Most websites have photographs on them, but does anyone ever ask why? Delete all the pictures from the average website and what have you lost? No more over-happy people with pearly-white smiles, no more wholesome, beautiful families, no more immaculate interiors and perfectly presented meals. A good web designer always wants to leave lots of white space on the page, so won’t they be happy without pictures cluttering it up?
There we are then – the end of the photograph. Unless we can quickly come up with a convincing argument for adding back a few pictures. Of course there are places, things and events that have to be seen to be believed. But also, aren’t there feelings that can be conveyed more effectively, impressions made more immediately and connections made more strongly with the right photograph than could be done through text alone?
The average website visitor is not willing to read very much online. I find it very wearing to read text on desktop computers and laptops for any length of time, and reading a block of text on a small portable device is a complete pain. It’s often true that a well-chosen picture can convey a message in an instant. In fact it’s true that picture plus context can convey several messages at once. For me, seeing a picture of a family enjoying a take-away burger is more attractive than a big close-up of a fat-seeping piece of re-constituted meat in an oh-so-plain bap. If the people enjoying their burger and fries look like my family and me I’m more likely to be tempted, just because that reassures me that ‘people like us’ also eat fast food. When we look at a website we want to feel that we’re in the ‘right place’, we’ll be welcomed, understood and appreciated. Photographs don’t just help ‘target’ the right people, they contribute directly to the businesses image. The photographs on a website can reinforce or damage a brand’s image, I think they’re unlikely to be neutral. They can help tell us what a company believes, how it works and even how it might treat us.
So is that enough to justify devoting a few more pixels to photos on websites? Or are there instances when none of that applies? Well, if all you have are badly composed, ill-lit mobile phone photos or generic, unconvincing stock shots then I think white space is better!
Trevor Aston works in Kingston and Richmond upon Thames, Southwest London and Surrey as a portrait, event and editorial photographer.