Options for images on your website

published on:

When it comes to finding images for your site there are a lot of options around. You have a choice of sources for your photos – your own, stock photos, professional/bespoke images and also a mix of these.

Depending on the purpose of your site, one option may stand out as the obvious one. It may also be that for different pages or sections of your site one or another option may be used.

Your own images

If you have access to your own images that’s great. It will give you a site that doesn’t leave users thinking, ‘That looks familiar, where else have I seen that? It must be a stock photo…’. Unique images are a great way to stand out.

The images you use don’t have to be perfect and professionally shot – some, as in a memorial website I made for a friend’s grandmother, say more by being real, personal and ‘home made’.

An artist might use ‘work in progress’ photos showing their methods and technique. These are interesting to readers beyond the ‘quality’ of the photography itself. Susan Carlson shows helpful images of her textile art. These photos typically feature pins, lumps of glue, snippets of fabric, tools lying around – nothing slick! She posts these informal shots on her blog, but has professional quality images of finished work on a portfolio page.

When quality counts….

For some situations a bespoke photo is really worth it. Just as you’d spend more on an item of clothing you hope to get a lot of wear out of you should consider carefully how you’ll spend your money. When the reason for taking the photography is to demonstrate a clear feature or impress people it’s important your photo quality doesn’t undermine you. A portrait can be an excellent investment, for this reason.

Professional portraits

If you – your personal skills, insights, relationship with clients – are a big part of what you offer then a portrait can make a massive difference. Consider this if you are offering a very personalised service – wedding planning, therapy or business coaching. If you look shabby and out of focus you risk creating the impression that you don’t care – about what your client is looking at, about attention to detail generally.

You can be quirky and creative and work with a photographer to create an interesting image – it doesn’t have to be a ‘sensible’ photo. But quality does make a difference here and is worth paying for.

Images that help sales

Some photographs can really add value to you business by making it more likely that customers will buy products or services from you. In this case it’s worth putting considerable thought into how you approach this area of your promotion. Even if you can’t afford professional photographs you still have options. If you are making your own photos you can bear some key points in mind to give your customers the information they need to decide to buy from you. We’ll look at the examples of photos for online shops, and food photography.

online shop

If you are selling items in an online shop you’ll want to emphasise their features and give other information about them:

  • size relative to surroundings to indicate scale
  • colour / colour options
  • show items in use to help potential buyers picture them better
  • show clothes/jewellery on a model so you can see drape of fabric, for example
  • show items from different angles – especially if this showcases a special feature (eg shoes with a pattern on the soles, or a special kind of sole)

If you can’t afford professional photos for each item then investing in some equipment and some training for yourself could be a good alternative. You might consider evening classes in photography, a bespoke lesson or just start by browsing some YouTube tutorials.

Keep some things similar – the styling of your photos, the backgrounds you use or the settings you photograph your product in. That gives your site a more coherent look and feel. It also allows people to focus on your product rather than find themselves distracted by the setting it’s in.

food photography

Photographers spend years mastering dark art of creating mouth-watering food photos. If your food business has a settled menu which is unlikely to change frequently then professional photos may be a good investment. If you’re working to a tighter budget or have a frequently changing menu there are other options. You can learn some tips on how to create your own photographs with a bit of equipment and some practice. And some photographers will offer workshops – so ask around locally.

If you are photographing for menu items to appear in a menu list then keep something about all the photos similar – for example you could:

  • photograph all the dishes from a similar angle
  • style the dishes in a similar way
  • use focus to make the backgrounds blurred (or not)

It makes it easier to scan the pictures of the dishes to see what is different about each one. This also makes it easier for you to keep a ‘coherent look’ even as your menu items change over time.

Stock photos

If you are going to go for stock images – I’ll cheerfully admit I often do – then do so thoughtfully and with a plan in mind. It can be a great way of getting an attractive website up and running fast without a big budget. You can save up for bespoke images later.

Think about how images contribute to the way you present yourself and your brand in general. If your overall site and business publications are bright and cheery then washed out and moody stock photos will look drab and out of place. Similar, if you’re going for a slick understated look in general don’t randomly opt for primary colour or pop art kinds of photos here and there. Stick with one type of look and try to find other images that ‘look of a piece’ with it.

Make sure the photos make sense. I once did a site for some roofers and picked out lots of photos from a stock library for them. I thought the pictures were brilliant – lots of sunsets on roof tiles and busy looking roofers. They laughed at every one of them for different reasons:

  • ‘Those slate tiles are so out of date!’
  • ‘Health and safety officials in the UK would be flabbergasted by that scaffolding – please take it off our site!’
  • ‘It would look better if that roof showed some modern insulation as well…’
  • ‘You can’t show people up a ladder if they aren’t wearing a hard hat!’

So, use your own specialist knowledge of your topic and think critically about any photos you are considering using from a stock images site.

Finding stock photos

There are a lot of options – and, sadly, quite a few scams – out there. I usually choose to get photographs from two reputable sources – Unsplash.com and Istockphoto.com


Istockphoto.com is a vast image library with a mind-boggling selection of images on every topic. They have illustrations as well as photographs and various formats on offer. You can opt to download different sizes of images, sometimes with different prices.

You can organise the images you like in ‘boards’ according to any theme you choose and you can share these boards with collaborators as well.

You buy their images using ‘credits’ which you can opt to buy in a bundle to save on costs. They offer cheap images at around £7 a piece and then much more expensive images up to several hundred pounds. If you restrict your searches to ‘essential’ rather than ‘signature’ images you’ll find you’re getting only the lower priced images returned in searches.


Unsplash.com is another option, albeit with slightly less choice. The images are not of quite such a good quality as Istock but if you search around you can find plenty of gems. As with most other photography stock websites you can easily organise images you are interested in and save them in ‘collections’ which you are able to share with collaborators.

The site makes up for any minor drawbacks by offering photographs royalty free. This is a fantastic deal so be nice and say ‘thank you’. Yes, you’ll be publicly ‘admitting’ that you use stock photographs, but there’s no shame in that. Looking rude and ungrateful is a much worse look in my opinion.

You can credit the photographer on the page where the photo is used (as I do at the bottom of my blog posts). You can tweet a thanks to the photographer who shared the image. And you can also show your support on other social media platforms. You are prompted to do this as you download a photo from their site. It’s polite and you may get a new follower!

photo credit: Photo by Brigitta Schneiter on Unsplash