Is the iPhone the answer to website imagery?

Most “in-page” imagery on websites suck. Grabbed from random sources and slapped on the website, they lack design and consistency. However, your iPhone can help.

Most content heavy websites suffer from the same problem – imagery. Once the website owner starts adding imagery to the website (rather than the designer), things start going wrong. However, there maybe an answer in the strangest of places – the iPhone.

The problem

For most website owners finding quality imagery for their website is hard. This is especially challenging for websites with news or blogs. Finding imagery on a regular basis that is affordable and looks great can be hard.

Most website owners can’t even afford to be constantly purchasing images from low cost photo sites like iStockPhoto or Shutterstock. Instead they either ‘borrow’ imagery they find online or turn to creative commons imagery from sites like Flickr.

This leads to an ad-hoc collection of imagery of varying quality taken in a wide arrange of styles. This does nothing in terms of projecting a consistent image across the website.

The traditional solution

A good web designer will provide some guidance about the the imagery that should be selected. They may recommend that you select imagery shot from a particular angle or cropped in a certain way. They may also provide some advice about generally selecting imagery for the web such as having a strong focus to the image and avoiding imagery with too much detail.

Some web designers have even been known to prepare Photoshop ‘macros’ that will automatically process imagery to give it a particular style. However, that involves the website owner having the budget to buy Photoshop that is currently retailing at approximately £500!

Although the advice given to website owners by their designers are useful and Photoshop Macros handy, it strikes me that there has to be a better way.

Enter the iPhone (or iPod touch)

I am amazed just how pervasive the iPod and iPhone are these days. Everybody seems to have one or the other and it started me thinking. Could we use the iPhone/iPod as a way of improving the quality of imagery on our websites. Surely there is “an app for that”.

Unfortunately at the moment there is not. However, by combining a couple of apps you can actually create a fairly straightforward process for creating stylised imagery that will present a consistent design approach across your entire site.

Photo Filter apps galore

Before I launch into the apps available that can help. Lets be clear about our aims here:

  • We want to be able to take poor quality imagery and make it look unique.
  • We want to be able to take imagery from a variety of sources and give it a consistent look and feel.

Fortunately there are hundreds of apps in the App Store that can take relatively poor photography and apply a filter that makes it look both unique and more attractive.

Below are just the handful I happen to have installed on my iPhone. There are many, many more.

Instagram

Described by many as twitter for pictures, Instagram is primarily a social photo sharing tool. That said it has 11 filters you can apply to images and it crops all images into a square format giving the images a distinctive feel.

instgram image

ColorSplash

Although processing images in ColorSplash requires some human intervention it does create a striking visual effect that would make any image stand out. By allowing you to isolate the focus of a photograph in colour it creates powerful and unique images.

colorsplash image

PS Express

Photoshop Express is Adobe’s contribution to the photo app marketplace. It provides a variety of effects, filters and borders. It also allows you to adjust cropping, brightness, saturation and more.

Although very powerful and can create a wide range of different image styles it requires more ‘fiddling’ than some of the other solutions.

photoshop image

myFilm

A more basic app but it does it does well. Using myFilm it is possible to quickly tint images, add blur to select areas of the image and darken the outside edges. You can also adjust brightness and contrast.

myFilm image

PictureShow

Possibly my favourite image manipulation app for the iPhone, PictureShow offers a wide range of effects that can be further tweaked to create the perfect styling. I highly recommend this app for anybody looking to add styling to website imagery.

pictureShow image

ToonPAINT

If you want something different then checkout ToonPaint. I could imagine this working really well for a team page where you want to show all of your staff. The trouble with such pages is that people come and go and so it is hard to maintain a consistent style in the photos. ToonPaint will take any photo and turn it into a black and white cartoon. A quick but effective technique.

toonpaint image

Percolator

Talking of different check out Percolator. If I am being honest I can’t imagine ever using this on a website but it was so unusual I could resists mentioning it.

Percolator image

Camera+

Finally a quick mention of Camera+ It offers a nice range of effects, crops and borders. It also has the ability to correct the exposure of photos taken in different environments. In terms of converting images for a website there are probably better options (PictureShow). However as a camera app for the iPhone not much beats it.

CameraPlus image

The missing piece

Although you can produce some amazing effects on the iPhone that is not the whole story. Getting the images you produce off of the iPhone is not so straight forward especially if they need to be uploaded to your CMS via your desktop computer.

Fortunately there is an “app for that” too. Check out pastebot, a great universal app for moving content back and forth between your desktop and iPhone with minimal fuss. Its certainly a hell of a lot better than syncing via iTunes.

Pastebot

But I don’t have an iDevice

Of course if you are one of the three people left in the country who doesn’t own a iPhone or iPod touch then this isn’t much help. However, there is good news. There are actually a lot of websites available now that provide some of these filter tools found on the iPhone, but that is a post for another time.

Is this perfect?

I am the first to admit this isn’t the perfect way of creating imagery for your website. However, it is a pragmatic solution to a real problem. Sure its not as good as hand crafted images produced by your web designer. However it is better than grabbing random images from the web and slapping them on your website.

What about you? How do you deal with creating consistency in the images on your website? Perhaps you are a web designer, what recommendations do you make? Let me know in the comments below. I am sure there has to be some better solutions out there. I would love to hear them.

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