One of the challenges that frequently comes up for organizations of all shapes and sizes is getting good pictures to go with their web site design. Good images can draw in your audience but a missing or poorly displayed image can damage your credibility.
Frequently organizations fall in love with a site design that includes excellent pictures on every page. Each story in the design has a wonderful supporting image to highlight a person, place, or topic. Landing pages may have main images with carefully placed text and overlays to help draw the eye and keep people’s attention. Those designs and images may be great, but only if you provide new images as fast as you create new pages (often faster).
Much of the time I worked for AFSC we were lucky to have an in-house photographer. Terry Foss traveled around the world to visit and photograph AFSC’s programs and he provided us with excellent pictures for nearly every area of our work. But even then we still had challenges getting the exact picture we wanted for the story we needed to tell the moment we wanted to tell it. In addition to his wonderful images we would dig in the archives, beg local program staff to send us more images, and sometimes we end up taking a picture of an intern’s hand or other acts of desperation.
Web designers have to make many assumptions when they design a site, and one of the most important practical issues is the quality and quantity of art the client can provide. The more prominent and plentiful the image use, the more specific questions have to get: sometimes down to the level of aspect ratios and staff image editing skill level. Good designers will use this information to help make sure the images they assume you have in their designs are the kinds of images you can routinely provide. You should know what those assumptions are, and make sure you can do your part over time.
When you first launch a site this isn’t usually a problem. A lot of time will go into the stories and images that are included during the build and migration so the initially launched site should be at least as wonderful as the designs.
But as time passes the rules about what pictures will work well in what places on your site may become burdensome. You will realize there are places that images are required for technical or stylistic reasons. Some images will have text overlays that mean the subject needs to be on the right or the left. Some spaces will just be very large or very small which impact what subjects work well. Some will be surrounded by a background color or pattern that means some pictures will work better than others. The more you understand this going in the more you’ll love your new site.
We had to photograph an intern’s hand for AFSC was because at the time the home page would break if every story didn’t an image – it was a design requirement. A few months after we launched we needed to post a statement that deserved home page attention, but the statement had no image to go with it. I had no budget to buy a stock image, the program had no appropriate image we could use, so one of our team members grabbed his camera and an intern and quickly shot a few pictures of the young man’s hand holding a pen. We ended up using that hand image for several statements after that as well.
So here are a few quick guidelines for making sure your web site isn’t held back by a lack of art:
- Make sure you have a plan for getting new pictures. There are many ways to do this so having a plan is more important that its details. It can be a staff photographer, freelance photographers, volunteer photographers, an organization owned camera that staff use, or a budget for stock photographs. The best plans are usually some combination of those pieces.
- Make sure whoever designs your web site knows what you are able to provide before they finish the design. Will you be able to ensure pictures for every story, blog post, event, and so on? Does your stock image budget allow you to make up any gaps, or can you create a picture of a hand writing a statement from thin air? Can you edit those pictures to work in a variety of spaces and sizes, or do you need to assume the pictures get uploaded more or less they way they come off your camera?
- When you start to see designs ask your design and development partners lots of questions and document their answers. Ask about every image you see in the designs. For every single image you should know what size it needs to be, how it gets loaded and changed, if is required or optional (and how things look if it’s not present), and if it requires some kind of preprocessing for an overlay or other visual effect. Make sure you understand the purpose and details for every image they show you.
- Try lots of variations when the site is still under development. Upload great images, terrible images, images that seem too big and too small, a sunset over a field, an ocean scene, a portrait of a baby, a team group shot, fluffy animals, flowers, and anything else you have around your computer. For each spot you can put a picture try each image and see what works and what doesn’t. No design can handle any image of any size and description equally well so make sure you know, and can live with, the limits imposed by the design of your site.
Finally, for that plan from suggestion number one: make sure you actually follow the plan or fix it. Having a camera is only useful if someone is comfortable using it. Volunteers may not turn things over in time to be useful or may not provide the releases your board requires. Budgets get cut or adjusted over time and may no longer really meet you needs. When the rubber meets the road your plan may not work, don’t panic, just fix it. The reason you took all those notes about what you need is so that when you adjust your plan you will know what it needs to provide to make your site successful.