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Photography for the Web

by Cecily Whiteside

I recently pored over three photo shoots for a client whose website I was helping create. I’m the copywriter, not the photographer, but as a former magazine editor and photo shoot supervisor, I had some opinions as I sat with the website designer. We were trying to find usable photos from the hundred or so that the photographer took, and I was frustrated by the lack of understanding of what web designers are looking for in a photo.

Granted, it’s hard to see all the shots from the best possible angle when you are in the trenches with the camera. On the other hand, you need to have a vision for the final product when someone is paying you to create the images that are going to help sell their product and their brand.

The most important aspect of being a photographer is having an “eye” for the shot. But there are different needs for different applications. A photojournalist needs to portray the story in a single shot. A portrait photographer needs to tell the visual truth in the most attractive way for their client. A landscape photographer takes us to the great outdoors, while the wildlife photographer brings the great outdoors to us.

The website photographer needs to know the needs of the designer. To make life easier for everyone involved in a website project, and to make sure the client gets their money’s worth, here’s your website photo checklist.

1. We need faces, preferably smiling (or at least looking pleasant)

Don’t take pictures of backs. I don’t care if the company logo is on the back of the shirt. We can write in the name or put in the logo literally anywhere on the web page. I don’t need to see it on a guy’s shirt. Show me his face, engaged with his job, his co-workers or with the camera. And for heaven sakes, make sure he looks like he’s enjoying his job!

2. Focus on the faces

Make sure your focal length is wide enough that all the faces in the frame are in focus. Soft focus is fine for your artistic shots. I need pictures that are sharp. On some screens these will be blown up to enormous proportions. Don’t make me think I need to get reading glasses going through your photos.

3. Take all your shots horizontal

We can crop a horizontal photo for vertical needs. I can’t add to the sides if you take a vertical shot and I need a horizontal one of that subject. There is never a need to turn your camera, just zoom out and in.

4. Get some boring shots

We need some backdrop photos that will have text over it. While we will fade the photo, it’s best to have some that are less busy. Having a subject on one side of the frame, with something less interesting on the other is idea for banners and backgrounds.

5. Get some exciting shots

Asphalt can be exciting, financial planning can be exciting, acupuncture can be exciting. Your client finds this stuff exciting enough that they come to work every day to do it. Think like them, get into the spirit of the organization and find what makes it exciting to them.

6. You are the director, so direct already

I’ve been on both side of the camera for a variety of reasons and I have found that people need to be told what to do; where to stand, where to look, whether to smile or not. Don’t be afraid to give people directions. This is your job, and you want to do it well so that you provide a great product to the client and hopefully get called back when they need more photos. Word of mouth and repeat customers necessitate good results. I have been known to take people by the shoulders and physically move them or turn them. One caveated here – if you are a male photographer with female subjects you will have to use your words instead of your hands. Point, but don’t touch.

7. Machines are boring, people are interesting.

Try to get action shots for your tech, manufacturing and construction clients. A big boxy thing sitting there is not going to inspire much. (Although take a few shots of it from various angles and distances. Remember those boing shots I mentioned.) Then get someone involved with the equipment. Moving parts won’t be moving in the still photo, but people imply action simply by existing.

8. Take WAY more pictures than you think you need.

In this glorious day of digital photography, you can delete stuff that doesn’t turn out. I’m old enough to remember taking a roll of film to the developer only to discover as I’m looking through the prints that most of them are blurry or washed out. Autofocus and program modes are a great tool for those who are more concerned with composition and having decent photos from the photo shoot than monkeying with f-stop and exposure. So take umpteen photos in various setting configurations and exposures. You’ll have some to choose from and can trash the rest.

This is not an exhaustive list. For that there are plenty of books and articles available by better photographers than me. This is a quick and dirty list to keep in mind the next time a web designer hires you to get them photos for their project.

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