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Photography for Websites

This month I have been thinking about photography, mostly due to the nature of the websites that we have been working on. This article is perhaps mainly aimed at web designers, but those thinking of commissioning a site will also find it interesting, I hope.


I suppose it is the nature of things that people are always looking for a bargain! That is as true of websites as anything else. We often get potential clients telling us that their cousin's lad would create one for them in return for fity quid and a packet of crisps, or that there is a great service they've seen advertised on the telly where they can create their own site for £10. Unless we can persuade them that you get what you pay for, we often end up redoing their site a few months later!

The same applies to the imagery used on their site. Clients don't want to pay for it if they can help it and the temptation is to try and avoid asking them to do so. There are five ways of gathering images for a client's website.

1. Just pinch the images off the internet somewhere. Surely nobody will ever find out and anyway, what's the harm? 

This is a bad idea. Firstly, people do find out. Presuming that you have pinched images that look halfway decent, they are quite possibly originally from a commercial stock library. And guess what? Commercial stock libraries have software that can trawl the internet matching images with those in their databases. Sounds like science fiction? Not so - you can do it yourself. Free. Have a look at TinEye (www.tineye.com/about).  Once you have been spotted, the web site will get a notice, in some cases politely asking you to remove the image - in others demanding payment rather less politely. Embarrassing, especially if you didn't tell the client where you got the images from to start with!

2. Get images from a free image library

Much better. There are a few of these, although it seems that some of them have now been purchased by the large commercial stock companies and are no longer being updated with new images. You're on much firmer ground here legally. But there is a quite narrow selection, especially once your subject matter becomes less generic. Because of the relatively low number of images, and in some cases the low quality of some of them, the good images tend to be used a lot. They will crop up time after time. You can use TinEye (as above) to check and you will probably find hundreds of occurrences of the same image. So, free image libraries are certainly a possibility - and if your client is on a really limited budget they may be your only option.

3. Get images from a commercial stock library

There are quite a few online commercial stock libraries. iStockPhoto, Getty Images and ShutterStock are the ones that spring to mind immediately. The advantages here are that the client has actually paid for these so legally you are fine (as long as you use them as per the terms on the site, of course), the choice is huge and the quality high. As far as a client is concerned, the disadvantage is that they will have to pay for them! But they aren't as expensive as you (or they) might think, typically buying images at the resolution required for a website will cost £10-£15 per image. (A tip here is that you can often buy a 'bundle' of a number of images much cheaper than if you buy each one individually. So make a list of the selected images, then buy them all at once). Not too expensive - except for a site that is very image heavy, where multiplying that cost by quite a few images can produce a large bill. Of course, these images are also available to anyone else - so they will also appear elsewhere on the web. Try to pick less 'obvious' images to reduce the likelihood of this happening. Whether you are using a free or a commercial stock library, ask the client if they would like to select at least some of the images. They know their business better than you do, and you can spend hours selecting images, trying to second-guess what your client might like only for them to repeatedly reject your choices.

4. Bespoke photography taken by the client

There are some times when you simply cannot download images for use. For example, photographs of staff or premises. For the former, resist the temptation to ask the client to get staff members to provide photos of themselves. It will look like a dog's dinner. If you can get portraits taken with each person in front of the same background using the same lighting whilst looking smart, with the camera on a tripod, then you are half the way there.  Remember, you will have to charge for your time if you end up taking them. So your client could take the photographs themselves with a decent digital camera. You may find the same with the client's products. However ...

5. Bespoke photography taken by a photographer

... might be a better idea. It's tempting to imagine that a professional photographer does nothing more than you could do with a digital camera. That's about as true as thinking that your Grade 2 piano certificate makes you a concert performer as long as you have a decent piano! If you really want your imagery to be striking, professional and individual then hiring someone who knows what they are doing is a great idea. Now the drawback of this approach is twofold. Firstly it is going to require you or the client to find and appoint a photographer. Secondly it is more costly. How much more costly? That depends on who you ask to do it. As a web designer or web design company, it is worth being proactive here. Find a local photographer and ask them for prices, and how they charge. Day rate? Hourly? Per accepted shot? There are also other avenues you can explore. Is there a local college that runs a photography course? Ring and ask if they would like a real-world project for their students to work on. Or get the contact details of the photography tutor and ask them if they would recommend any recently graduated students. You will find that new graduates are very keen to start compiling a commercial portfolio and so will work at a lower rate than an established photographer. If that still works out too expensive, there may be a local camera club - some of whose members will be very talented amateurs or semi-professionals. As a web company if you can build a range of photography contacts, your offering to your clients will be much more comprehensive.

We recently asked a recent graduate to take some photographs for us. The results were impressive, and we will certainly use her again when required. 

Final Thoughts

Whatever route you recommend and whatever your client's budget, ensure that you stay legal. Emphasise to the client at an early stage that they may have to pay for commercial stock photography or for a professional photographer. If using bespoke photography, check on the copyright imposed by the photographer. You may find that you are paying for the rights to use the images on a website but not on printed material - sort this out before the situation arises! You may find that you can use a mixture of sources - that will potentially reduce costs. When selecting images, try to avoid the obvious. Smiling women answering phones, business suited men shaking hands, grimfaced executives sitting around a boardroom table - we've all seen them over and over again, and probably want to never see them again. Good, appropriate imagery can give any site a huge lift, so it is worth spending time making sure that both you and the client have carefully considered how it is being used.



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