Here at Roundpeg, we have an interesting way of interviewing potential employees. Along with the usual “boring interview questions” we also ask a series of our own random “fun questions” which have no right or wrong answer. One of these questions requires the person to choose between words, pictures and numbers. We get very few people who choose numbers (Lorraine is still waiting to find a soul mate), some who choose words, but the vast majority choose pictures. People like to visualize things because often words can’t do justice to the product, idea, scenario etc.
This is something I always consider as I start any new project, but I think it is especially important in web design. The majority of sites we design to sell a product or service include at least one photograph on the home page. Often I’m asked to find stock photos for a client because it is more affordable than hiring a professional photographer.
The idea of using stock photography used to make a lot of designers (including me) cringe. When I thought of stock photography, words which came came to mind were “cheesy” “cliche” and “unprofessional,” which are obviously not words anyone wants associated with their website. These days, however, there are actually some really great stock photography sites (like istock.com) , with thousands of photos to choose from. The quality on stock sites has significantly increased as well, which makes it much easier to find photos that are just as good as what the client would have gotten from hiring a photographer, at a fraction of the cost.
The negative side of stock photography is the fact that the pictures weren’t taken for a specific purpose or project. As a result, they often need to be edited in some way, whether it be changing the orientation, cropping, color editing etc. As the designer it is my job to figure out the best way to make the photograph work with the design of the site, and most importantly, stay on brand.
While it may seem like a simple task, cropping is probably the most important and effective way to improve a photograph and allow it to fit in with the rest of the elements on the website. Sometimes a photo needs to be cropped simply to fit within the confinements of a layout, and other times cropping is a good way to shift focus from one area of a photo to another. Altering the brightness/contrast levels and the saturation are some other simple ways to greatly improve your photos. These tactics also allow us to overlay calls to action and other messages on top of the photo.
While stock photography may not be for everyone, it is often the quickest and most cost effective option. My suggestion to anyone considering stock photos for their website is to choose your photo carefully, and consider the way it will fit in the space. Once you have a photo you like, spend a little extra time tweaking it in Photoshop and it will feel more personal and not so much like “cliche stock photography.”