Imagine for a moment that a friend sends you a URL to a website and says, "check this out, I think it's something you'd be interested in". You click on the link, not having any preconception of what this site is going to be about. In that instant when you first get a glance of the home page, in 5 seconds or less, can you tell what it's about, or at least have a good idea about the content you're about to consume? You should, if the website has been designed well. And what is the main driver of that experience? Imagery of course! Is it eye catching, is it relevant, does it evoke an emotion? All of these feelings need to be felt by you, the user, in order to keep you scrolling and interested in the content being served.
We are all visual creatures and we can process visual information almost instantly. Imagery can be a powerful way to capture your audience, as well as differentiate your product from the competition. A single image can convey so much more than a block of text can. It can help explain a complex concept, making it so much more valuable to your users. Don't get me wrong, you do need text on your site in order to drive traffic to your pages, but if an image can accompany that text - all the better, for you and your users.
The Importance of Relevancy
Unique, compelling images that engage your audience and improve their experience need to also be relevant. You don't want to confuse your users with an image that sends the wrong message or doesn't explain what you're trying to get across. You also don't want to add an image just for the sake of taking up space if it's not relevant to the content on that page. It's important to always ask yourself if the image you've chosen supports or furthers the content. If you find it's distracting, or just filling in white space with no other purpose, either remove it or switch it out with something else. The last thing you want is for someone to leave your site just because of your image choices.
Stock Photography - The Good And The Bad
Stock photography is a great resource when the budget is limited, and you don't have the means to hire a photographer to create original images for your site. Here are a few things to keep in mind when sifting through pages and pages of stock photography.
First, be aware of the focal point of the image. The image should have a clear focus that is not obscured by other elements in the background. If you want to show an image of say, a subway train, find an image that is of just that, and not one where there are multiple subway trains going by and people in the background hustling and bustling. Pick images with the least amount of distractions, and ones that contain only a few meaningful elements.
Second, as human beings we love to see people. People using the product you're selling, people that are happy, emotional and candid. Once we see a face, we instantly connect with that person. More often than not, if there is a person using or holding your product, your audience will be more drawn to that than of an image containing just the product itself. Using images of people builds trust. Picking the right image to use can be tricky though. The people in your images need to align with the representation of your product and the culture of your company. Should they appear down-to-earth or formal? Are they family oriented or single? Should they target an older demographic? And most importantly, do they look "cheesy" or "fake"? There's a real time investment here, and it's not a quick process. It takes time to evaluate your options to find just the right look. Once you've found it, the time you spent searching will be worth it.
Finally, while using stock photography is great when the budget is limited, it does have its downfalls. When you've found that perfect image that says everything you want it to say, it explains your message, conveys exactly what you want it to... guess what? You may not be the only company that has felt that way about that image. Imagine going to your competitor's website and seeing that same exact image! Maybe it's not a competitor; maybe you see it on a completely separate site that has no relation to your company whatsoever. It doesn't matter, the point is stock photography gets used over and over again by many different companies and if you really want to be unique, you have to be 100% original.
Authenticity Is Key
If your company does have the means to invest in original, professional photography, by all means, please do. I'm begging you! Using original photography means you no longer have to worry about coming across as authentic, believable and real, because you will be. This gives you the opportunity to showcase things that no stock photograph could ever do. Show your actual storefront, your actual employees, and your loyal customers that already love your product and are happy to show it off.
When it comes to individually photographing your products, the most important thing to keep in mind is consistency. If you want to display your product on a white background with a light shadow underneath it, do the same for everything across the board. This consistency shows itself most on your listing pages, where every product is right next to one another in columns and rows. This type of page is the most vulnerable to comparison and inconsistent images will stick out. Low quality old images, different backgrounds and poor lighting are all things that can create a negative impression and detract from the new, gorgeous photography you've just invest in.
If your product looks best against a black background, great! However, it would be wise to take a secondary photo of it on white, and here is why. You should always be thinking about the future use of your images. When it is photographed on white, it's easier to "cut out" and digitally alter. For example, if you want to use these images in advertising graphics and use completely different backgrounds, it's so much easier to do so with products shot on a white background. That way, there won't be a dark shadow cast on your product, which happens when it is photographed on black or other dark colors.
Buying a product online, where you can't actually touch it and see it in a 3-D sense, is always a risk. Taking photos from multiple angles can help make your customers feel more at ease and allows them to gain a sense of what to expect when they open that box. What will really help in this area is showing the product in a real setting, just to give it a sense of space. Have a model hold it, or wear it, or show it being used in an actual setting. Listing details like height and width means more when it's represented in reality. You want to provide your customer with as much information they need to feel comfortable making that purchase.
Photography is an investment of both time and of money. Whether its original or stock, in the end it'll be worth it if in doing so it drives more traffic to your site, evokes an emotion and a connection with your audience, and ultimately converts a sale. Images engage users when they come to your site, keep them intrigued, get them to actually want to read about what you do, what you can offer and how you can benefit them in their lives. As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words. Choose wisely, think about your audience, and capture their attention at first glance.