Help for Church Webmasters
Issue 16 10/31/02
In a word, YES. We love pictures. We like the color. We like the imagery. We like seeing people we know. We like seeing new things. By and large, humans are very visual and we do a great job with image recognition. Pictures fill all those needs.
Consider the example of buying shoes. If we were going to the store to buy shoes, would you just let the clerk tell you what the shoes look like? Or would you like to see the shoes? Of course we want to see the shoes. The imagery tells you things in a moment that the clerk could never adequately describe. The same would be true if we were buying our shoes online. Would you want to just read a description for the shoes, or do you want to see a picture of the shoes? Again, the image tells us more than any paragraph of text could convey about the shoes.
The same thing is true when people are visiting our church website. We can tell them what the building is like or we can tell them what the congregation is like or what the pastor is like. But a few simple pictures could convey the information much clearer and more efficiently. (Why do you think blueprints are big pictures instead of lots of text?)
There are few catches. One, you need good pictures. Bad quality pictures don’t work and in fact might hurt. Two, pictures can be slow to download. And three, because we are familiar with the subject (our church or church family) we tend to fill in the gaps in the information that our pictures are missing.
Disclaimer: I am not a professional photographer. These are just my suggestions on how to take better than average pictures. Where average is measured by what I see on most websites.
One. Good pictures are a must. They need to be bright enough. They need to have the subject that is distinguishable. They need to have good color. They need to be interesting. Sounds like a tall order. But it’s not that tough. Here’s some guidelines to help…
Two. The compression needs to be enough to help the picture download quickly, but not so high that you can’t tell what’s in the picture. When saving your image as a jpg so it can be used on the website, select a compression level that is going to make the image small, but not too blocky. Remember the jpg format losses some of the image when it is compressed. Usually you see this as colors start getting blotchy and the image starts getting fuzzy. When that starts happening, reduce the amount of compression you are using. It’s of no use to post a picture that no one can tell what it is. It will take some trial and error to get a number that is a good starting point for your images. Part of this will depend on the original resolution of the image. Part of this will depend on the subject matter and colors in the image – some images will compress smaller than others will. Also, size your images in your graphics program. Do NOT shrink the image in your HTML editor. Sizing the image in your HTML editor will almost guarantee results that you will not be happy with – jaggy edges, fuzzy pictures and slow rendering when someone visits your page.
Three. We know what the picture is, so we don’t label it well. Part of what makes a picture interesting is being able to tell what the picture is. If there are several people in the picture, tell me who they are. If it’s a picture of an event, tell me what is going on. If a picture of a thing or a place, tell me what it is. I was at a church site that had some great picture with what looked like earliteens interacting with senior citizens. But I had no idea what was going on. Was it Grandparents Day? Or Kids Day? You might not want to ID everyone in the picture when there are privacy concerns (especially with children in the pictures). But at least tell the visitors to your website what is happening the pics.
Other miscellaneous tips:
- Almost every church includes a picture of the church building on their main page (including mine). But is the building the most important thing your church does? I hope not. Maybe that picture should be smaller so you can highlight what you are really about.
- Consider what the visitor wants to see, not what you want to show them. Let’s be real, most visitors to your web site won’t really care to see an image of your stained glass. I know that you love that glass, and it makes you feel secure, etc. But every church has one. It’s not really all that unique. So maybe the “riveting” story and picture of the stained glass could be somewhere besides the front page.
- Maybe instead of a static picture of the pastor, make an animated gif that shows several different shots of him. Or get a simple java script that randomly loads one of several images. Then your page will look a little different each time it loads.
- Use the Alt text tag in the HTML to describe your picture. Then you get more key words on your page to help your ratings in the search engines. You will help handicapped people who use screen readers to “view” the page. And you will help the people who for whatever reason, couldn’t download the image.
- Show a picture or two of what the inside of your church looks like. People who are considering visiting your church would like to know what it looks like (when you look at a hotel online, don’t you want to see a picture of the room?).
This certainly does not cover all there is to say about images. But hopefully there are some tips that you find helpful.
If you have a question or something you are struggling with, let me know and I will see if it can be covered in a future newsletter.
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