Uncheeseball Your Website with Better Photos

Uncheeseball your website with better photos
Cynthia Bartz • June 21, 2016

Your website photos should support your content and visually communicate your brand. If you are using photos to just fill space you are missing an opportunity to differentiate yourself from your competition. Your business is anything but generic, so your photos shouldn’t look generic either.

Hallmarks of Stocky Stock Website Photos

Stock photos can be awesome. They are an easy way for you to get photos for your marketing without having to hire a photographer or pull out a camera yourself. Unfortunately though, we are still recovering the cheesy media trends of the 90’s. And lots of stock photos are terrible. Really terrible. And terrible photos have no business on your website. Here’s what to avoid:

Exaggerated Expressions

Avoid photos of people (or animals) with exaggerated expressions. People who are overly happy, sad, angry or don’t look like they are genuinely feeling the emotion are out. Just because you are talking about how frustrating life is without your awesome service doesn’t mean that people will be literally pulling out their hair without you.

Caricature displays of emotion don’t align with how your audience is really feeling. You don’t need to tell them how to feel with ridiculous pictures of fake laughter or anger. Crazy emotions often feel like a hard sell, think infomercials.


Empty Backgrounds

There are certainly exceptions to this rule, but if you have a photo that is going to be standing on it’s own you want the background to have some context. In general we are aiming for the feeling that you hired a photographer, not downloaded a stock photo. It will be more difficult for your visitors to project themselves emotionally into the photo if there is no context.

website photo of woman displaying exaggerated fake surprise.

Exaggerated Surprise and Empty Background

Unnatural Poses

Overall we want natural looking photos. So any photo you look at that makes you squish your face up is probably not natural. Sometimes it’s hard to identify what about the photo makes it unnatural, but if it looks forced or makes you uncomfortable at all it’s probably not the photo you want on your website.

two men arguing

The men in this photo look pasted on the background and the emotions on their face do not align with their body language.

This Chick

I’m not even joking on this one. The woman in the photo below has thousands upon thousands of stock photos. I’ve seen her in magazine ads, postcards and web ads. Her face is everywhere. Most of her pictures are pretty good, not too cheesy, and it’s nice to see someone that isn’t white; which is probably why small businesses like using her. But this woman’s photos are so over used. I won’t let my client’s use her photos because her face has saturated the small business ad market. And now that you’ve seen it you won’t be able to unsee it.


The stock photography woman that shouldn’t appear in your website photos

Don’t believe me? Go to Bigstock and search for pretty much anything, I’ll bet you’ll see her face.

Picking Relevant Website Photos

Natural poses

Natural poses come from models that are doing real actions. The subject shouldn’t look like the photographer reached in and posed them like dolls.


Caught in the Moment

For most businesses you want photos that look like you caught people in the moment. Ones that look like the person just set down their cup of coffee or like you walked outside just as your nephew sprung off the deck. The photos should transport you into that moment, as if it was alive. It’s so hard to fully explain the difference between a posed moment and one that feels like a still from real life. But that’s what you want your website photos to feel like, like real life.

example of a caught-in-the-moment website photo of boy jumping off a deck

Overall authenticity

In general you want to find website photos that look genuine. The ideal photo looks like you hired a photographer for a custom photoshoot. That means that sometimes you are going to pick photos that have flaws or ones that just haven’t been Photoshopped to death.

authentic website photo of woman drinking coffee

You Don’t Always Need People

Don’t feel like you have to have people in your photos. Sometimes objects, nature, or interior scenes paint the picture better than one with people in it. Always be asking yourself, “what image will best communicate the message to my audience?”

website photo of bike in office with no people

You Don’t Always Need a Photo

If the photo is just there to fill a space you might not need it at all. Good design is a balance of content and white space. Your eye needs room to breath on the page. If you’ve filled up ever inch your visitors are going to be overwhelmed. If the photo doesn’t add value to the visitors consider if you need a photo at all.


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