Several mornings a week, I leave my house and go for a slow, contemplative run in my beautiful home town of Evanston, Illinois. Set along the shore of Lake Michigan and full of century-old homes and charming gardens, as well as pockets of urban living's full grit, Evanston is a fantastic place to take photos. As a way to encourage me to stick with running when I started in earnest a few years ago, I decided to allow myself to stop and take photos of things that inspired me. This has turned into a treasure hunt each and every time I run, seeking out bits of loveliness or curiosity that I would miss if I traveled the same route by car or even bicycle.
This photo was taken very early one morning last summer. The sky was still pale purple, the air heavy, and this was the only house on its block that had its porch light still lit. From across the street, I saw it and instantly fell in love. Warm, I thought. Kind. Gentle. Tidy. Safe. I snapped the photo, and it remains one of my favorites from my now hundreds of photos from early morning runs.
When I set out to design the new site for Jebraweb, I wanted it to influence people with a similar sensory reaction. My goal was to invoke clean, bright, positive, good, friendly, responsive. It felt important to me to use my own photography whenever possible, to use the colors I had been using for my communications before then, and to make moving from place to place within the site as easy as possible. I want our web site to feel like an in-person conversation with me feels -- where (I hope!) I am professional but personable.
The logo was done, and the wood grain I finally decided on invoked the refined earthiness I wanted to add to our palette. Our previous site had only four top-level navigational items, and that seemed a good number, plus some content drilled down beneath a a few menu items to limit the scrolling required by pages with too much content. So, with the major decisions made fairly easily, the most arduous task of the redesign was to decide on photographs for the main pages of the site.
I was told early in my career that when one is selling an intangible (like web consulting), it's best to use photography in the marketing. As an amateur photographer, I had a lot of creative from which I could choose. I ended up using my own photographs for both images on the home page and for most of the images in the blog -- including the photo warning you not to play with the herring.
For the rest of the photos, I'm going to share one of my favorite secrets for getting free stock art: the Stock XCHNGE.* With a registered account at the Stock XCHNGE, you can search for photos based on the level of restricted use. Translated, that means that you can search for UNRESTRICTED photos -- photos whose creators have released them to be used on commercial web sites without any cost to the web site. This is unlike a Google image search, where you may or may not have permission from the owner of the art to use it in your blog or on your site. The photos on Stock XCHNGE are often so well-tagged that you can search for things like "happy" and "success." Much of the photography on the site is lower-quality, but there is still quite a lot of art there that is free to use and absolutely beautiful.
Of course, whenever I can, I prefer to use my own photographs for the site. While I use my iPhone for photos I take when running, I do have a very nice digital SLR camera that I use for higher quality images, and I've used it to generate photographs for client web sites as well as my own. By no means am I a professional photographer, but my clients have heard me say it before: there's no need to swat a fly with a Buick. Sometimes, all you need is a flyswatter -- or an iPhone, or some free stock photography.
If you're interested in seeing the photographs I've taken this summer as I jog through town, you can browse the album from my personal Facebook page. In my last post about launching the new Jebraweb site, I'll talk about how I tried to drive traffic to the new site while staying true to my mission and ethics. It was the most rewarding week I've ever had as a business owner -- and I didn't sign one single contract.
*UPDATE! 8/7/2013 I've just been alerted that, with perfect timing, the Stock XCHNGE appears to have closed its doors. Darn it! One of my clients let me know that she has had great success finding free stock photography with RGBStock. I'll let you know how it goes. Let me know on Facebook or Twitter if you have another favorite source for free stock photos.