The power of images

19 August 2021

It's likely you've heard the adage, “a picture is worth a thousand words”. It’s certainly true that images can add immense value to your website. So how can you be sure you're using 'the right image'?

Our very own Ceri Herd is a super-talented photographer. To celebrate World Photography Day today, she's put together these practical pointers and considerations to help you choose the right image every time. (As part of our series, How to create great online images.) But first, Ceri explains why great imagery is important …

Why is great imagery important?

Images play a vital role in communication. The 'wrong' image can even detract from your brand, key messaging, or the user experience. So, choosing the right images, and making sure your website makes the most of them, is essential.

With the increase in popularity of phone photography, the rapid improvement in phone camera technology, and the visual nature of social media, your audience is increasingly discerning about the visuals you put in front of them. They may well notice when images aren’t relevant to the content, are of poor quality, or have been processed inconsistently.

The right image will help unify your sales content and your brand. It quickly tells the user a story about you, and the experiences you’re offering them.

Tips for creating a great image

There are multiple factors that come together to make a great image. Whether you’re selling a product or an experience, select images that display what you’re offering in the best possible way. Entice visitors to make a purchase by making it irresistible.

Here are my top tips to help you make good image choices:

🛎️ Be conscious of quality

It’s important to balance high-quality images with not being so large they slow down your website. If your website's built using a modern CMS, it may well do some of the hard work for you.

In Supercool's CMS of choice, Craft, images are auto-cropped and resized by the server. Automatic resizing ensures that browsers download and display an appropriately-sized image for the screen. And you can use the Focal Point feature to make sure images are sensibly cropped.

But what’s ultimately important is that you start with a good quality image. Image out-of-focus? File just too small? The system can’t save you!

If you have the budget for custom photography, you might like my handy guide to finding and briefing a photographer.

🛎️ Be informative and relevant

Every image you use should serve a purpose. That’s easy to do when selling a product. But in the arts and culture sector, we're often selling an experience rather than a 'thing'.

Images and video are great tools for adding to the information presented on the page. They can help to engage your audience – quickly – in the potential experience they will have.

Perhaps, alongside a headshot of the well-known headliner of a comedy tour, you might also include an image of a laughing audience in your auditorium. Or engaged participants enjoying a workshop (preferably in the space the workshop you’re selling will happen).

As well as images that ‘sell’, there’s also a place for your brand-level imagery. Images that showcase your venue and Box Office team, for example.

Although these don't directly sell tickets, they can help encourage audiences (especially new ones) to visit or engage with you in other ways. How? By giving them a sense of what to expect, and of who you are – and a chance to feel comfortable with you.

🛎️ Be authentic

Images that help people understand what a show will be like, or are of real people experiencing that show, or a workshop, or outdoor event are what sells. This reality helps potential customers better connect with your brand and the unique experience you offer.

Wherever possible opt for custom photography – avoiding stock images if you possibly can, but certainly the extra-cheesy ones!

🛎️ Be consistent

Style guides help us to be careful in our use of brand fonts, logos, and colours – ensuring our visual identity is coherent across all platforms. But that visual impact can be made (or broken) by the images that sit between all those very considered, consistent decisions.

Consider reviewing all imagery across your website – does it all use the same style? Does it accurately reflect your organisation?

For example, are your staff profile images consistent?

If one image is drastically different from all the others, it can be a distraction. Having said this – it's also fine to make the deliberate choice to mix image styles. It can help to show the unique personalities of your team, or the relaxed nature of the organisation. But it's still important to have some unity, flow – and consistency.

🛎️ Be SEO-savvy

Your images have an impact on search engine optimisation (SEO). It can take a bit more time and thought, but don’t simply upload an image and call it good.

Your CMS may do a lot of the hard work when it comes to file re-sizing and compression, but there are things you can do to improve how your images work for you:

  • Name your files with descriptive titles – this makes them easier for search engine spiders to understand, and for you to find within your CMS. e.g. front-of-house-ticket-desk.jpg is much more searchable than IMG_4829503.jpg.
  • Add alt text to your images – short for 'alternative text', this provides users with a written description of an image when it can't be accessed for some reason. It's particularly relevant to people using screen readers, but it also improves SEO. Find out more in our article, How to write good alt text.
  • Include captions and credits! They help your images show-up in a Google or Ecosia search. And it's good to credit photographers – it not only supports that person, but means others know who to contact if they'd like to hire a photographer for that kind of project in future. If it's not possible to add a credit on every image, consider including a 'Credits' page on your website.
🛎️ Be selective

When choosing between images, here are some selection criteria to consider:

  • Bear in mind that your image may be cropped in different ways. Once uploaded, check how the image is being cropped on different-sized screens.
  • We can’t control the brightness of people's screens. But we can make sure we don’t use under-exposed (too dark to show the subject clearly) or over-exposed (washed-out) images. So, choose images that are properly exposed.
  • Look out for images that use compositional techniques that draw-in the viewer – such as leading lines. It may even be possible to use the composition of an image to direct your viewers’ gaze to the next section of text, another image, or a call to action.
🎉 Be surprising!

Knowing the rules helps you know when to break them.

You don't need to do it all the time, but having some fun with imagery can help bring a smile to people's faces, and elevate your brand.

Nerys, the fluffy blonde dog, is looking at the camera and wearing sunglasses perched on the end of her nose
Nerys says "Knowing the rules helps you know when to break them." Credit: Ceri Herd

I hope you found this article helpful! In the next How to create great online images post, I’ll explain how to find and brief a photographer – what it's useful to consider when hiring someone, and how to make the most of their limited time with you.

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