IS A PICTURE WORTH A THOUSAND WORDS?
In a word, YES. We love pictures. We like the color. We like the imagery. We like seeing people we know. We like seeing new things. By and large, humans are very visual and we do a great job with image recognition. Pictures fill all those needs.
Like Buying Shoes
Consider the example of buying shoes. If we were going to the store to buy shoes, would you just let the clerk tell you what the shoes look like? Or would you like to see the shoes? Of course we want to see the shoes. The imagery tells you things in a moment that the clerk could never adequately describe. The same would be true if we were buying our shoes online. Would you want to just read a description for the shoes, or do you want to see a picture of the shoes? Again, the image tells us more than any paragraph of text could convey about the shoes.
The same thing is true when people are visiting our church website. We can tell them what the building is like or we can tell them what the congregation is like or what the pastor is like. But a few simple pictures convey the information much more clearly and more efficiently.
A Few Catches
There are few catches.
- One, you need good pictures. Bad quality pictures don’t work and in fact might hurt.
- Two, pictures can be slow to download.
- And three, because we are familiar with the subject (our church or church family) we tend to fill in the gaps in the information that our pictures don't include.
I am not a professional photographer. These are just my suggestions on how to take better than average photographs. Where average is measured by what I see on most websites.
Unfortunately we can’t control how a user sets up their display. It’s been my experience that most people have their monitors set too dark. They want the blacks to really be black, and hence most of the other colors are too dark also. To compensate we need to lighten most of the images we take. Use the image editor of your choice to lighten the image. Here’s a handy rule of thumb. Increase (or decrease) your contrast about half as much as you use for brightness. If the Brightness setting goes from –100 to 0 to 100 (where 0 is normal) and you set the brightness to say 30 THEN set your contrast to 15. You may need to adjust depending on your image, but that is good starting point. You can fine tune from there.
Most of us take pictures with a subject that far too small. We’ve all seen the picture with two little blobs standing in front of a building. Can’t see what those two blobs are (is that Mom and Dad?) and can’t see the building very well, so what’s the subject of the picture? Or the picture of the person in the yard where you can see lots of grass and sky, but can’t tell if the person in the picture is male or female. There’s any easy fix for this – get closer! When you are taking pictures for a website, remember that this image is going to fill a pretty small space on the webpage (maybe 2 inches by 2 inches), so the subject needs to fill the picture to be visible. Sometimes you can fix this in your graphics program by cropping the image (cutting away part you don’t need) and zooming in. However a much better solution is to fill the viewfinder of the camera with the subject of the picture. If you are taking a picture of person, do you really need to see from their knees to the top of their heads? Or would just their head and shoulders suffice?
Try not to take the same old pictures. For example, three people standing in a line looking at the camera saying cheese. Get the people involved in what they were doing (helping at the soup kitchen, handing out the award, etc.). If you are going to take some action shots, then be sure to get the face of the person. For example, if you are going to take picture of the pastor, don’t take one of the pastor shaking hands with a church member if I can’t see the pastor’s face. Instead of taking a picture of the children’s division with all the children sitting quietly, get a picture of them involved in an activity (sitting on the floor, coloring, singing, etc…).
The compression needs to be enough to help the picture download quickly, but not so high that you can’t tell what’s in the picture. When saving your image as a JPG, so it can be used on the website, select a compression level that is going to make the image file size small, but not too blocky. Remember the JPG format losses some of the image quality when it is compressed. Usually you see this as colors start getting blotchy and the image starts getting fuzzy. When that starts happening, reduce the amount of compression you are using. It’s of no use to post a picture that no one can tell what it is. It will take some trial and error to get a number that is a good starting point for your images. Part of this will depend on the original resolution of the image. Part of this will depend on the subject matter and colors in the image – some images will compress smaller than others will. Also, size your images in your graphics program. Do NOT shrink the image in your HTML editor. Sizing the image in your HTML editor will almost guarantee results that you will not be happy with – jaggy edges, fuzzy pictures and slow rendering when someone visits your page.
We know what the picture is all about, so we don’t bother to label it well. Part of what makes a picture interesting is being able to tell what the picture is. If there are several people in the picture, tell me who they are. If it’s a picture of an event, tell me what is going on. If a picture of a thing or a place, tell me what it is. I was at a church site that had some great picture with what looked like earliteens interacting with senior citizens. But I had no idea what was going on. Was it Grandparents Day? Or Kids Day? You might not want to ID everyone in the picture when there are privacy concerns (especially with children in the pictures). But at least tell the visitors to your website what is happening in the pics.
Children Never include children's names on your website or in the file names of the featured photos. Never feature their email addresses on the website.
Other miscellaneous tips
Almost every church includes a picture of the church building on their main page, including mine. But is the building the most important thing your church does? I hope not. Maybe that picture should be smaller so you can highlight what you are really about.
Consider what the visitor wants to see, not what you want to show them. Let’s be real, most visitors to your web site won’t really care to see an image of your stained glass. I know that you love that glass, and it makes you feel secure, etc. But every church has one. It’s not really all that unique. So maybe the “riveting” story and picture of the stained glass could be somewhere besides the front page.
Use a simple java script that randomly loads one of several images so your page will look a little different each time it loads.
Alt Tag Photo Description
Use the Alt text tag in the HTML to describe your picture. Then you get more key words on your page to help your ratings in the search engines. You will help handicapped people who use screen readers to “view” the page. And you will help the people who for whatever reason, couldn’t download the image.
Inside Of Church
Show a picture or two of what the inside of your church looks like. People who are considering visiting your church would like to know what it looks like. When you visit a hotel online, don’t you want to see pictures of the rooms?.
This certainly does not cover all there is to say about images. But hopefully there are some tips here that you found helpful.
Please don’t hesitate to contact me if you have questions regarding this topic.