Choosing the right image for your website can be difficult if you don't have the budget or knowledge of where to find great imagery. Luckily there are great websites such as Unsplash or Pixabay that provide images free for use. The tricky part is then selecting images that communicate your message to your audience.

Use emotional images

People make decisions with their emotions, and back things up later with logic. Be mindful of the emotions you’re trying to evoke when choosing your images. You want your images to align with your reader and support the things you’re saying. Look for photos that are authentic to engage the audience and drive them to act or donate to your cause. People can spot poor stock photos a mile away. Stock photos might have worked back in the ’90s, but we live in a different age of the internet. Sure, stock photos still exist, but they’re a different breed than the stock photos of a decade ago. Bad stock photos look staged, cheesy, and lack authenticity. You’ll want to choose images that are the exact opposite of this.

Tell the story

The banner image on the top of each page is the first thing your audience sees so you want to get it right!

They’re often characterised by having text laid over the top. It’s this crucial addition that changes the entire use of the image, from being simply pictorial to being part of the wider story you’re trying to tell.

Once you’ve added that text, the image is no longer just a great photo where the object is to display the subject perfectly. Instead, the image is now there to support the narrative you’re trying to achieve. It’s also part of a wider design scheme, and so can be manipulated to achieve the correct tone of voice. Once you’ve made this mental shift away from “this is a great photo” to “this is a great photo to support my narrative”, you’re on the right track.

Finding pictures that appeal to your audience

When you are choosing an image, always have your audience in mind. Similarly to writing copy, pictures need to speak directly to the audience for them to take action, or even take notice at all.

Ask yourself:

  • Will this image help my audience understand the content?
  • Will this image further my message or be a distraction?
  • Do I personally like this image, or does it actually add value for the audience?

Use High-Quality and Clear Images

Always use images of the highest possible quality. If your audience is squinting to see your images, that is a poor user experience. The free photo sources we highlighted above will give you a large enough selection of high-quality photos to get started with. If your site requires personal photos of your organisation or activities, then most camera phones today will provide you with high resolution photos. Photos do not scale up well, so you need to be starting with a good-size image, at a minimum of 1200 pixels wide for a large banner image.

Most screens are “landscape” orientation meaning they are wider than they are tall, and websites tend to reflect that in terms of how they display imagery. That means that you should avoid “portrait” images as much as possible.