Choosing Stock Photos For Your Header - A Web Designers View

If you're thinking of creating your own header for your Web site, you can really benefit from knowing how a Web designer thinks when choosing photos.

Stock photos are available from a variety of Web sites and services. The price and quality vary considerably, but for most of us, inexpensive stock photos are all we'll ever need. Two typical stock photo sites are and, but there are many more.

By the way, recently I was browsing a well-known, glossy magazine and recognized a stock photo I'd seen the day before on So, you don't have to be concerned about the quality of inexpensive stock photos; even the big magazines use them!

So let's see how I would approach finding suitable photos for my client's header...

First, I'll ask my client about their business: their typical audience, and their market's gender and age group. I'll also want to know about the mood or feeling my client wants for the Web site. With the answers to these questions I can choose photos with the appropriate colours and ambience.

For instance, a spa will want tranquil colours, usually light blues and pale greens, and photos of blissed-out people (typically women) getting a massage or facial. They may use smooth stones, a leaf or a flower to convey a Zen atmosphere.

A children's daycare on the other hand, will want primary colours (red, yellow, blue) and photos of energetic, happy kids. They may use clipart balloons, crayons or building blocks in the header or for the navigation.

Note: Clipart objects, people, backgrounds, buttons, badges, icons, cartoons and other images are also available on stock photo sites.

Now I will visit two or three stock photo sites and select photos based on my client's criteria and my own requirements for the header. (The Web designer's requirements are just as important as the client's requirements.)

To find appropriate photos, I'll enter keywords into the search box. This is almost an art in itself. For a spa site, I might start with the most general term "spa," and end up with phrases like "happy woman massage," "massage stones," "tranquility, "wellness," "candles," "spa products," etc.

When I'm choosing photos, I'm automatically running them through my internal filter:

1. Does this photo have the right colours? Or will I have to modify them in Photoshop?

While colours can be changed in Photoshop, I will first try to find photos with the right colours. However, if I find the perfect photo, but the colours are wrong, I will definitely consider changing the colours in Photoshop.

If the colours for the Web site haven't yet been determined, I may base the colours for the header (and the site) on the photo. Designers often do this, especially if they are using only one photo in the header. Pulling the colours from the photo will almost always guarantee that the Web site will look pulled together.

2. Are the people in this photo facing the direction I want them to face in the header? People (and objects with a "front" like a car or even a teapot) should face toward the middle of the header or straight ahead. Note: Flipping over a photo can result in an odd looking image because of the play of light and shadow.

3. Can I crop this photo to focus it better on the subject? Many photos have more potential when they are cropped in tight to the subject, sometimes even a portion of the subject: a woman's eyes, the stitching on a baseball, half a golf club on a tee, the bow of a canoe, brightly coloured rain slickers hanging on hooks, a country mailbox. Look at art magazines or book covers for ideas.

4. Is this photo portrait or landscape style? Portrait style is tall, rather than wide. Landscape style is the opposite. In a shallow header, landscape-style photos will fit better. A portrait-style photo will have to be reduced considerably in size to fit a shallow header and may not work at all. But it might work if cropped in close to the subject (see #3 above).