Published Wednesday 13th December 2023

Sourcing images for your website

Long pages of text don't make for good websites. If a visitor lands on a page and sees a huge amount of text to read, they can feel overwhelmed and leave. Similarly, if they're presented with a lengthy form to complete, they'll probably not bother.

When designing pages, it's important that such content is broken up. Alternating colours or column layouts can help by defining clear borders between content sections, making the page as a whole feel more inviting. Images do the same, but also have the benefit of complimenting the content, or helping to direct focus to a particular part of the layout. A bright, colourful, interesting looking image is going to draw your eye to that part of the page, and subsequently to the text that accompanies it, and might even help to explain the point that the text is trying to make. In a nutshell, images are a really useful element to add to a page.

Not everybody is a designer though, and nothing ruins a page more than a badly drawn graphic or totally off-topic stock images.

Furthermore, the images used throughout a website should share a consistent style and quality. A page might look fine with 3 decent images, but if you then add a super imaginative fourth image, shot in a studio with professional lighting and expensive camera equipment, those original 3 images are suddenly going to look sub-par and the new image will stand out like a sore thumb. If one image is fantastically composed, they all need to be.

basic drawing of a stick figure balancing on a tight rope. Contextual and breaks up the content without being distractive.

The absolute best photography and illustrations come from commercial stock. These archives are compiled by professional artists who make their living from the stock images that they sell, so the attention to detail tends to be higher, the equipment used tends to be better, and the artist tends to spend a few days shooting so if you find an image that you like, chances are it's part of a bigger set with all sorts of minor variations and a better chance that the perfect shot for your page is in there.

Of course, commercial stock images come at a cost and if you're populating a website of hundreds, or even thousands of pages, the bill can quickly rack up. If you want to use the absolute best stock, you have to be prepared to stick with that decision and make sure all of the images used come from commercial archives, otherwise you'll end up using stock images from alternative, free archives for later pages, and then you're back to the problem of consistency. Those free resources are going to stand out like sore thumbs, or if the free stock is used more often, the original paid images will stand out in the same problematic way. If you use commercial stock, stick with it for all pages. If you use free stock images, stick with that for all pages.

The main commercial stock archives which we like are iStock and Shutterstock. There are plenty of others, but these archives have been running for a very long time and are these days rather massive. They're also quite selective with the images that they accept into their repositories, so these are effectively massive archives of very high quality artwork. Adobe Stock is a rapidly growing archive too. Not yet on par with iStock or Shutterstock, but worth keeping an eye on.

For free stock images, we like Pixabay and, again, Adobe Stock as they do have some free content, unlike most other commercial archives. These stock archives are notably smaller than the commercial repositories, but there just aren't any comparatively sized free stock image sites unfortunately.

basic drawing of a stick figure with a confused expression. Contextual and breaks up the content without being distractive.

Wherever you look for images, be careful to check the license that they're released under, particularly with the free resources as many require attribution or don't allow commercial use. If you're unsure what the rules are for using a particular image, it's best to just not use it.

Sadly, as tempting as it might be to just search Google for images to use, their usage rights filter isn't super reliable and the website you end up on for an image you've found this way very rarely makes it easy to tell what license it's been released under.

Stick with the big stock sites as they have entire teams of people processing the images that are uploaded to them, to try and prevent issues with people uploading content that they don't actually own the rights to, and they make a point of distributing all content under very clear licensing.

Another option is, of course, to take your own photography. While producing graphics and illustrations requires a lot of skill, with a decent phone or digital camera and some basic understanding of good composition - the rule of thirds especially - just about anybody can take reasonably good photographs and this is what we advocate the most with our clients.

Photos that show your brand in the real world, people wearing your uniform, driving your vehicles, or using your products, are always going to look better than anything you can find on a stock image site. Life shots that contain your branding help to link a website to the real world, to the business it's a website for, and this helps to make visitors feel more comfortable about using your website and making a purchase through it, or providing their personal information to you. A website that incorporates tailored photography like this, confirming that your products or teams really do exist in the real world, and can be found in an office somewhere, works wonders for the psychology of converting visits into leads.

Photo of Ric


Ric is a senior web and game programmer with nearly 30 years industry experience and countless programming languages in his skillset. He's worked for and with a number of design and development agencies, and is the proprietor of QWeb Ltd. Ric is also a Linux server technician and an advocate of free, open-source technologies. He can be found on Mastodon where he often posts about the projects he's working on both for and outside of QWeb Ltd, or you can follow and support his indie game project on Kofi. Ric also maintains our Github page of useful scripts.

Blog posts are written by individuals and do not necessarily depict the opinions or beliefs of QWeb Ltd or its current employees. Any information provided here might be biased or subjective, and might become out of date.

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