Online photography — tips from our user testing

Photography is one of the most powerful ingredients you can use on your website. We've found that photography can make or break perceptions of the website and subsequently the company's brand. This article gives some insight into what makes a good picture for user testing and helps you organise your photography content.

Photography equipment including a camera, tripod and lens

The terrain

Photography can be used in lots of different ways online. I've categorised the types of photography needed below:

  • Photography and brand — Convey the experience of a company's personality and values.
  • Photography and advertising — Used to illustrate key marketing messages.
  • Photography and way-finding — Used for website orientation. Photography can act as markers on key pages or as smaller thumbnails that give a flavour of the page you're going to. Iconography is also used for this purpose. (See also: Alluring Layouts – drawing and capturing attention)
  • Photography and e-commerce — Product shots
  • Reportage photography – News items
  • User generated photography — Should you be brave enough to allow your audience to post their own pictures on your site.

What the users say…

At Nomensa we do a lot of user testing. As mentioned before, photography can make or break perceptions of the website and subsequently the company's brand. It's worthwhile putting the work in to get it right.

You'll never please everyone

Photography is subjective and it's never going to please everyone. We find that if the photography is good, then 90% of the test participants will react favourably to it. No comment from the test participant means things are ok.

Way-finding photography rules

Test participants tend to react very positively to way-finding photography. Anything that helps them navigate or provide a scent of where they need to go is a plus.

Don't use stock photography

Stock photography of smiling models always get a negative reaction. Participants understand the positive connotations related to stock photograph (e.g. idyllic lifestyles). However, because so many websites use stock, and users are becoming a lot more savvy about the process of web development, their awareness of stock photography is heightened and their reaction is more negative. It's much more effective to use real photography even if it's not as professional.

Keep it relevant

Online photography should do more than be purely decorative. Images tend to test badly when they:

  • Don't add clear meaning to the content.
  • Take up a lot of space on a page or clutter it up.
  • Slow down users getting what they need.

Keep it clean

Busy photography can make a website feel busy and cluttered. It's best to keep things clean and let the photography communicate a message and provide clarity to the page.

Hands flicking through contact sheets of photos

Always have a consistent pool of images

One of the biggest problems facing a company managing a brand is keeping a consistent image bank. Inconsistent photography can make the website and company appear to be unorganised. Auditing inconsistent photo libraries is a good move but plugging gaps with stock is not advisable. If the brand changes over time, prune your image bank and commission a photographer to update the pool.

In summary

  • Be consistent and audit what you've got.
  • Use iconography or imagery for way-finding.
  • Avoid idyllic lifestyle shots and go for real.
  • Busy photography = busy website.
  • Define your brand and website content then brief a photographer.

Wrapping up

Hopefully this article will help you to carefully consider your photography online. You can have a beautiful website but content is king.