Your Images Should Put Your Readers Inside the Scene

You’ve spent the time, money, and resources necessary to put together a fabulous website that you’re proud of. But there’s a design secret not many people know about that you can take advantage of to make it even better.

A facet of visual design that’s been overlooked by most website creators for at least a decade is originality. If your photos are not original, they’re less likely to represent the content of whatever page they’re on.

Photos that can tell the whole story create the most connection to a site, so that’s what you need to hook your visitors.

Stock photography is not your friend

Over the past decade, stock photo websites have made it easy for website developers, designers, and even businesses who DIY their site to load the pages with high-quality, professional images for much less than it would cost to hire a professional photographer. Some stock photography websites even provide photos for free and require no attribution from users.

Stock photography is a great industry for amateur photographers to make a little money selling their work to the masses … but it’s not an industry calculated to make websites look unique, compelling, or visually engaging. In an article published by the Content Marketing Institute, Buddy Scalera discusses many of the reasons to choose authentic, original images over cheap and easy stock photos.

Scalera talks about the sins of content marketing and how stock photos just won’t accurately represent your operations using staged photos of people with headsets who don’t resemble your actual team. Instead, he urges you to humanize your brand by incorporating images that present a more human and honest picture to your website visitors — especially photos of your actual staff.

Photos should tell the entire story

A photo should be used not to fill space or in response to the design concern to break up large blocks of text, but to tell a story or paint the picture for your visitors. Statistics show that articles with images receive 94% more views, and 67% of ecommerce consumers say the product image quality plays a critical role in their decision to purchase.

An image has the potential to inform your visitors what your content is before they begin to read. Take, for example, this photo of a college-aged youth wearing a black graduation cap with a dollar-sign price tag hanging off the side of it instead of a tassle. This instantly creates an association to college loan debt, and how students get tied down by it.

That’s what the article is about, and you don’t have to read it to know this; the picture really is worth a thousand words.

Images aren’t just for selling products

Even if your website isn’t intended to sell products, imagery is a powerful tool that can tell a story that gets your message across. Take these 15 photographs for example.

Each one, captured somewhere around the world, tells a powerful and emotional story, and though they also carry brief captions, those are largely unnecessary. The photos elicit strong emotions all by themselves.

One depicts eight children sleeping on a fire escape in order to stay cool during a night of intense heat. Another shows the teary-eyed face of a young child whose sheep have just been killed by a car in Puno, Peru. The pain on his face is unmistakable; you can’t help but feel his pain.

All of these photos capture and preserve emotionally rich moments that tell a complete story without any words. If you want to capture your visitors like never before, this is the kind of visual power your website images ought to strive for, regardless of what industry you’re in.

Whenever you can connect with your visitors on an emotional plane, you’ll create a stronger connection and they’ll be more likely to buy from you (or read your content).

General photos occasionally make sense

Sometimes it makes sense to use stock photos. That’s a judgment call. For example, if you run a natural healthcare website and publish an article about how to use lavender to heal yourself, a stock photo of the lavender plant will be useful to show people what it looks like.

You could create a better experience for visitors if you used photos of your product in action, or in a way that creates an emotional connection, though.

If you’d prefer to boost the emotional content of your images but can’t afford to hire a professional photographer, you’re not out of luck. You can take wonderful photos with your smartphone camera; all it takes is a little practice.

And if an image doesn’t add to your content, don’t use it. Don’t just insert images to take up space. Think of the graphics on your site as an integral component of all your content.

Most of all, be authentic: If you want to display images of professional people having a meeting, before you reach for a stock photo, take some shots of one of your actual meetings and use that instead.

You’ll reach far more people if you raise the level of humanity on your website.