After Hours

Designing with photography and online photo resources

A good photograph can transform an uninspired design into a beautiful work of art. Here are some online resources of photos that can help spruce up your Web site.

This article originally appeared as a Design and Usability Tactics e-newsletter.

By Jim Kukral

Web design can only go so far using selections from Microsoft's Design Gallery of clip art. As your site or intranet "grows up," design expectations will mature, and let's face it: Clip art often makes designs look amateurish. A good photograph, on the other hand, can transform an uninspired design into a beautiful work of art.

To create your masterpiece, you need to find an appropriate image for your Web site or page's theme. Since the user's eyes will likely divert to the focal area of the main page, you want the image's "message" to mirror what the site is trying to convey in that spot. One way to do this is by using headlines and copy next to the image. For example, you might have an image of an elephant next to the headline, "Our Cars Have The Biggest Trunks!"

Now get creative with the image. Think about: adding some shadowing or bevel effects to make the image stand out; resizing the image; cropping the edges into different shapes; or adding type on top of the image. Keep in mind, however, that you want the image to flow with your design and not the other way around.

These five online resources offer a fantastic selection of photos:

  • Comstock has an impressive number of premier-quality, royalty-free imagery. (I suggest searching here first because it's the least expensive, and the images can be used freely without reprint restrictions and other licensing hassles.)
  • Getty Images produces, preserves, and markets the largest collection of imagery.
  • AbleStock asks members to pay once, and then members get unlimited access to high-quality digital photography (even 28 MB files).
  • provides free photography for personal or commercial use. (Note: There are a few restrictions.)
  • Corbis has more than 65 million images and 2.1 million of them are online.

Remember that you only need the low-resolution version of the photos if you're going to use them online. Once you locate the image(s) you want, simply download them (after you pay for them, if necessary) and use them as you wish, per the site's legal guidelines.

Jim Kukral has spent the last seven years working in the trenches of Web design, development, and usability for Fortune 500 clients as well as mom-and-pop companies.

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