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Imagery 101: Choosing the RIGHT image for your webpage

In the last post in this new series on imagery, I reviewed things to consider when choosing a great image for your site. In this post, we'll look at what makes an image the right image, not just a great one.

Now that you have a solid foundation on how to choose a great image by considering the context of your site and how to provide interest through focus, zoom, and contrast, let's talk about the harder part of choosing the right image for a particular page. "The right image?" you may ask. "Isn't a great image good enough?" In a lot of cases, it might be. We might be using images decoratively to add graphical interest to our pages, but I would advocate for thinking a little more strategically about the role that images are playing across your site.

Articulate your goals

Your website should support your organization's goals. Those goals, through careful content strategy and design, should be driving the content and structure of your site. This applies to imagery as well. When your goals drive the strategy for choosing imagery across your site, you will have a more clear idea of what is the right image to choose per page.

For example, let's say you are trying to choose images for the following pages:

  • About us
  • Our location
  • Programs
  • Make a Gift

Now, let's talk about the goals for each of these pages:

  • About usGoal of this page: Help people understand what we do and why we do it (our mission).
  • Our location – Goal of this page: Make it easy for people to find us.
  • Programs – Goal of this page: Highlight our flagship programs and their impact on our audience.
  • Make a Gift – Goal of this page: Show how donations make a difference to real people, and inspire people to donate today.

These seemingly simple and common pages are actually more detailed and complicated in their purpose. To support these goals, we can use careful wording and choose the right imagery to craft the perception our audience has of our organization.

Clear goals lead to the right images

Let's review and brainstorm what kind of image might be the right image (and why) to connect to the goals of each page:

About us

Goal of this page: Help people understand what we do and why we do it (our mission).

Candidates for the right image:

  1. A picture of our team (smiling) - Why? This puts a face on our organization and shows that we are kind and friendly.
  2. A photo of us in the field helping our constituents - Why? This shows the actual work we do that matters and that we are actively helping others.

Which would I choose? I would choose option two because it more clearly supports our goal for people to understand what we do. It addresses what is unique about us. In the caption for the image, we can explain what we are doing and why that particular program/task matters to our constituents.

Our location

Goal of this page: Make it easy for people to find us.

Candidates for the right image:

  1. A photo of the front of our building from the street - Why? So when people are looking for us from the street, they will recognize our building.
  2. A map showing our location in context - Why? So that people can orient themselves to where we are located.

Which would I choose? I would choose both. A location page benefits from having both a map and a photo of the outside of the building to help people recognize your location. I would embed a map instead of using an image.

Programs

Goal of this page: Highlight our flagship programs and their impact on our audience.

Candidates for the right image:

  1. A group photo of people who benefited from the program - Why? To show that our work has a positive impact on real people.
  2. A photo of people working on something related to a flagship program or event - Why? To illustrate the kind of work we do and show how we make an impact.

Which would I choose? I would choose option two because it is more specific and has a more specific story. Showing a close-up photo of a person being helped is more meaningful than a general group photo. That said, if your mission is to serve large numbers of people, then a group photo might be a better choice to demonstrate quantity.

Make a Gift

Goal of this page: Show how donations make a difference to real people and inspire people to donate today.

Candidates for the right image:

  1. A profile photo of a real person who benefited from the program - Why? Smiling photos from people who were helped by your program are powerful and can be linked to a specific, personal story.
  2. A photo of a person receiving help through our program - Why? Showing us in action and helping others illustrates exactly how a donation gets put into effect.

Which would I choose? I would choose option one. A personal story told through a photo and a brief quote is a powerful way to put a real face on the beneficiaries of a donor's generosity.

In conclusion

I hope this post has inspired you to think strategically about which image is the right image for your website content. You can use these methods to develop a documentation strategy that will help your staff collect photos that best represent your organization. Make a list of all the kinds of photos you need, and either take them yourself or hire a photographer to do it for you. Organize your photos by date, and consider also tagging/organizing them by category based on your conclusions after analyzing the goals of each page or section of your site.

Stanford departments and groups can use the SALLIE campus-wide digital asset management system for storing and sharing images and other assets.

Next time...

Next time we'll get a little more technical, and we'll look at tips and tricks to prepare your image for the web, plus ways to do this using Preview and Photoshop.

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Comments

What a great post thank you. I run a virtual assistant business and i'm struggling to find images outside of the boring standard stock images of computer, pens, stationary etc. They are all so soleless and boring but I just can't think of what else I could use. Any suggestions?

Hi Janet, finding great images in the first place can be difficult. There are a couple ways. You probably already know of various stock image resources like Shutterstock, Getty images, etc. But, if a Creative Commons image will work for your purpose (ready more about Creative Commons licensing here: http://creativecommons.org), then you can use Compfight.com to run a search of Flickr for images that are licensed under Creative Commons. To do this, you search for something, then in the sidebar make sure you click "Creative Commons" to filter images to show only ones with that license. Hope that helps!