Photography for Web Design: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Imagine you have a meeting with a potential client that could give your company a whole slew of new business, while simultaneously boosting your career.

Of course, you need to present yourself in a very professional manner and often that starts with esthetics. But instead of making your way down to the nearest J.Crew or Men's Warehouse for a sharp looking suit, you’ve decided to make your own. So what if you don’t have experience as a tailor. It's cheaper!

Here’s a result you can likely expect:

mens suit

Needless to say, nobody will be all that impressed.

This fictitious scenario is absurd, of course, but this type of stuff happens every day in website design. Imagine our "new suit" is your website. It’s the face of your company; the first thing would-be customers and clients see of you. It is precisely this first impression that could determine the destiny of your online business.  And your website's photography can single-handedly deal a death blow to that positive impression.

A well constructed image will be infinitely more effective than any description a copywriter can add.

So why would you let a rank amateur (you!) handle photography detail?

You’ve hired  a great web designer. You’ve put a nifty logo in the top left corner, your modern typefaces and trendy color scheme are top-grade, but it will all be for naught if you insist the photography is not professionally shot, edited, and used appropriately for your company image.

Now you may say: "Why do I need to spend all that money on a pro photographer? A photo is a photo! I have a 624 megapixel camera that I take pictures for Facebook with all the time!"

Without getting into the finer points of photography, (and because I prefer to show rather than tell) let's see what would happen if some well-known websites decided to do their photography the DIY way...

Exhibit A:

Steve Jobs would be livid if he saw his beautifully designed electronics displayed like they are below. Product photography is an incredibly important aspect of commerce and cannot be accomplished by Joe Schmoe and his camera.

bad Apple photo

Like web design, it takes skill, training and dedication. It also takes an elaborate lighting set up, a trained product photographer, and an experienced photo editor to produce the beautiful images that are the foundation of Apple's site (and indeed, their whole brand.) If you want to elicit "oohs" and "ahhs" over your product like they do over the new iPad, leave the photo taking to the pros.

good Apple photo

Exhibit B:

Donna Karan (or DKNY PR Girl) would probably slap me for defacing her beautiful fashion website as I have done here... and rightly so!

bad DKNY photo

Nevertheless, it proves an important point about website photography: similar content or context does not equal similar quality or appeal. The two photos shown are alike in certain ways, but we can obviously see which one is the hero shot for

good DKNY photo

"Being creative" is not enough. Models, sets and lighting, not to mention meticulous photo editing are musts for fashion photography. So be like Ms. Karan and hold your brand's website to the same high standard of photography that she clearly does.

Exhibit C:

Chef Erik Neil of Easy Bistro in Chattanooga, Tennessee knows a few things about cooking delicious seafood. He also knows how to make it look as delicious on his website as on a table. I'm sure he'd lose his appetite (as you may have right now) to see one of his creations advertised on his establishment's website like below:

bad Easy Bistro photo

Food photography is a delicate and detail-oriented art that a food enthusiast with an iPhone cannot replicate. A professional food photographer carries a literal chest of tools to shoots, where they operate with surgeon-like precision to ensure the chef's dishes look tasty and appetizing. Sure, taking “real” shots of food has its place - on Instragram, maybe, but never on your own site. The fate of the restaurant could depend on it.

good Easy Bistro photo

People judge by appearance and the appearance of your website is drastically altered by the photography that you choose to use on it. You literally can win or lose customers with a single photograph.

A well-executed and well-placed photograph can create an emotional response in any audience, and provide both depth and context to a description. A professional Web designer understands the importance of quality photography in web design and often works hard to translate that importance into terms their clients can understand. That’s because designers know a website  is only as great as the sum of all its parts.

So take the example set by successful businesses and invest in images worthy of your company... and maybe a new suit, too.

If you have any questions, please comment below or find me on Twitter @AndrewBeckNYC

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Comments on this post

  1. i have to agree, i’m web designer and build websites for tradesmen all over the uk and one thing my customers always try insist on is supplying their photos taken off a mobile phone that if lucky has a flash button. i have to explain the difference between a professional taken photo and an amateur photo taken off a phone.

  2. A photograph on a website can definitely make you or break you. Web trends are moving towards more photo-centric designs and will definitely be a big one this year. In my opinion, it would be wise not to use any photos on a website if there are no pro pics available.

  3. Jason Dessing said:

    I’m a photographer in Newport Beach, CA
    and I concur with the article.
    Any photo, shot with a single light source, head-on (like a camera mounted flash), is a dud. Min. 2 light sources are required to give the object “life”. One from the side and another, softer, from the other side, to soften the hard shadows. A third one, from the back, creates glow to the contour of the object. Any cell-phone photo is a dud.

  4. Alexander said:

    Hi Andrew. Ya, the photographs plays a very important role in the web site design. As, the appearance of the website attracts more no. of visitors. So, thanks for sharing this valuable information.

  5. Pingback: 5 Visual Ways to Increase Lead Generation Effectiveness – AnyMeeting Blog

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