Get good images for your website

Where can I find suitable images for a website, blog, landing page or social media campaign?

Get good images for your website
The Vizcaya Bridge near Bilbao. © Rob Hoeijmakers

I manage three websites of my own. This blog, my business site and an e-commerce site. I pay a lot of attention to substantive, independent stories about creating, producing and publishing good content. I start with text and then find striking and appealing images to go with it. Where can I find suitable images for a website, landing page or social media campaign?

So captivating, original and affordable images for a project of your own. How to move forward? I see three obvious, not mutually exclusive ways to get pictures and cutting and pasting just any old material from Google is not one of them 😉

I'll take you on a quick tour of the possibilities:

  • stock photos, free or paid
  • your own photos and
  • commissioned photos.

Stock photos

The most common way is to use stock photo’s. The word stock means a pile, a storage and therefore a collection. This is a service with many photos that can be searched by keywords or arranged by theme. Many people are on a budget when it comes to photos, so I'll make a distinction between the free service and the paid service.

Free stock photos

The services that work with a CC0 licence are very much on the rise. This is a commons licence that gives you the right to use the images online without much obligation. You may edit and crop images for various purposes. An acknowledgement of authorship is not obligatory, but is appreciated.

Recently, a number of photo stocks have started offering high-quality photos under a free and open licence (CC0). You may use and edit these photos online. They are free, but a monetary contribution or honorary reference is appreciated.

I use these photos regularly and especially for temporary landing pages where for example SEO on the images is less important. In other words, if I need to make a page quickly that will not be online for long.

Here is a brief overview of services that offer free stock photos:

An example photo on photography:

Photo by Matt Hardy:
Photo by Matt Hardy:

If you want more original or better executed photos on your website or campaign, there are paid services. In essence, there are two types of licence. One gives you the right to the photo in return for payment (Royalty-free) and the other gives you the exclusive right (Rights Managed). This prevents you from seeing the same photo on a similar website or even in the competitor's website.

If you have been working with stock photos for a while, you will soon notice the difference in quality. In the strength of the service, but also in the photos themselves. Both technically (lighting, processing, resolution) and thematically they are more elaborate. Here is a short overview of examples:

The photo stock built into web builder

It depends of course on which tools you use to build your website, but web builders like Squarespace and Wix have one or more stocks built in. That makes finding and processing the images straightforward. Wix, for example, has its own stock, there is access to Unsplash and there is a premium service where you pay a fee per image.

On the left, the three stock photo options in Wix. 
On the left, the three stock photo options in Wix. 

Your own pictures

A second option is to use your own photos. The advantage is that these photos can be more original and more to the point. In my case, I also just like to use them, it gives me a stage. The disadvantage is that they sometimes look a little haphazard, but I accept that. And I do my best to make the connection clear with a playful photo caption.

I wrote an article about how to make photos suitable for the web, and make sure to shoot your images in portrait AND landscape mode.

It is worth noting that as soon as you put your own photos online, you retain the copyright. Even without mentioning copyright, although it can't hurt to mention it.

Bridge in Bilbao at sunset. From my own stock of photos. ⓒ Rob Hoeijmakers
Bridge in Bilbao at sunset. From my own stock of photos. ⓒ Rob Hoeijmakers

Commissioned photographs

Commissioned photography is another story. We recently had this done by two different photographers, and the methods and results were very different. As with many things in life, cheap is often expensive. A good photographer thinks of much more than photography, but will empathize with you or your product.

There will be a consultation and list of attributes that might be needed for content-rich photos. Especially if the photos are shot on location, a lot of attention will be paid to lighting and there will be requirements for the environment in which the photos are taken.

The quality photographer will offer you a clear price and agreement. In our case, not all the photos she took were actually ours. She made a series available in low resolution, and we could choose from them.

To conclude

There are many ways to get photos, and it will take some trial and error to find what suits your goals. Once you know where you can find photos and at what price, it is a nice challenge to find the right photo.