How to Choose Images for Your Academic Website

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

The two most useful types of images to display on an academic website are informative and symbolic.

Images on academic websites can serve a variety of functions. 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 more 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 images have a looser relationship with the text and function mainly 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 or 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

How you use images is something to consider in planning your website and will affect the look and feel of your website. There are plenty of sources of free stock images. I like to use or However, informative photos or images you’ve made yourself will generally 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 warning of legal action if you do not take down an image. In the most aggressive cases the company will attempt to imposer 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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