How to Choose Engaging Photos for Your Local Government Website

Images are powerful pieces of digital content. When used wisely, they can be more impactful in motivating behavior than a page of text. As humans, our minds are simply wired to process images and associate them with emotions, sensations, and memories more quickly than text. While our brains decode text in a linear, sequential manner, they decipher images instantly. What that means, is that your brain interpreted the header image associated with this blog, faster than it could read the ten-word title. In fact, according to researchers, 90 percent of information transmitted to the brain is visual, and our minds process images 60,000 times faster than text.

What does all this mean for you as a local government website administrator? It means the importance of choosing photos for your government website design can not be stressed enough. According to the Nielsen Group, the majority of users decide if they want to stay on your website within the first 10-20 seconds of viewing. Even in the public sector, the imagery you use will impact the behavior of residents and visitors, and will impact how credible they view your website to be, how much time they spend there, and how likely they are to return.

To help you choose the most emotive, impactful, and relevant photos for your local government website, we’ve compiled tips from our internal website design and content experts. Having launched over 2,500 local government websites, many of which have earned communities awards and recognition, we’d like to share our knowledge and help you ensure your website makes an instantaneous impression on your visitors.

Use High Quality Photos

This may seem obvious, but defining a high-quality photo is more complex than it first may seem. For a photo to be considered high quality, it should be large, clear, and reflect an engaging subject matter. Large photos immediately draw the eye and demand attention, but if they are out of focus, fuzzy, or not of a compelling subject matter, they won’t meet the definition of “high quality,” even if they take up the full page.

What follows are examples of two photos of similar subjects. Not only is the photo on the right small and pixelated due to its being of low resolution, it lacks a single point of focus. The photo on the left is large, bold, beautiful, crisp, and clear, making it a higher quality photo.

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Consider the Composition

The best photos are balanced, demonstrate a clear subject, draw the eye to a logical starting place, and then give your eye a sequential place to travel as it takes in the rest of the photo. Consider the photo below of the event crowd. This image may be a realistic representation of a recent event in a community, but consider the composition. There is no central focal point, you can’t see any of the attendees’ faces, which means you can’t decipher their emotions, and your eye has no clear place to go.

How to Choose Engaging Photos for Your Local Government Website-composition

A better option for an event photo is the following. Yes, the focus is on a small number of people, and you can’t see the scale of the event, but this photo is more emotive, and it tells a story. You get a sense from the photo of who some of the attendees were, and how much they enjoyed the event. There is a clear focal point—the smiling couple—and both are looking into the camera, making for a more engaging image (more on eye contact later too).


Enhance Simple Photographs

No matter your budget, you will likely have photos taken by staff members at events and out in the community that you want to add to your local government website. Many will likely be captured on a smart phone, or simple point-and-shoot camera. For even experienced photographers, unless you’re lucky and capture the perfect photo worthy of the #NoFilter hashtag, adding some simple adjustments and filters to your photo can enhance the color and brightness to take it from a good photo to a great photo. See the example images below as reference.


Not only do most smart phones have built-in filters in the Photos app to make easy adjustments to photos, there are several free, online tools to help novice photo editors. Click here for a list of the best online photo editors from Techradar.

Make Sure It’s Relevant

The photo you place on a web page needs to correlate to the rest of the content on the page, whether it be text, a form, a calendar, or any other form of interactive material. Using a photo that is simply beautiful, is not enough. To ensure a cohesive message and visual experience for the visitor, ensure the photo being used relates to the purpose of the page.

For example, the images below are from James City County, Virginia. Clicking on the City’s “Things to Do” link takes you to a page with a rotating photo gallery of recreation activities in the city, while clicking on the “Fire” page, displays local images of the City’s fire department. The use of corresponding photos and text content ensures the visitor immediately know he has found the information he was searching for, and provides a more memorable experience.

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On the contrary, had the City used a picture of an iconic City landmark on the Fire page, or a beautiful, but generic, photo of City Hall on the Things to Do page, it would fail to produce similar, quality reactions.

Use Photos as Content that Causes the Viewer to Act

This best practice is especially important for the photos used on your homepage. You can use a photo as content to communicate important information and encourage a response from the visitor. The response may be clicking to learn more, or signing up for an event.

For example, the City of Kerrville, Texas uses a scrolling image banner on the homepage of its city website to communicate important information, and encourage visitors to take action, such as following the city on social media, signing up for the kid’s triathlon, and attending the library’s 50th anniversary party.

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Choose Emotive Photos

Emotive photos should instantaneously conjure a feeling, sensation, or emotion, whether it be amusement, happiness, intrigue, or even anger. Some of the most emotive photos are ones where a single subject is dominant, their eyes are looking into the camera (and by extent the viewer), and their facial expression, position, or context is startling in some way. Close-up photos of people making eye contact with the viewer immediately grab our attention and can instantly illicit an emotion, making them powerful creative tools. Pictures of babies, pets, people interacting with one another in meaningful ways, and impressive elements of nature can also be extremely emotive. See below for examples of each.


Do Not Use Fully Blurred Photos as Your Main Imagery

As our final piece of advice, don’t use a purposely blurred photo as your main, hero image. Sometime blurred photos can serve as decorative background images, but they can be disconcerting to the viewer, or make them wonder if the image didn’t load properly.


To see examples of public sector website that have successfully incorporated quality, engaging, and relevant photos into their local government websites, click here to view six inspiring city website designs, or click here to see several recent municipal website award winners.

If you’re wondering if your current website has been designed to offer an informative, consistent, and functional experience for your citizens and visitors, download a free third-party website performance report. Your customized report will tell you how your current local government website performs in such categories as readability, broken links, missing files, speed, freshness, mobility, and content management.

Free third party website performance evaluation report

Rachael Walker

Rachael Walker

Rachael is a Product Marketing Manager at CivicPlus. She holds a Bachelor of science in Business Administration with a major in marketing from the University of West Georgia, and a MBA from Jacksonville State University. She has over eight years of experience in the marketing space, focusing on technology.