One of the questions that often comes up as we gather information and images for a website is this: can you use random snaps you have hanging around for your website? Casual photos are often readily available on people’s computers, so it makes sense to consider using them.
Advantages of using casual photos
- They’re free. Hiring a photographer lets you get good shots that work just right for the design and content of your website. But if you have a bunch of pictures on your computer or in your Instagram feed, you can save money if you use them.
- They’re handy. Not only can you save money, but you can also save time. Photos often hold up website launches as clients try to find something they like, or to arrange for a photoshoot.
- You like them. Often, clients have snaps they really like. The photo brings up positive emotions for them, or it’s beautiful. Granted, sometimes the positive emotions are based on happy memories, not on the quality of the picture, but sometimes they’re just right.
- They’re not stock photos. We completely understand when clients prefer not to use stock photos. Those people are not really your team, and your visitors may miss the authenticity of a real picture of your team at work. However, stock photos have the advantage of high quality, good lighting, and easy access.
Disadvantages of casual photos
- They may not be high quality. Casual photos you happen to have hanging around are probably not as well lit or well composed as they could be. Sometimes they’re great, but you need to be honest with yourself.
- They may be too authentic. Once we suggested using stock photos of lab gear, but the client wanted to use real photos from their lab. They often took pictures and were confident that they could find some great shots. Soon enough, they told us that they hadn’t realized how messy their lab was. There just didn’t seem to be a single photo of their people in the lab without a big tangle or cords or a stack of papers. Real life is messy.
- Subjects might not like them. Site owners may be okay with their photo collections, but subjects may not find the pictures flattering enough. You might dismiss this reaction as vanity, but are you sure you’re willing to have your team cringe when they see themselves on your website?
Doing it right
- Make sure they belong to you. Your family photo taken by the local photo studio may not belong to you, in the sense that you don’t have a legal right to use it on your website. Make sure before you use a photo that you have the rights to do so.
- Get permission — and ideally, a model’s release — from every recognizable person in the photo. A signature is the best thing, but we usually feel okay with just asking permission, as long as the people in the photo are adults. We generally use stock photos of children, if we want clear faces.
- Choose someone unrecognizable. That distant shot of happy tourists playing in the ocean? The shot at the top of this posts, showing anonymous backs? The artfully blurred image of a kissing couple? Those are okay.
- If you’re not sure, stick with objects or landscapes. It’s fine to use a picture that you took of an object or of scenery.