Bad stock images can ruin an otherwise great website by making it look generic, while creative and customized stock images can evoke emotion and support your messaging and branding. Whenever possible the best solution for website imagery is to use custom photography to present unique visuals of your office, your employees and the geographic region. However, stock images are a great solution because they are readily available and inexpensive. Avoid clichés and stay within your budget by considering these “dos and don’ts”.

Do Not Use the Most Popular Search Results

When searching through stock image websites (my favorites are iStockPhoto or Shutterstock) they will often indicate which images are popular. Avoid these images at all costs. A wise man once told me, “Your first idea is probably the most generic.” This really holds true to stock images. Find a different way to represent your idea in a fairly unique way. Certain stock imagery has been so overused that they have become meaningless. It conveys no information of value and carry no positive emotional message.

Do Not Use the Most Popular Legal Stock Images

The images used in the most law firm websites are so poor in imagination that when a firm uses anything out of the ordinary it is seen as a revolution. The gavel and images of columns have been beaten to death. Certain stock photos are so overused that the only message they reflect is generic. These are the most cliché images and should be avoided at all costs:

  • Gavels
  • Courthouse Steps
  • Handshakes
  • Customer service rep (lady with a headset)

Your firm’s website needs to convey professionalism and creativity, and even more importantly they need to tie the into the firm’s message. Using images with unexpected subjects like the oranges and apples used in this site convey a unique and fresh expression of the firm. Finding one or two unique images similar to this can be the catalyst for the rest of the images on your website.

Do Not Be Literal

You do not need to be literal. The reason so many websites fall back on cliché stock images is because most organizations do not have strong imagery or branding to use that is already associated with them. When you think of a law firm, you instinctively think of a court room, gavel, and law books. That is the literal interpretation of a law firm and the easy answer for stock images. So few businesses produce something that can be seen or touched, they are only left with photographic clichés.

However, good imagery is about conveying a sense of personality and character, not a literal representation of what you do. After all prospective visitors understand that if you are a lawyer there will be a gavel. They don’t need a picture to tell them that. What they need to know is the character and personality of your firm. Images that convey information and emotion are considerably more powerful. They engage with your user and draw them in.

Do Use Stock Images to Enhance

The image that you place on the page must enhance the message you are trying to convey. Otherwise, don’t have the image, just for the sake of having an image. First determine your message: What are you trying to say? Once your message is established, find a photo to support or enhance it. Don’t be afraid to reuse that same imagery on multiple pages to reinforce your message. Your site does not need a different photo on each page. This will save time, money and further support your message.

Do Use Images that Relate

When I take on a new project, my clients will often give me a folder full of stock photos they’ve purchased for past projects with the instructions “Just make these work.” To put it bluntly, this sucks and you should never do it to your designer. The result is inevitably a bunch of photos that don’t necessarily provide a strong visual connection to the product, service or general information on the page. You want to use photos to reinforce your message, not to simply decorate your page. This almost always means that your content should precede your design, not the other way around. Otherwise you end up with a tech-support site featuring photos of smiling people spinning happily in fields of wheat. Even if the photo is incredible, the connection just isn’t there.

When using stock images for your website, make sure you do so with extreme care. Take the time to find the right images and think creatively. Maybe even go for the situational shot or metaphors. Images that evoke a response subtly can be very effective. Also creatively edit the image, crop into it or combine two or more photos together to create a new photo.

(photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/slightlynorth/)