The 5 C's of Selecting Imagery for Your Website

Posted by Don Elliott on Feb 26, 2020 9:00:00 AM

woman's hand on laptop with images blurred in background

See what I did there? The 5 C's of selecting photos for your site... now that they're all C's, you'll all remember them better!

I can't stress enough the importance of beginning with good content. From a design perspective, so much of the impression your online presence leaves on users depends on the imagery you select and how you use it. More often than not, clients come to us with little to no imagery for their web project. Even when they do, the odds of it being good imagery are pretty slim. Needless to say, I spend a lot of my time scouring stock photography sites searching for fantastic imagery to bring all the elements of a web masterpiece together.

Whether you're searching for imagery as a client or on behalf of a client, here are a few items to keep in mind:

Is it crisp?


Can you tell this is an amazing picture of a shark battling a sexy narwhal? It's a darn shame you can't experience it in all its splendor: It looks like a screenshot from a Gameboy Advance.

Size does matter. The bigger an image you can provide, the better. Imagine the difficulty of starting with a tiny image and trying to create a full-width slide image. These small, low-resolution images only allow for two outcomes: You either come up with some creative way to incorporate the smaller image into a larger image or you enlarge the image to the proper dimensions. The latter results in a giant, fuzzy mess. That's NEVER a good idea.

Is it coherent?


Can someone please explain where you would ever use this image? Occasionally, companies will insert thought-provoking images to grab the reader's attention. They'll insist it's just the thing to represent the subject matter. However, there is a thin line between an image implying something and an image missing the mark altogether.

Make sure you stay mindful of what your image communicates from your users' perspective. Don't assume they'll follow your thinking and implicitly understand its purpose. Instead make sure it is as universal as possible and clearly fits with your content. 

Is it candid?

thumbs-upJeepers, look at that racially diverse group of hot twenty-somethings giving us the thumbs up! Surely nothing could explain better how amazingly a customer will benefit from using whatever miracle service is being offered here.

There's just one problem with imagery like this: It feels unbelievably "Stock". The quality of the image is fantastic--great color, lighting, depth, etc.--but there's nothing genuine about it. It feels completely staged. When selecting imagery, look for great quality images that feel plausible.

Is it captivating?

sexy-bindersPictures of static products don't have to feel boring. There's plenty of boring in an average day; the services we offer or the products we try to sell online may not be the most glamorous things ever. But by using the right lighting, color and perspective of any product, you can bring sexy back. (Sorry, Justin Timberlake; couldn't help using that line.)

To the right are ordinary ring binders portrayed in bold, bright colors. Sure, they're just binders, but the composition and colors help to make it more compelling. (There's some more c-words for ya.)

Is it consistent?

What do a shark/narwhal painting, a man holding a cigarette filled banana isolated on a white background, some goobers giving the thumbs up, and a tight shot of folders have in common? Nothing! All too often, people search for imagery for their web project with no mind for how all of the images come across as a set.

Consider this: How do the images represent your message as a whole? Focus on your brand when choosing images for your website design. As you search, pay attention to the similarities between images and ask whether or not those similarities are visually apparent. Just because the subject matter of your elements is essentially the same doesn't mean they feel like they belong together.

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Don Elliott

Written by Don Elliott

Don holds a degree in Multimedia and Web Design from the Art Institute of Seattle and has worked in web design for nearly two decades. He is also an award-winning illustrator.