How to Find the Right Photography for Your Website

Posted on September 23, 2015

When there’s a need for great photography on a website, many questions come up… Where do designers get great photography?  How should original photography be shot? Will photos shot with a smart phone work?

If compelling imagery is a must and you’re unsure where to source content, this article is for you.  

The following tips will help you locate stock photography, identify the right image elements for website use and avoid expensive pitfalls when it’s time to curate website media.

Engage Your Web Designer Early On In the Website Project

Engage Designer before hiring photographerIf you’re looking to secure one nugget of information from this article, heed this one recommendation… Before hiring a photographer, videographer or graphic illustrator, include and engage your chosen website designer in the project planning.  By doing so, your web designer can help you avoid unnecessary budget blow-outs.  Too often, companies will dispatch a photographer before their new web design is discussed and end up with an image library that won’t technically  work in their chosen website design.

Three Sources of Photography for Your Website

Many website owners are unsure of where to start for procuring photography for website use.  There are three primary ways for curating website photos.

One: Curate From a Stock Photography Site

Although many stock photography sites provide beautiful photographs, the subject matter is universally generic. And, if an image happens to be worthwhile, it may cost more than hiring a professional photographer.  Some stock sites provide ‘free’ use of their photography. Frequently, however, the copyright holder will require an author credit be published along with the image. This can be both impractical for the webmaster or possibly an unwanted distraction for visitors. Whether the photo site provides photography at a price or for ‘free’, be sure to read the licensing fine-print.  There are always restrictions on how an image can be used.

A list of free and premium stock photography sites… (premium) (premium)

Adobe Stock (premium) (premium)

Unsplash (premium) (free)  (premium) (premium)

Professional photographerTwo: Hire a Photographer

Work from a freelance photographer can perfectly communicate your brand and message.  However, they command a premium price tag.  In California, the cost of hiring a professional photographer starts at $500 per session, and goes up into the thousands.  Like stock photography providers, photographers retain the rights of their work and will license their work to you; usually for a term.  Therefore, it’s important to understand what type of licensing they offer and what you’re willing to agree to before signing a contract with them.

Three: Shoot Your Own Photos

Shoot your own website photosOn the other hand, if money is tight and you have the time, consider learning the basics of website photography.  With recent advancements in smart phone camera technology, you can create your own high quality web photos quite easily. I use client-provided smart phone photos all the time and they’re amazing. Don’t let the idea of doing this intimidate you. All you need is the knowledge of this post, a smart phone with a working camera and a few hours to snap some shots. 

The two great advantages of producing your own photos are that the images are original (no other competitor has access to them) and you own the copyrights (you can use them however you want).  Keep in mind, though, a very low percentage of photos shot by inexperienced photographers will be worth using.  If you’re not a photography expert, expect less than 10% of your shots to be usable; so, snap as many shots of your subject as possible when shooting!  I typically take 4 to 5 shots (or more) per angle of a single subject; and I still only end up with a few photographs that are worth using.  

“Can’t I just copy and photos from Google or from some other website?”

— A frequent question.

The Two Big DON’Ts with Website Photography

First “Don’t”… don’t assume you can legally cut-and-paste images from other online sources. Without permission, a simple cut-and-paste may be an infringement on someone else’s copyright. If you proceed to do so, you may receive a cease and desist letter from a law firm; or worse, be served. where to find web photosPermission for using images is provided in different forms. The strongest form is written permission. You can also get verbal permission. The levels of photo and image sharing permissions do vary. For more information on this topic, read this WordPress article.

Second “Don’t”… don’t use another website’s image link to embed and load an image on your website if the source site doesn’t provide guidance on doing such. Permission to do so may be obvious when a site like YouTube freely provides an embed link. However, you may find yourself in a difficult situation if you embed an image link from another website that doesn’t explicitly say something to the effect, “Use this link to share” or “embed this content.”

Image Criteria for Website Design

From wherever website images are sourced, there are elements that need to be considered for website use.

Seek Out Images with Negative Space

What is Negative Space?

Negative space is the area in a photograph’s composition that surrounds or is adjacent to the primary subject matter.   It creates a ‘gravitational-like’ force that draws an observer’s eye toward the subject.  Negative space also prevents a photo from looking cluttered or overly busy.

With this boat photo, for example, the negative space is the span of water across the lower half of the photo.  Notice how your eyes are drawn to the boat when you view this photo.  Read this great write-up that further explains negative space.

Take Advantage of Negative Space on Website Photographs

Website developers, design agencies and email marketers regularly leverage negative space to provide complementary messaging with written copy. On the Innovate Public Schools website (, the organization took advantage of negative space to publish their homepage headliner.

Negative Space Copy in Videos

Advanced use of this technique can be employed in cinema-quality video.  The following video is the title sequence for The House of Cards; and one of the most beautiful credit presentations of recent memory.  Watch the sequence and notice how the production team used negative space to present the production credits.  For video, this technique can create a captivating ambiance that can hook an audience.

Choose Images with Wide Aspect Ratios

The ‘Wide Aspect’ ratio is preferred for website photography, primarily because device displays are typically viewed in the landscape configuration.  With few exceptions (such as movie posters, cell phone photos, masonry blog rolls or where subject matter is inherently vertical), most imagery on a website has a square or wide-aspect ratio.  Therefore, when you’re searching for the right photo or shooting your own, be sure that most of your photo library ends up with a plethora of wide-aspect ratios. When needed later on, your designer can crop squares, portraits or other ratios out of these photos.

Shooting Your Own Website Photos

Understand the limitations of your camera.  Knowing what your camera, whether it be a DSLR or smartphone, is capable of will prepare you for needed adjustments during the shoot.  A modern DSLR will always outperform a smartphone camera.  However, a smartphone camera does shoot worthwhile photos and will most likely to be at your side when an extraordinary moment occurs; whereas, a DSLR will not. Having a less than perfect photo (by a smartphone) is invariably better than having no photo at all (when your DSLR is back at the office). The following video compares what can be expected from a popular smartphone camera and a popular DSLR.



Basic Photography Composition Techniques

Of all the photography composition techniques to learn, educating yourself in the ‘Rule of Thirds’ technique will yield the greatest photo-quality improvement in the shortest amount of time.  This one technique will significantly increase the overall quality and quantity of photographs suitable for your website.  The view finder grid for the rule of thirds can be enabled on almost every digital camera, even on smart phones!

Once you think you have the Rule of Thirds down, try experimenting with the Golden Ratio.  This is a more advanced technique; however, the photos produced will take the polish of your website photography to the next level.

To learn more….  The following video explains how to employ these two techniques during a photo shoot.


Web Designers will want a Variety of 1-2MG Photo Files

When working with web designers, the more photos you can provide them, the more engrossing your website will be.  An experienced web designer is always looking for a choice few; and they’ll prefer to purview a large library of photos to find those gems. I regularly find myself sorting through hundreds of photos just to find a great 10, 20 or 30 for a website. When you find yourself snapping your camera on a subject, try changing up distance, angle and light source whenever possible during the shoot.

Provide your designer large photo file sizes. Chances are, every photo will be edited to some extent before it’s published on the website.  Designers have a propensity for working with photos larger than 1MB during the editing process.  If they’re provided photos smaller than 1MB, the images become grainy or just unusable after cropping, color processing and reducing the file size.

Although web designers start out with a large image for editing, the final image file size is typically compressed down to between 10k and 200k prior for publication.  The ‘publish-ready’ file size is based on how the image is used on the website.  A wall-to-wall hero image, for example, should be between 100k and 200k; and a small thumbnail logo should be as small as 10k. Never use uncompressed images on a website.  

One Last Word of Advice

Think of website photography as Raw GemsFinding the right photos for your website won’t be quick; and many times, the task isn’t all that easy.  It’ll take some time and effort. So, the quicker you jump on this task, the sooner your website designer will finish your website.  Don’t chase the idea that there are ‘flawless’ or ‘perfect’ images to be found out there.  There aren’t.  However, your designer will be able to take a ‘good’ photograph and use PhotoShop to make it a ‘superb’ or ‘splendid’ image.  Think of these images, the one’s you’ll be delivering to your designer, as raw gemstones he or she will polish to create a piece of fine jewelry.

Written by Peter La Fond

Having lived most of his life in Northern California, Peter consults for organizations of all sizes on Internet marketing engagement, strategy and execution. He regularly speaks on website design techniques and WordPress. Peter is a graduate from California State University, Sacramento, and practices the ancient art of eating sushi with nose-hair-curling wasabi.

About My Internet Scout

Based in Wilmington, North Carolina, My Internet Scout, LLC is an Internet Marketing firm for small- and medium- size businesses. We specialize in WordPress website design, marketing and related services that include e-commerce, event registration, maintenance, content creation and search engine optimization (SEO). We service a variety of clients across the United States.

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1 Comment

  1. Peter La Fond

    If anyone finds a superb resource for great royalty-free photos, let me know. I plan to keep this post up-to-date.

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