How to source images for your website

Content marketing is all about balancing the written with the visual. Long articles are boring without good visual cues and images can only convey so much information about a topic. Therefore, it’s vital to use just the right amount of both elements in your content marketing strategy.

One issue arises time and time again with websites; words are easy to write and anyone can do it with access to a computer. On the other hand, good photos are harder to produce. Not everyone has the eye for good photography, not everyone has access to a camera and sometimes even smartphone cameras are not good enough.

So, how can you include high-quality images on your website if you know nothing about photography? Your first thought might be stock images. While there is an abundance of stock imagery online, the good sites are generally expensive and the free sites usually have very limited images available.

Using bland and cliché stock photos won’t do your articles justice and internet users have become more aware of bad stock imagery on websites. It’s not about where to look to find great visual material, rather, it’s about how to go about finding good photos for your content. Here are a few key components to keep in mind:

Use high-quality photos only

If you have access to a DSLR or high-resolution camera, taking your own pictures will always be first prize. However, the next best option is to find a website that stocks high-quality imagery.

Paid sites such as Shutterstock will have the best range of stock photos, along with the highest resolution images. But monthly subscriptions can be expensive for website owners and small businesses with little budget.

Two great free sites to use are Pixabay and Pexels. Both offer high-resolution stock photos but they do have a slightly limited selection. Their images are also generally free of restrictive licenses and can be used on websites and social media.

Low-resolution photos, images with poor lighting and pictures that have obviously been taken on cell phones are to be avoided. They will make your website look terrible and will negatively impact the perceived quality of your work.

Photos aren’t the only visuals to consider. Vector graphics (illustrations), infographics and videos also need to crisp and high-quality. Choose imagery based on the style of your website and content marketing strategy. If you run a graphic design business, it might be better to use vectors and infographics instead of photos.

Save all your high-resolution images to a hard drive and keep a folder with the images used on your site somewhere safe. It’s probably a good idea to do a reverse Google image search (drag and drop the stock image into the Google Images search bar) and see how often it has been used on other websites. If it’s highly popular, try not to use it; you want your website to be as unique as possible.

Use creative images rather than obvious ones

Speaking of unique content, you’ll want to use images on your website that are creative. When you think of stock photos, you probably think of a man in a suit smiling at a blank computer screen, or a woman laughing while she holds an empty cup.

These are cliché examples of bad stock imagery that is boring and predictable. Avoid using imagery that makes it look like you’ve given no thought to the visual component of your content.

Try to think outside the box when it comes to subject matter and the topic of your content. This is especially necessary when your content discusses abstract business concepts such as property growth or the importance of in-text linking.

When searching for images, type in various keywords related to the topic and see what results pop up. Be a bit creative with your search words and you’ll find that sourcing a creative image is easier. Think about metaphors and representation when looking for a unique image.

For example, a market growth article can be represented by an image of thick foliage; a logistics article can feature an image of a map and compass; a data piece can have a photo of a puzzle; and a thought-leadership post can have an image of a bright light source.

Don’t always go for the literal translation of an image. Sometimes it helps to communicate the point of the article by using a metaphorical image. If you think your audience can easily make the connection between the image and the article, then use it. If you think it may be a bit far-fetched, perhaps reconsider how metaphorical you want to be.

As long as the image is relevant and authentic, you’ll be ok with choosing something that isn’t a literal interpretation of your topic.

Choose authentic images that are relevant to your audience

Remember to keep the image culturally-relevant too. Using an image that depicts multiple Asian people is not entirely relevant to an article discussing African business. Your audience becomes more aware of the fact that you used a stock photo if the subjects are not authentic.

Similarly, images of celebrities and supermodels should be avoided. Not only are there usually copyright licenses attached to images of famous people, your audience will also be aware that the person in the image is not a ‘normal’ human (i.e. they are rich, lead extraordinary lifestyles and are probably Photoshopped).

Audiences want to see real people and real bodies. This makes the image more authentic and relevant to the topic. Keep your images localised and maintain cultural relevance with all your photos. Know your audience and what kind of images they’d like to see.

Images that depict real life or capture a real moment in time resonate more with audiences. Highly edited photos or Photoshopped images are more likely to be ignored by the audience. An honest image for an article can lead to more clicks and views.

Think about image composition

Even if you don’t have an eye for photography, you can still make a conscious effort to keep an eye on composition. When we talk about composition, we refer to how a subject is placed within the frame, how the photo uses lines to direct the eye, how contrasting colours are used to focus attention and how patterns and textures are presented.

Look at the elements of the image and start to think about the composition. Is the main subject of the image placed right in the centre of the frame, or is it offset to one side? Is the use of a tiny subject used to convey vast openness? Do the lines of the road and fence direct your eyes to a particular point on the image?

These are questions that you can ask yourself and will help you to decide whether a photo has a good composition or not. Remember that with human portraits, a low angle (looking up at their chin) can convey a sense of authority; shadows around the eyes can depict untrustworthiness; half a face lit up can create a sense of mystery and a direct gaze can sometimes be uncomfortable for a viewer.

When choosing images with unique compositions, think about aerial photos, extreme close-ups, night-time shots and negative space. All of these elements are common in photos that don’t depict what humans naturally see. We don’t look down on the world from the sky all the time; we don’t see everything up-close, we aren’t nocturnal so we don’t often see the world at night.

Take these tips on board next time you’re sourcing images for your website or blog. The right image can have a drastic effect on the quality of your website and on the audience’s understanding of your content.


Sorted Design Agency is a creative company that constantly looks for solutions to other people’s problems. These problems come mostly in the visual format, such as graphic design, logo and illustration, but we’re experts in brand development, website design, and digital SEO campaigns as well.


Based in Pretoria and Cape Town, Sorted has been in the content marketing industry since 2006. We assist your company with its corporate identity by communicating core values through content and articles written for your website, blog and news area. This content is supported by AdWords and social advertising, which facilitates wider reach and audience growth. Turn your website into a business tool.


Sorted also owns two other businesses; InkFish Print Studio – a printing company that handles a range of promotional materials for businesses and other services for individual customers, and Pampiri + Kie – a gifts and stationery store selling online and in-store. Both of these companies operate from Cape Town and Pretoria.


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