One of the most important key ingredients of any good web design is the imagery. The pictures on your website will be what grab attention first, they will be what first conveys the tone and feel of your site, and they will be what people remember when they come away. Want proof of just how powerful the right choice of images can be? Then just head over to Bing, where a ‘big beautiful background every day’ is one of the key selling points they tout over Google (and it works!).

Sites that use images well feel stylish and artist, they’re pleasant to spend time on and they attract a youthful, creative and artistic crowd. Get it wrong though, and they can have completely the opposite effect. So how do you choose the right images for your site? Where do you get them? And how do you know a good image from a bad image?

Where to Find Them

To get your images you have a few options. You can buy stock images, you can find free stock images (there are plenty of resources on the web), you can outsource their design, or you can take/draw them yourself. Most site owners will choose one of the first two options though, which means you’ll have a large array of different pictures to pick from.

Some Basic Guidelines

Before you start picking which images you like the looks of most, it’s important to first make sure that they tick all the required boxes and fit the basic criteria.

To that end your image must firstly be high definition. Screens these days have insane amounts of pixels, so if your image is low res then it’s going to look blurry and cheap to a lot of people. Of course you need to take into account how big you want the image to be – is it going to fill the whole page? And you may want to use an adaptive design to adjust this (and to choose different pictures) based on the size of the screen viewing your site.

But another consideration that ties closely into your resolution is the size of your file. Ideally you want your image to be as big as possible, but also a small file size so that your page loads quickly. A slow loading image can lose you a lot of traffic and actually damage your SEO. Choose PNG file formats for preference.

Design Considerations

Now you have an image that is the right size and definition, you need to ensure it’s going to look good in the context of the page it’s on. To that end you need to think carefully about colour palette: does it work well with the colours of your website or does it collide? Even if the image looks right in terms of the composition, if the colours are wrong then you need to look elsewhere (or alter the colours).

Another thing to think about is which way your faces. This is a subtle matter, but if there is a ‘subject’ of any kind in your website, then you need to make sure that that subject is facing inwards as in towards the text. If there’s a face for instance, then it should be looking as though it’s reading the text it’s embedded with, not looking away – this will help to draw the reader’s eye the way you want it too.

Another consideration is

Content

Of course it’s important that the subject of your image matches the subject of your text, but you don’t want this to be too vague or too on-the-nose. Images of people in suits have become common place on pretty much every business site and every ‘make money online’ site. These aren’t particularly original and they look very much like stock images that have been chosen for convenience. You want people to at least imagine that you took the pictures yourself in your studio, but anything too obvious will be moot. So try to get something that perfectly complements the content of your site and make sure it matches the emotional intent too. Avoid anything too cheesy, or that looks unprofessional.

Ultimately this will come down to personal preference to at least some extent, but if you follow at least these guidelines then you can be confident that your site will look professional and the images will help you accomplish that.