Stock photos can be a great way to make a website pop. They’re easy to find, relatively cheap, of a high quality and are available in a wide range of subjects and genres. The problem is, many web designers don’t take advantage of this breadth, sticking instead to a few tried and true photos and looks that do little to separate a site or business from the pack. It doesn’t have to be that way, just as long as web designers think creatively about choosing, applying and editing stock photos in unique ways.
While no formal study has yet to be completed on the exact number of times the image of sanitized-looking business people shaking hands has appeared on the front page of a business website, we’re betting it’s formidable. Using clichéd photos like this says to consumers, “We’re neither innovative nor up to date on the latest trends, and we don’t care what this says about us.” Stay away from tired imagery, including anyone laughing into a salad or struggling to drink water, families laughing together in fields, and a woman at a call center smiling into the camera.
Modernize your imagery to create more powerful response on a much cleaner design. Compare your website to real world architecture and recognize trends. Feel free to get a little bit riskier in your design, and react appropriately. You cannot A/B test enough.
Design with the Customer in Mind
The more details you know about who will be sitting in your audience and what they’re looking for, the better able you’ll be to choose photos that resonate. This, after all, is where many sites fall into clichés. They decide they want, “A friendly looking professional to welcome customers into the site” and go for a model in a business suit. But isn’t that what every business wants? Much better to choose photos based heavily around imagery of your product or service; visually explain what your site is showing
Use People, but Don’t be Afraid of the Abstract
For most websites, photos that feature people acting in some way relating to the site will be enough to draw viewers in. Photos that represent a site’s demographic can also be used strategically to direct eyes to the most important sections of a site. But don’t limit your efforts just to people. High resolution abstract photos can give a site a modern feel. They can also capture a certain emotion. Just make sure abstract photos relate in some way and are not completely random.
Get Funky with Vectors and Videos
Vector elements are becoming increasingly popular not just for basic website buttons and menus but also as a way to engage visitors. Stock photo sites provide a diverse library of vectors, which can be used to construct everything from interesting backgrounds to compelling characters and site mascots. Stock footage is also a great way to go, from looped videos of street scenes to abstract displays of light. These videos work well featured on a home page as a way to engage visitors, but they can also be placed across a site as a part of a theme.
The “play” button is an iconic image that automatically encourages viewers to appease their curiosity by knowing what the video holds.
Embrace Modern, but Recognize the Rapid Changes
Website trends come and go. Developing websites takes time and resources. Recognize quickly that hopping on a trending bandwagon is a great way to keep up to date and present a website that comes across as cutting edge, just realize that these things change faster than most webmasters can code. Think about how far websites have come in the past 10 years. Realize that stock photos and images that seem modern now can quickly date themselves. Make sure to track these trends and update designs as soon as these changes are recognized.
Don’t Fear the Simple
Sometimes the strongest message is said with the least amount of content. A simple and symbolic item on a white backdrop can send a powerful and clean message. Fireworks and explosions might grab attention but a peaceful design can often create curiosity and thoughtfulness, creating a stronger bond between a website and it’s viewer.
No matter what the approach, stock photos should be considered a means for creating a unique look, not the end goal itself. With these techniques as your guide, you’re sure to unlock maximum creativity.
About the Author
Rob Toledo is a freelance designer who is working alongside Shutterstock and Stock Footage creating guides to offer advice on how to best use stock photos and video. He can be reached on Twitter @stentontoledo