A Web Designer's Guide to Selecting Images

Alongside a strong design, photos are the first thing that grab a user’s attention when they visit your site. With the right photos, you can create a strong first impression and quickly communicate what your product and brand are all about. Choose the wrong photo and you can harm your brand’s image and get the user off to a bad start.

So what’s the secret to choosing great photos? Here are our tips for selecting images that will make your site look engaging and professional.

Ask the Right Questions

There are a few key things you should ask yourself when selecting an image for your site. Does it make sense? How will the photo impact the user’s journey? Does the photo aid in providing information to help the user’s objective?

Next up, you’ll need to consider the fundamental elements of the photo. Ask yourself if the image is the right quality, size, composition, light, movement and color for your site.  Make sure the resolution is high enough, the size and image orientation work well, and the photo has enough contrast to stand out.

Once the photo has checked off most, or all, of the fundamental elements you can explore the options for what message you want the image to communicate.

Be Effective

Your photo should evoke an action or influence your audience’s behavior. It should help you communicate your message and share your brand’s point of view. For example, a good photo might inspire users to come back to the site or sign up for your newsletter. If the photo doesn’t serve a clear purpose, it won’t be effective.

Take a look at the cover image on the Beats website. The photograph puts the product front and center, leaving little room for confusion and encouraging you to learn more about the headphones and explore different colors or styles.

Choose Images that Reinforce your Brand

Every company has their own unique identity, mission, and feel. The photos you choose should reflect those standards. One thing to help you stay on brand is to keep your images consistent across color, cropping, lighting and style.  Second, remember that less is more. One strong image is more powerful than five weak images. Bombarding users with images can be distracting and detract from a positive user experience. To keep your users coming back, stick to just a few impactful images.

Be Original

Most viewers are ‘image-savvy’, meaning they know when sites use staged stock photos. This doesn’t mean that there isn’t a time and place to use stock photos, it just means you should chose them wisely. Avoid images that come across as artificial, or offer no emotional impact. Check stock sites like Unsplash or KaboomPics that offer free, high quality, creative images before investing in pricey stock photos. Accept that finding the right stock photo takes time (and often $$). For your best bet, hire a photographer to come up with one-of-a-kind imagery that perfectly fits your websites’ needs.

While it can be hard to stay original in today’s over-saturated web, a small twist to simple images can help add flare and originality. For example, the Mélanie F website breathes new life into simple images with bold colors, quirky design elements, and overlapping text.  Don’t be afraid to experiment with other design aspects to enhance your images and the user experience.

Evoke an Emotion

Photographs are key to eliciting emotion and evoking responses to guide user behavior, including donating to a cause, buying a product, or signing up for a new activity. As long as the photo appeals to our emotions in some way it will have a greater impact than a photo that falls flat.

Many non-profit organizations use strong images that evoke emotion to help convey their message. For example, UNICEF’s website pulls on your heart strings with the hope that you will donate or contribute to their cause.

Use Faces Correctly

In the words of, Sabina Idler, “When we see a face, we are automatically triggered to feel something or to empathize with that person. If we recognize content on a website — such as a problem, dilemma, habit or whatever else — we feel connected and understood.” There are 8 basic emotions that are communicated by facial expression. If you are choosing photos with faces make sure to look out for which emotion they are communicating and if it matches your intended message.

Spotify’s “Go Premium. Be Happy” campaign makes it pretty clear how you should feel when you glance at their page: like you want to put on your favorite song (with Spotify, of course), dance and get happy.

Non-profit Charity Water uses faces to show the happiness you can create for others by contributing to their campaign.

Final Thoughts

So to summarize, when choosing images for your site: ask the right questions, stay on brand, be original and evoke emotion. Whatever you’re designing, the right photo can be the key to bringing it all together, enhancing the effectiveness of your site, and delivering a delightful and engaging user experience.