How to Choose Images for Your Academic Website

What kind of images should I use on my academic website?

How you use images is something to consider in planning your website and will affect the look and feel of your website. Images on academic websites can serve a variety of functions. The two most useful types of images to display on an academic website are informative and symbolic.

Informative images add value to the page by further explaining or illuminating the text to make it easier to understand.

Symbolic images don't have as close a relationship to the text, but serve to convey more generally or abstractly the meanings on the webpage, or of the website.

Emotional images function to arouse an emotion in the reader, and are more often used in commercial websites – as an incentive to buy – than in academic websites.

Lastly, filler or decorative images are more generic and have a looser relationship with the text. They can function to break up large sections of text on a webpage.

The three main sources of images for an academic website are photos you take yourself, or images you create yourself, for example in PowerPoint; similar images you collect from other sources; and stock photos – collections of photos for sale or free on the web.

Academic websites work best and are perceived as authoritative when the images you use are informative and relevant to the content. So I would not recommend you use a lot of stock images on your website. That said, a small number of stock images can be useful for example for setting the context for the website home page and internal pages.

Sources of images for use on an academic website

Fortunately, most researchers have a large quantity of information and data on their hard drive that can be excellent sources of photos and images to use on your website.

Images can be included on the page itself so that they both illustrate your work activities, and serve to break up long chunks of text. Or they can be good to add as a background to the Header of one or more pages, where they can draw the reader in to your content.

Here are the main strategies to use to gather images for your academic website and some specific examples.

Illustrating your work

Photos of you at work are always good to include on your website.

The kinds of photos that are useful for your Research page show some aspect of your research in progress:

  • Project meetings
  • Working alone or with colleagues or students in your lab.;
  • Carrying out field work;
  • Meetings or interactions with end-user groups;
  • Conference presentations;
  • Other dissemination activities.

The kinds of photos that are useful for your Teaching page include:

  • Delivering a lecture to your students
  • Interactions with your students in a tutorial, workshop or seminar
  • Student presentations – for example in a student “conference”
  • Receiving a Teaching award

The kinds of photos that are useful for a Publications or Books page (or perhaps your Research page) include:

  • Your individual Book covers
  • A composite image of your book covers
  • A photo of your books on your book shelf
  • A book launch event
  • Delivering a book reading
  • Receiving a publishing award
  • Sitting at your desk writing
  • The journal cover for your key publication(s)
  • The front page of your key journal article(s)
  • Cover of any book to which you have contributed a chapter
  • Composite image of the covers of books to which you have contributed
  • Journal cover for a special issue you have edited
  • Cover of a journal for which you are an editor

Illustrating your research subject

Your research subject is a rich source of photos and illustrations for your academic website. These could illustrate not just your subject matter but also theories and explanations used in your work.

If you struggle to think of images that you could use on your website, it could be that you need to add more text to your website first. The more text you have written – the more detail you have provided for your reader – the easier it is to find appropriate images relevant to your writing.

Sources of images you could use include:

  • Your PowerPoint slide decks used in conference presentations, workshops, or lectures
  • Illustrations and images used in your books or articles
  • Your book covers
  • Photographs from your field work or lab. work
  • Images available elsewhere that illustrate themes, or arguments in your work (but check copyright issues – see below)

Stock images

Finally, you could use stock images on your website. There are plenty of sources of free stock images. I like to use or However, stock images are usually too generic to be of much use on your website, and risk reducing the authority of your website in visitors' minds. That said, there are some some sources of scientific stock images that can be useful. Generally speaking, informative photos or images you've made yourself will be seen by the reader to have more value.

Copyright issues

One important issue to have in mind when you choose images for your website is whether you own the copyright to the image, or the license with the image gives you permission to use the image. It's not a good idea to simply copy an image you like from another website without the website owner's or photographer's permission. These days bots owned by legal companies operating on behalf of image archives, such as Getty images, roam the web and check your domain against databases of licensed users. They then issue warnings of legal action if you do not take down an image. In the most aggressive cases the company will attempt to impose a fine against your prior use of the image.

It's really not worth the hassle for the sake of a web page. Just use your own images or one's that you have permission to use.

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