You may think that having high-quality images on your website is a back-burner issue, but we can assure you that it should be one of your highest priorities, and not just for the aesthetics!
Having high-quality, properly optimized images will increase your users’ experience exponentially. It will make your website load much faster and drive more traffic through your site’s pages. We know that the average user may not understand how to get high-quality photos or optimize them properly, and so we have set out to explain the process through this blog.
There are three ways to get good photographs and images:
- Take the photos yourself
- Hire a professional photographer
- Use stock images
Taking Your Own Quality Website Photos
First, let’s dive into the ins and outs of taking great photographs for your business. First, taking your own photos can save you the expenses of hiring a professional photographer. With a good camera and some basic know-how (which we will cover in this blog), you can be well-equipped to be your company’s photographer. The downside is, there is a learning curve to this process, and you have to be willing to take the time to learn and practice. Here are the five most important things to keep in mind when taking your own photos.
Composition is the position of different elements in the frame. While we may be tempted to center everything in our photos, the professionals suggest a different method. It’s called The Rule of Thirds. Basically, as you look through your camera, you have to imagine a perfect tic-tac-toe board drawn within its borders. Then, before you capture your image, you want to place the subject in one of the four intersections.
This is because our eyes are usually wandering across web pages. When a subject is found in one of these intersections, it keep our eyes moving and our mind engaged with the content. If we center the subject, our eyes stop moving. Even if we only stop for part of a second on the centered image, it breaks our engagement and can ruin the aesthetic of the page. Take a look at this example.
Using the Rule of Thirds is one of the simplest ways to immediately improve your photo quality!
Exposure is the term used for how light or dark your photo appears. You can change your exposure either automatically or manually. When you have your exposure in auto mode on your camera, the subject is automatically exposed properly. The downside is, it could expose the background poorly, making it either too light or too dark. If you decide to work your exposure manually, you have all of the control and can perfect your photos’ exposures. This takes time and practice to get great at, but is well worth the investment if you have the patience to learn!
Here are some examples of over and underexposed pictures:
This one may seem self-explanatory, but lighting is critical for great photos, and there are two types of light you can utilize: natural (sun and moon) and artificial (anything with a light bulb). Natural light is great because it is generally consistent. The sun moves across the sky, in the same way, every day, making your ideal photography times predictable. The “Golden Hour” for photography (when natural light is at its best for your pics) is one hour after sunrise and one hour before sunset. The sun is also free, so it’s a bonus for your pocketbook, and can be manipulated with the right equipment! The downside to natural lighting is that interfering weather like storms, rain, or cloud cover can postpone photoshoots you have already arranged.
Artificial light is your other lighting option. It provides you with more freedom that the sun does. You can place your lights wherever you want, choose the bulbs’ color temperature (from bluer light to more orange light). You can choose the intensity and can manipulate the light with the proper equipment. The cons for artificial light are the price point— high-quality lighting can be quite expensive—and the bulbs can produce a lot of heat.
Here are some examples of artificial light vs. natural light.
We can’t explain everything you need to know about lighting in this blog, so if you want to know more, check out these lighting tips from Canon.
White balance is the process of removing unrealistic color casts from images. These colors are on a scale from blue to orange and generally are not wanted in photographs. This is something that you can control either automatically or manually with your camera. If you control it manually, you can set it and forget it, which is often nice. The downside is, your white balance will not be consistent from image to image. If you decide to adjust this manually, you can create a consistency between images, as you are aware of the changing locations and their effects on the photos. Here are some examples of white balance done well and done poorly:
Stabilization is the process of making your camera secure & stable, which is crucial for getting images that are crisp and clear. Your body is constantly moving because of your heartbeat and breathing, so it’s important to get your camera away from your body. There are two ways to do this. First, many cameras are made with built-in image stabilization. While this is great and definitely improves the quality of your photos, it can only do so much. The other, and recommended way to stabilize images is by using a tripod or monopod. While it is an extra piece of gear you need to purchase and haul with you, it gets the camera away from your body and it’s extremely reliable.
Hire a photographer
The second way to get photos is to hire a photographer. Hiring someone is great because there is no learning curve. They already know all of the things we just taught you, but even better! They also have all of they equipment they need, so you won’t have to worry about that expense. The downside is hiring a professional photographer will cost you a decent chunk of change. They also may not be great at their work, so if you decide to hire someone, it is important to ask for reviews from their previous clients and ask to view their portfolio.
Stock Image Sites
The last way to acquire website photography is by using stock images. You can use these images to fill certain unspecific space on your website. They are great because it’s easy to find high quality images from the start, but a bummer because of the cost. Also, it is generally better for SEO to have original images, as these will accurately represent your company. Generic stock photos won’t help your organic rankings.
Now that you know the basics of taking great photos, how do we format them so they enhance your website instead of crash your website? The process is called image optimization, and it is imperative that you get this next part right.
Image optimization, simply, is making your images website-friendly. This is important because raw images take up a TON of space. They slow your website down substantially and therefore keep viewers from engaging with your website. The first part of image optimization is using the correct file format. Today we will focus on two formats – JPG’s and PNG’s.
JPG’s (pronounced Jay-peg) are the most popular and versatile image format. This is because they have a very large color palette. You can also decrease their resolution, which is helpful in controlling image sizes.
PNG’s (pronounced Ping) are useful because they have transparent backgrounds, which is critical for some design elements. There are two different kinds:
- PNG-8: these have a small file size and only use 256 colors
- PNG-24: these have a larger file size and use many more colors
We recommend using the PNG-24 because the increased color options provide a crisper, more aesthetically pleasing image. However, you can certainly get by with the PNG-8 format.
Saving Images Correctly
The last part of this process is knowing how to save images correctly. You want to make your images the actual dimensions they will be on your website. If you have a huge image, for example, but part of it will be covered up by some other element, you will want to crop what you don’t need out of the image so you only have what the viewer will see. This can be done in almost any photo editing program when you are saving your image.
There are two other things to consider when saving images. First, you can compress your image further through an online tool if you would like to. We don’t usually find this necessary. Second, if you have access to Photoshop or Illustrator, it is essential to make all of your website’s image resolutions 72px/inch. If you don’t have access to a tool that can professionally alter your image’s resolution, it may be worth considering. This process reduces images sizes exponentially while still maintaining their quality.
Getting quality images and optimizing them is a process. There’s a lot that goes into it and a lot you need to understand to do it well. Sometimes you are best off leaving it to the professionals, but if you have the time and are willing to learn, it is awesome to have the know-how to take and optimize your own photos.
Whether you hire a pro to take your company’s photos or become the photographer yourself, it’s critical for you to understand what goes into the process. Image quality and optimization can be a make-or-break for driving website traffic. Now you’re all set to get Google and your users to love your images!
For more questions about finding and optimizing quality photos for your website, contact Art Unlimited—we’re always happy to help!