The value of photography in web design

Many designers underestimate the importance of good photography. Don't be one of them, says Kris Jeary of Squiders.

Kris Jeary of Squiders

Probably the biggest issue we have in designing a website is the lack of compelling photography.

I really can't state enough just how vital a cog photography is, combined with well written copy it is the meat that goes on the bones of any site, no matter the subject (I will cover content writing in a separate post).

Let's be clear, the internet is a visual media, visitors judge with their eyes and will only digest the content if you make the whole experience a pleasurable one.

Fit for purpose

No matter the images you have in your library they will rarely be suitable for the task. Sorry, but that is most often the case. You need photography that has been taken for purpose, by a professional and with a brief from both client and designer.

Consider the responsive nature of web design, different areas of the photo will be visible depending on the device size. The exact same web page is then rendered differently on different devices but we still keep control.

Directing the shoot

The biggest benefit for me (as a designer) is the ability to direct the shoot in order to obtain images that will work seamlessly with the website, I'm not having to compromise design to fit in with pre-existing images, images that haven't been taken for purpose.

The aim of design is to direct the visitor down paths that will lead to a sale, either online (with eCommerce) or by contacting the company. Every element is important in this and photography, massively so.

People buy from people

Our previous point leads on nicely to the question of stock photography. How can you buy an image that will represent you, your products, your services? How can a visitor trust an invisible supplier?

A shoot you direct is more likely to establish trust than a stock photo

There is a lot of research showing the psychological issue with trust when buying online, and this isn't just for eCommerce websites, if you have a website highlighting your products or services you are selling online, you want a visitor to trust your business to such an extent they will make contact with you, to potentially throw themselves at a sales pitch, they have to know you are worth it.

Solipsistic introjection

John Suler makes a great point in his book The Psychology of Cyberspace on what is know as solipsistic introjection.

"Absent F2F [face to face] cues combined with text communication can have an interesting effect on people. Sometimes they feel that their mind has merged with the mind of the online companion. Reading another person's message might be experienced as a voice within one's head, as if that person magically has been inserted or 'introjected' into one's psyche. Of course, we may not know what the other person's voice actually sounds like, so in our head we assign a voice to that companion." – John Suler, The Psychology of Cyberspace

Of course this has massive implications with the tone of your copy and also in allowing your visitor's internal conversation to be with a real person. You wouldn't make a sale in a business meeting if you were wearing a mask the whole time.

Photography isn't the only reassuring aspect, I for one won't buy from a website that doesn't list a physical address and telephone number, these things help foster trust and so too does photography showing you or your team at work. Make the visitor trust you more than your competitors, let them know you are real people and not machines.

Working with a professional

A professional photographer isn't just a person with an expensive camera, they should not be judged on megapixels. Unfortunately anyone can call themselves a professional, much like 'web designers'! Chose your professional carefully, make sure they are asking the right questions, that they want to understand your business, the goals of the site.

We work (wherever possible) with the same photographer on projects where we are asked to help on the photography front. His name is Steve and he is wonderful. Aside from the expected amount of talent he is brilliant with web photography, here is why:

  • He always asks the right questions.
  • He knows us well enough that he always produces what is required.
  • He is vastly experienced with web photography and keeps himself up to date with web technology (quite a thing for a photographer to do).
  • He balances product, lifestyle and reportage amazingly well.

We have encountered many DIY jobs from our clients, but to be blunt, if you think you have the ability you probably don't have the experience of photography specifically for the web.

Conclusion

Any website can be let down by its weakest link, the purpose of design is to deliver on the goals on the site. Engaging photography can boost success rates, poor photography can severely hinder.
Give your designer the tools to best meet your goals and present yourself in the best possible light, you won't regret it.

Words: Kris Jeary

With more than 10 years' experience in the web industry, Kris Jeary is founder and director of Squiders, a specialist, independent web design studio dedicated to creating bespoke and tailored solutions to digital problems.