Stock photography just doesn’t cut it these days. If you want your site to stand out and you want to make a good impression on your visitors, you need to have unique, professional photos, whether they’re serving as background photos for your homepage or product photos to entice new purchases. You might be surprised to learn that 67 percent of consumers consider image quality “very important” when making a purchasing decision online.

Unfortunately, there’s a major downside to this approach—the cost. Hiring a professional photographer, even for one job, can cost you thousands of dollars, and hiring one full-time will add another salary to your staff.

Strategies for Cheaper, Better Photos

So how can you get high-quality photos while avoiding the “cost” problem? Here are several strategies you can employ:

  1. Learn the basics of photography on your own. Learning the basics of photography won’t take you much time, or cost you much money. Taking a professional-level class will only cost you a few hundred dollars, or you can rely on instructional content on the web (which is, for most purposes, quite sufficient). Even a handful of fundamentals—such as learning about lighting, framing, and the rule of thirds—should be enough to help you take professional-looking photos.
  2. Get a good smartphone (or camera). If you end up pursuing photography on your own, you’ll also want to invest in a decent camera. There are hundreds of options for digital cameras, ranging from a hundred dollars or less to several thousand dollars, each of which has different features and specialties you may or may not need. If you’re uncertain about how far you want to take your photography or want something more convenient, you could just invest in a smartphone with a better-than-average camera built in.
  3. Hire an in-house designer with photography skills. Your next option is to avoid hiring a specific photographer, but instead seek a hybrid designer to have on staff. Even some small businesses have full-time designers working for them, so if you’re in a position to hire a creative director, designer, or other “creative” role for your business, seek an applicant with at least some experience in photography. These skills usually go hand in hand and will help you save money on hiring someone separately.
  4. Work with newcomers and amateurs. In photography, like with most careers and businesses, experience comes with a price tag. Hiring a photographer who’s been in the business for 20 years will probably yield you some great work—but it will cost you. Remember, what you’re actually looking for here is results, so consider hiring promising newcomers and amateurs, who won’t cost you nearly as much money but might have the talent to get you solid work regardless. You’ll also be helping them by giving them a stepping stone and an opportunity to build up their portfolios.
  5. Rely on free or cheap images. Instead of paying someone for custom photography or getting your own hands dirty, you could search the web for free or cheap images that don’t have the cheesy quality most stock photos end up with. For example, you could cruise a service like Fotolia to find relatively inexpensive, but high-quality images, or rely on open source archives like Wikimedia Commons to get your images.
  6. Reuse your best photos. If you take good photos, hold onto them. Don’t get rid of anything. Make the most of your limited photography budget by reusing some of your best images in different mediums and formats. For example, you could take the background image of your website’s homepage and modify it to work for a printed advertising piece.

How to Highlight Your Best Work

Getting good photography is only the first step of the process—you also need to be able to implement it effectively. This is a topic that warrants a full article on its own, but for starters, understand that your placement and usage are key. Making your images full-sized and easily visible, or displaying them in an easy-to-navigate gallery, are two of your best options. You’ll also want to accompany your images with descriptive text (not to mention optimizing them for SEO). Be rigorous in your selection process; hand-pick your best photos and display them prominently, and don’t be afraid to discard the rest or use them for filler in blog posts or deeper pages of your site.