So here's a good question: one problem that often comes up is a client asks for a site, but they have no content (specifically images) and so leave it up to the designer to find appropriate images to use. The first thing a lot of people will do (including myself sadly until recently: is go and find stock images of smiling business people that all look like models, or worse pictures of handshakes, little icons hugging a globe) and these all lead to generic looking websites that reveal zero about the company or brand you're trying to represent, and might even damage the brand by making it seem unpersonable and lifeless.

So here's the question: what might be some good(general) guidelines for choosing images for client work when they don't provide any: thoughts?

  • So to clarify: we're talking about generic business websites where there's nothing at all to work with in what the business actually does? Can you share any examples? Commented Jan 30, 2013 at 12:26
  • What some designers I've known do: Get a friend who is a photographer to visit the office and take photos including ambient mood shots as well as people shots and business-related photos, then bill them for it plus a small commission. Commented Jan 30, 2013 at 12:29
  • @user568458 While I'm not a lawyer, I would be leery of photographing any employees without getting a signed model release from each one beforehand. It's not a bad idea; just make sure you have clearance and rights first. Commented Jan 30, 2013 at 12:44
  • @user568458, ofcourse that implies you're doing local work and the client has the budget.. It can be any type of business, I'm sure you've had the situation come up.
    – user9623
    Commented Jan 30, 2013 at 19:30
  • to clarify: interested in what can be abstracted about the process.
    – user9623
    Commented Jan 30, 2013 at 19:36

2 Answers 2


I throw some of this back to the client: "Show me what you like." Send me links to other websites which have photos you like. Hand me a magazine. If all else fails, I'll create a lightbox on iStock (or similar) and tell the client, "Pick the ones you like and tell me why."

This gives you at least some winnowing before the site launches, and puts some of the responsibility back on the client.

  • Lauren, I like the idea of the lightbox, I guess that then brings up the question of if we really want the client choosing images for the website, (but I guess that's a separate question entirely- I'll probably be using that lightbox idea though so thanks).
    – user9623
    Commented Jan 30, 2013 at 19:07
  • @user9623 The benefit of having the client pick from your lightbox is that you are pre-selecting images. So you can choose 100 images you find acceptable, and the client picks 20 of them. No matter which 20, they are 20 images you can live with. Commented Jan 31, 2013 at 0:46
  • Good point: agreed.
    – user9623
    Commented Jan 31, 2013 at 1:14

I'm not sure how answerable this question is beyond "depends on the website".

For me, the main thing is to look for images that transmit the brand's values. Is it a law firm? Then images that embody trust, experience, confidence. Is it a toy store? Go for happy, cheerful, safe.

I hardly use anything other than people for images. People can represent such a wide range of expressions and messages that they are good for everything, and they help the user relate to the site too. But not those posing models, I mean authentic and spontaneous photos (sort of, at least).

  • Interesting yisela. I like what you said about values. Also trying to find a good visual metaphor for the business can also help..
    – user9623
    Commented Jan 30, 2013 at 0:23
  • It can also be hard to find any "authentic/professional" images of people that don't look overly generic: any good resources you recommend?
    – user9623
    Commented Jan 30, 2013 at 0:26
  • I've used some good ones from Shutterstock, and iStock also has some, but they are usually more expensive than the 'standard' ones.
    – Yisela
    Commented Jan 30, 2013 at 0:45
  • Got it: yeah, frankly I'd say choosing the right images can be one of the most challenging aspects of web design. Good to hear your views.
    – user9623
    Commented Jan 30, 2013 at 0:55

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