How to select the perfect header image (Part 2)

By 6 June, 2017Uncategorized
–This is Part 2 of a 2-part series on How To Select The Perfect Images.–

In part 1 we saw 5 common mistakes people make with their header images.

Hopefully you have been through your website and identified images that were either misleading, purely decorative, negative, crowded or generic (if you haven’t, I recommend you read this post and download the worksheet).

But now that you’ve eliminated the incriminating images, it is time to select one that tells the right story.

What do I mean by telling the right story? Let me tell you something that happened to me.

Yesterday morning I was on a train to work and, as usual, the carriage was packed.

The guy sitting next to me was very large and, because he got on the train before me, he had claim to the armrest. Sitting opposite me was a frowny woman who kept her legs very comfortably extended in front of her, so I had to sit awkwardly, with my feet tucked under my seat.

All the while I was working on my laptop trying to finish a presentation I had to give. Seeing that I have very long legs, and I had a deadline, it was really rather unpleasant.

Then I saw it.

A hanger advert was promoting extra legroom in business class. It featured a single photo of a middle-aged man sitting in a comfy-looking train chair and working on his laptop with a relaxed expression. And his legs were almost fully extended!

The tagline simply read: “Extra legroom”.

I looked from the big man next to me to the old woman opposite me, then I packed my things and headed to the front of the train. I paid the ticket inspector the extra fare and I sat down to work. My legs felt great!

That single image had sold me in an instant.


It told the right story!

Your brand is always telling a story to its audience, in a lot of different ways. When it is actually talking (your website being one of the main ways) the story it tells needs to be right.

Ideally it’s a story about your customers overcoming a problem to get what they want. With the help of your brand!

That photo on the train was telling a story about me getting what I wanted.

In any good story the character goes through a change: either they are cured of their flaws, gain a new perspective or they grow into a new, more complete person. In any case, by the time the story is resolved, they have undergone a big transformation.

Transformation is the one thing that your customers buy, regardless of what you sell. In one way or another you are promising to change something about your customer’s life, even if in a very small way.

The reason we buy anything (the reason we do almost anything) is that our current state or feeling about something is less than ideal and we can improve it.

Your customers are buying the promise of a change. It is true if you’re buying a gym membership but also if you’re buying kitchen equipment (“maybe I’ll become a better cook”), a new camera (“maybe I’ll take better photos”) or a cleaning product (“maybe my house will look cleaner and nicer”)

The result that you promise should always be what your images portray.

And so, this is your rule when selecting images:

Always focus on the transformation.

It’s a very simple rule, but one that can yield amazing results: remember how we said that the average human brain processes an image in 13 milliseconds? Well, that means that in less time than it takes your customers to blink an eye, you have already started telling them a story they want to hear.

For example, if you run a lawn care company, your header image could be of a couple happily enjoying their manicured lawn while their children play safely in the background. Or in the case of our kitchen equipment it could be of some friends around the table enjoying great food, and the host/hostess looking proud.

In a nutshell, you need to think about how someone might feel after your product or service has solved their problem (or simply moved them towards a desired state).

Here are a couple of examples of brands that do it right.


Plated is a meal-kit service. You can select what type of meal you want to cook and they send you a kit with all the ingredients you need, and step-by-step instructions on how to cook it.

Their header image clearly shows how this couple are turned into “experts” (he looks the part) and they are having a great time while using the product.


Turbotax is a webapp by Intuit that helps people file their tax return and easily get refunds. The header image here couldn’t speak more clearly about the customer’s “after” state! She has obviously just used the service and has had a great result, of which she’s very happy!


If you use the transformation rule you really can’t go wrong. You’ll make the right first impression and, most importantly, you will be selling to a real need or desire.

There aren’t many exceptions to the transformation rule, but here are a couple that I thought it’d be worth mentioning.

Your website can use different images if:

You sell design-driven products

If design plays a big part in your products, and is one of its strengths, you may want to showcase the actual product with beautiful, original photography.
Apple is the usual example (you won’t find many photos on their website that don’t feature their products), but here I give you a different one.


Nest make the world’s best thermostat, in my opinion (I live in a cold house near the mountains, so I have opinions on things like thermostats). They could have shown a happy family in a cozy warm house but the products are so beautifully designed (and as such they can become a feature in your house) that it makes sense to showcase them.

The website is about you AND you are a helper


If you, in any way, personally help people reach results either by working with them (think personal trainer, financial advisor, marketing expert, life coach, chiropractor, facilitator, etc.), or through your words (author, public speaker, etc.) then you are a guide for your customer. In other words, transformation is already implicit in what you sell, and you are seen as the vehicle that will take them through their transformation.

In this case the header can feature a picture of you, the guide. Since the relationship is going to be rather personal, and the type of person you are will be a determining factor in your customer’s decision, introducing yourself can be a good idea.

Ramit Seti’s homepage is a good example of a mentor homepage, with the subject looking straight at camera.

A couple of quick tips:

  • off-centre is usually better, especially on the right side (it has to do with the way the eyes move across an image)
  • In general, looking to camera exudes confidence. Looking slightly away is more reassuring. It needs to work with the way you are and feel.

– – –

Selecting images can be very simple. I have given a great time-saving framework for making decisions about your website photos.

Identify a problem your customers have (or a desire), and be clear on how you solve that problem (or help them fulfil that desire). What do your customers feel like when their problem has been removed (or they have achieved what they wanted)?

What is their “after” state?

If you can show this in your images, you can be sure you will be telling the right story.

And it’s a story that your customers can’t wait to listen to!

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