. in Chrome right-click on the image and then choose Search Google for Image).

Show People That Look Like Your Ideal Clients

People use visual clues with a business to work out your price point and whether or not you serve “people like them.”

For example, look at how photos for products at Tiffany’s are shown compared to photos for products are Big W. One screams “Don’t even call me unless you have money”, the other is more egalitarian.

People look at the images and then choose whether or not to walk into the store. They self-select whether or not to be a client.

If you choose to show photos that are representative of your ideal clients, then make sure they are genuinely representative as it is easy to make a mistake with images.

Many years ago, I worked as an employment equity officer. In one sizeable traditional government organisation with a few thousand staff, I did a walkthrough of their head office and looked at all the photos, paintings and art across all the lobby floors of a multistorey skyscraper.

Each lobby had approximately 24 pieces of artwork, and yet not one of the photos had a woman in it. This was not a religious institution or a boy’s school, but an organisation that served hundreds of thousands of people across a geographic area, and had more women than men employed in their head office. And yet, women were not visible in the lobby of each floor. Do you think women entering the building felt valued and welcomed? This organisation had a major issue attracting and retaining women employees – I wonder why?

For the other side of the equation, for many years, I used to amuse myself guessing the demographics of the web designer who worked on a client’s previous website. If the former designer was a young male, then I could just about bet my house that there would be a lot of photos of young, attractive white women on the client’s site.

The thing is that you need to consciously choose your images and match the photos on your website to your client base.

If your clients are predominantly middle-aged or older, then your pictures need to reflect that and not be just young barely-out-of-their-teens models.

If you include older people, avoid photos where they look sad for just being old, helpfully patting the hand of a carer, or are in a wheelchair being wheeled somewhere. Older people can be vibrant, fun and happy you know!

If you want to welcome people of diverse ethnic backgrounds to your business, then they should be visible in your photos, and not just as token images or stereotypical images.

The same applies to people with disabilities. Finding photos where people with disabilities are shown doing regular everyday things, and not in a pitying or patronising manner, is a real challenge.

People with disabilities can spot a mile away when a model who is not a wheelchair user is plonked in a wheelchair just for a photo. Also lose the photos of people in wheelchairs looking sad, or longingly at a beach/able bodied person playing sport, or sitting with their arms in the air being all inspirational.

Finding representative images beyond white, middle class, young people in general can be hard to achieve as many stock image libraries have limited options. However, the more demand that occurs, the more likely it will be that libraries start to source a wider range of images.

Person with a disability

Do this. A gorgeous child with a disability looking happy and just being a regular child.

If You Choose Images of Buildings, Make Them Australian

If you are a tradie or are using a photo that shows a building, make sure that the images match your business, where you operate and what you do.

Over the years we have worked with companies located all over Australia, and we have found that one of the biggest problems that we have discovered is sourcing images that are specific to the country that the company is located in.

For example, we once worked with a luxury builder whose old website had photos of an apartment in Manhattan strewn across their site. It looked great from a design perspective, but there was one problem – the builder was based in Brisbane, and at last check the Empire State Building was not located in West End.

Before you use any building stock imagery on your website, make sure that all the little details from the power points and light switches to the city in the background of the photos are right for your location.

Even when you do find Australian building photos, the problem is that once your customers start researching different websites, they will begin to see the same images over … and over … and over.

During some website research on cabinetmaking websites for a client, I saw the same kitchen photo appear on approximately nine websites. Now, unless the kitchen was built by an army of trades in an unparalleled show of fellowship that probably involved a few Hobbits and a golden ring, it is pretty darn apparent that this was a stock photo.

Why is that an issue?

Put yourself in the shoes of your customer. If your customer is getting a kitchen done, they want to see examples of your work and not the work of Shutterstock.

Using a stock image and pretending it is your work is sort of like me using a photo of Kim Kardashian as my Tinder profile photo – it is obviously fake (I don’t have long dark hair for a start).

If you need photos of buildings, use stock images with extreme caution and only as a last resort.

Be Consistent With Your Photo Style And Match Your Brand

Every business has a “brand”. The stock images that you choose should match your brand. Choose photos that reflect your brand colours, reflect your brand values and your company direction.

For example, the photos of people we choose for our blog header images all have an element of conveying strong emotion with a smidgeon of quirkiness or fun. Our colour palette is bold and never muted or dull.

Our brand is not bland or boring, and our photo choices reflect our brand.

When you choose photos for your website, they should all have a similar feel and tell a unified story. They are a photo album and not merely individual pieces of wall art and need to be seen as a whole.

Website Photo Checklist

Your photos

  • You and your team – In-focus, high resolution, iconic.
  • Before/after photos of your work.
  • Your tools and core products.

Stock photos

  • Show real looking models.
  • Natural poses.
  • Showing people’s faces – smiling or showing emotion.
  • Representative of your ideal clients – showing diversity of gender, ethnic background, age and disability.
  • NOT culturally stereotypical.
  • If showing people with a disability, not showing them in a pitying or patronising way (and lose the tokenistic wheelchair).
  • If a building shot, match the locale in the details (backgrounds, electrical outlets etc).
  • Use gaze direction to either engage with the viewer (straight on) or point to where you want the viewer to look.

Last Thoughts

Using photos on your website can be a powerful addition to your brand, and create a memorable message, or they can be merely visual fluff that is mentally skipped over.

Choose your website images consciously, wisely and with discernment, and you will end up with stronger conversions and a better return on your website investment.

Finally, remember also to compress any images that you use on your website to ensure that you don’t slow down your load time.


About the Author

Ingrid Moyle

Ingrid Moyle (BA - Psych/Industrial Relations) is the Chief Web Wizard at Heart Harmony Communications. A self-confessed multipotentialite, Ingrid shamelessly blends her passions of human resources, psychology, web design and copywriting. When not hardwired to her computer, she quests for the perfect coffee while chasing virtual reality creatures across the backstreets of Brisbane.
Bowler hat with lightbulb.

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