How Can I Select the Best Images for My Website?

By Nathan Segal

There are several ways of finding images online. You can do so through search engines, such as Google, or Yahoo and you can also find stock images on websites such as IstockPhoto, Shutterstock, Getty and others. If price is a concern, you should look at public domain images or royalty-free stock photography, where you can purchase a license for a low price and use the images for a variety of situations.

The down side of royalty-free stock photography is that many users might be making use of the same images as you, which could have an impact on your marketplace. If that's the case, you'll want to look for rights-protected imagery, which will have a smaller audience. The down side is that you'll have to pay more for image usage, quite possibly hundreds of dollars.

If your market is really specialized and you don't want anyone else to use the same images, you'll have to hire a photographer to shoot the images you want, or do it yourself. If you hire a photographer, you'll need to be aware of licensing issues, because in general, if you hire a photographer, he/she will keep all the images and rights for usage, unless you create an agreement that specifies that all images will be turned over to you when the job is done. As for the price, don't be surprised if you have to pay a rate of $1,000.00/day or more.

Then there are other things to think about. Why do you want an image? Is it for a web page as a dominant image, a background or a series of images that are part of a gallery? Do you want to use the images for other purposes, such as a letterhead, signage or business cards? Do you want images that can be shot in the studio, such as on a tabletop? Or live on location? All of these factors must be taken into consideration.

As for the images themselves, unless your goal is to manipulate images after the fact (all of which takes time and money), it's a good idea to shoot images that can be easily used afterwards with a minimum of sizing, cropping, etc.

Also, you want images that are sharp, smooth, with good lighting. You want to make sure that you don't have blown out highlights or images where all the shadow detail comes together in one solid clump. Such things are impossible to fix after the fact. Image manipulation software can do many things but it can only go so far. It cannot bring back detail that's destroyed or or create shades of subtlety out of a solid block of black.

Then there's the message. What do you want the images to say? How are they meant to be used for your audience? Is each image meant to stand alone or are they to be a part of a process? All of these questions need to be asked before you even begin to look.

Another important thing is to test out how an image will look on your website. Many stock photography agencies will allow you to use comps, which are a low resolution image that you can test out on your web page, to see if it fits with your design.

On the surface, it may seem that you can quickly choose images that work. Reality is a different story. Be prepared to test out many images and variations to find what you want. With experimentation, you'll find the right look for your website. This is one of the reasons that photographers shoot so many variations, because users have different requirements.

Here's an example of what you'll find on the IstockPhoto web site, when you do a search for the keyword: "Photographers."

You might be fortunate and find everything you need on one website, though chances are, you'll have to look through many sites before you can find what you're looking for. With luck you will, otherwise you'll have to look at the other options I've mentioned above.

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