In this blog series, we’ll touch on specific areas most websites struggle with.  We will likely offend or shock you by calling you out.  This is good.  Our intention is to change the way you think about your website in an attempt to clean up the internet.  We’ve evaluated thousands of websites and common themes have emerged that will assist you in your personal website journey.

How Do I Modernize My Website? Part 1 of 5: Website Photos

The better question is “why should I modernize my website?”  It is critical your website live up to some basic modern design standards, or you run the risk of losing revenue.  Not just revenue lost from potential new customers, but existing customers as well.

The website world has shifted because of large companies like Amazon and Google who are constantly pushing the envelope of website capabilities.  The bar has been set very high and all other businesses are forced to shift their mentality or get left in the dust by more savvy competitors.  Especially if you’re a product company, you know that your e-commerce site is either excellent or antiquated.  You must provide a typical user experience or customers will find somebody else that supplies the experience they’re accustomed to.

If you do much shopping online, you’ve already made the shift.  You stay away from sellers that haven’t adapted.  This point is rather obvious, so let’s touch on some other areas most people don’t consider right away.

Your Photos Suck

That was not just the header of the next section, that was an emphatic statement.  Based on the thousands of websites we’ve seen over the years, the vast majority of websites include terrible images, which is a shame.  Anyone with a credit card has access to millions of professional images from sites like:

iStock

shutterstock

BIGSTOCK  We prefer BIGSTOCK for pricing

Use these! Stop skimping and trying to get by with photos from a five-megapixel camera.  If your site looks cheap, your potential customers will know you’re cheap too.  If you invest just $79.99 with BIGSTOCK, you get 50 professional grade images.

Use a Real Camera

I’m not suggesting you need to go out and purchase the latest Canon or Nikon for several thousand dollars, but some of our clients like to send us pictures they’ve taken using a smartphone with a cracked screen and a scratched lens.  Just don’t.  Really, it’s lame.  Some of the high-end smartphones or even a $100 camera can take great pictures.

You’ll know if your photos were taken using a bad camera (or bad camera settings) when you blow up the picture on a computer screen and see that everything is pixelated.  Pixelation makes photos look like the old 8-bit video games that were blocky around the edges.  Always take the extra step to look at photos closely before trying to use them in a website.

Improve Your Photo Lighting

The largest difference between someone with an expensive camera and a professional commercial photographer is lighting. Without the funky umbrellas, reflectors, and light boxes, your images will be devoid of the kind of details required for a flagship image.  If stock images do not suffice, hire a photographer that will capture unique images of your products, location, people and anything that matters.

If you insist on taking the pictures yourself, here are a few pointers:

  • I can’t believe I need to say this, but I see it all the time, don’t point your camera at the light source
  • Don’t take photos with a light behind the object so it creates a hard shadow directly in front of what you’re shooting
  • In fact, don’t use a super bright light that creates any hard shadows
  • The color of your bulbs will determine the color of your shot
  • Use multiple lights pointing from different angles to eliminate shadows and evenly light the object
  • If you’re serious, visit your local photography shop for pointers about lighting and how to properly diffuse it

Make Sure Your Photos are in Focus

People are way too excited about the photos they think are interesting and “artistic.”  Any time I go to an art show, I’m shocked to see how many photographers are selling out-of-focus photos. They either took the photo from too far away using the wrong lens, or they just didn’t make the proper lens adjustments.

Some of the software in smartphones can help you cheat.  If you’re using a high-end smartphone with a great camera, you can usually tap on the area of the screen you’d like to keep in focus and capture something decent.  Again, double check the fine details by zooming in on the photo that was taken.  Until you know things aren’t fuzzy, your work is not complete.

There’s no better example of the importance of focus than food shots.  The details of the image below should make your mouth water.

Foodshot

Photo Credit: Steve Bigley

Your Photo Composition is Terrible

What, in your opinion, makes for a great photo?  That’s obviously a subjective question, but there are some basic rules to follow:

  • Clinical is old. Warm up and try to look human or people will find your competitor who already does.
  • Make sure people aren’t wearing a bunch of crazy patterns.
  • Don’t take pictures from far away. It increases the fuzz factor because you’re relying on zoom which can quickly degrade the photo. Accidental movement from far away makes photos ultra-fuzzy.
  • Keep the photo simple. Jamming as much as you can into a shot usually means you dilute the value of the most important part of the photo.  If you do any research at all, you’ll find that the best ads, best photos, even the best graphic designs are super simple.
  • Some foods, like refried beans, look like crap.   Seriously.  Shit on a plate.  You might serve them at your restaurant, but take photos of whole beans instead.
  • Consider your audience and what they want to feel when they look at your photos. If you have an amazing spa and you want people to feel warm, comfortable, and cozy, don’t put a picture of a big lotion bottle on your homepage.

Legal Concerns with Photos

Don’t ever use Google to find your images and assume you have a legal right to them.  If you’re using photos without the right to do so, you’re placing yourself at significant legal risk.  Copyright infringement for photos can be pretty serious and cost hundreds of millions of dollars in the most egregious instances.

There are ways to get around paying for images online, but the pickings are slim.  Make sure the photos are available under a  Creative Commons License.   This isn’t full proof because someone can steal the photo, then post it online claiming creative commons licensing.  That’s the risk you run for “free.”

Using photos of people that haven’t signed a photo release document is also a very bad idea.  It may be a previous business partner, disgruntled employee, or even an estranged friend that decides to stick it to you with a lawsuit after a bitter breakup.  Don’t ever use photos of people without written consent.

The Case for a Professional

Taking a timeless photo that can be leveraged for years to come requires know how, practice, and tons of shots at different angles with different lighting combinations.  A commercial photographer has already done this many times over.  They’ve been in the trenches taking photos of weird stuff like floors, medical equipment, uncooperative children and moving cars.

A true commercial photographer has studied and practices the science behind shutter speed, aperture, proper settings for various lenses, color temperature, light diffusion and myriad more technical factors that make a photo a photo.  They also understand the convergence of digital and analog technologies and how they work in conjunction to capture something truly amazing.

If you’re on the fence about hiring a real photographer, consider what one of your photos would look like on a billboard.  Would you spend thousands of dollars every month on a billboard using the image in mind?  If not, don’t put it on your website, and pay an expert to get it right.

If you have some suggestions about helping people improve their photos, please share.  We appreciate your input.

 

 

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