Choosing impactful images

Impactful, quality imagery can persuade your audience and hook them into your content. It is key to the design aesthetic of the website. The Kent theme offers a design that allows your photos to make a strong impact.

The power of images

Images deserve as much thought and scrutiny in selection as the text or editorial content that they support.

A good quality photo can impart a subliminal message within a moment which has a positive impact on the perception of brand.

Users are not only looking for a course, but aspire to the lifestyle that a great student experience can offer. Good imagery helps them see how they can relate to the environment and fit into the picture.

Images can convey benefits, such as history, heritage, experience, trust and quality as well as subtleties in emotion, which are often difficult to portray in words. They are critical to adding interest to online content.

Brand considerations

Intelligent, Genuine, Engaging, Inspiring, Passionate, Confident.

Bold, relevant, quality imagery is one of the design principles for the website and one of Kent’s brand image guidelines - it is a key feature of our new web theme’s design aesthetic.

Used correctly, images help to create the tone of voice we’re aiming for in our brand:

  • Intelligent - Images can be used to create an instant impression of the breadth of our research and our general worldview. In some instances, it's possible to choose images that are thought-provoking and subtle.

  • Genuine - Ensure that what is being shown is sincere, honest and consistent. Showing real Kent staff and students doing interesting things looks genuine. Don’t use corporate stock imagery that doesn’t look engaging.

  • Engaging - With copy we’d try to use things like ‘we can help you…’ instead of ‘the University can offer students assistance…’. Imagery should be equally welcoming and inclusive. It should not be overly formal or distant.

  • Inspiring - Create the feeling that Kent is the place to be; encourage people to picture themselves at Kent and be part of our story. Your key audience should be able to identify with the people in the photos.

  • Passionate - Show enthusiasm in imagery, not only for the big things and the wider University picture, but also for the little details of everyday life at Kent.

  • Confident - Take pride in the great things we do and celebrate our successes. This isn’t about being overly boastful but doing justice to the people and the work carried out here. We need to acknowledge and promote our achievements.

Five principles of good photos

1. Relevant

Always think about who your content is aimed at. There will be different audiences depending on context, sometimes more than one. But there will always be a primary audience.

There are plenty of ways to be intelligent, genuine, engaging, inspiring, passionate and confident in ways that relate to a key user group.

If you’re not sure what works and what doesn’t, don’t be afraid to test images out on some of your target audience. Go out and talk to a few of them – four of five will do. Show them a sample of photos you think might work, and see what they think.

Also ensure that the subject of the image has a clear connection with the story being told.

2. Emotive

Someone might only spend a moment on your web page, but photos have the power to affect someone’s emotions in a fraction of a second. Aesthetic beauty will make your page unique, and delight whoever visits it.

3. Authentic

Authenticity creates trust and empathy. Avoid using stock photography to represent students and staff at Kent; they will usually create a bland and unconvincing impression of life at Kent. Instead, people shots should be genuine and taken in a realistic and spontaneous style.

That said, good stock photography can add value in other ways. Stock photos can provide visually striking imageryto represent an academic subject, for instance on a course page, or to promote a news or research story.

Libraries such as iStock can provide professional stock images that create a big impact at a reasonable cost.

Free imagery can also be found online but be sure to follow our attribution guidelines.

Good stock photos can be impactful. This works because of the repeated patterns, simple colouring, and tight crop. Whether it works on a page depends on the subject matter.

Avoid clichés. People fist pumping on hilltops, children’s hands, stylised silhouettes, daft jumping people etc. We’ve all seen them a thousand times and although they can be beautifully shot and composed, they just don’t suit our brand. They're cheesy, just stop it.

Avoid all the things below.

4. Strong aesthetics

Have a clear point of focus in your image. People don’t typically spend a lot of time looking at website, or looking at images. They want a very clear concept conveyed in a memorable and eye-catching way.

This is bad… it doesn’t represent anything in a clear, focused way. Mannequin, pedestrian, street signs... what am I supposed to be looking at?

View looking into the Colyer Fergusson building with a person singing accompanied by a pianist

This is much better… it has a very clear point of focus.

5. Build a narrative

If you’re using people in your images, you should try to create a story and a sense of context to humanize your page.

Photos of people aren’t engaging just because they’re photos of people. To have impact they have to be both visually strong and believable.

This is bad… it’s a little bland. It doesn’t have a clear narrative. It doesn't pull you into the image and make you question what it is this about or who the people are. It offers a poor story and provides no connection to the people in the image.

Three students looking at a resin

This is great… something’s going on here, and I’d like to find out what. Intelligent, engaged, inspiring, confident.

General house style

Images should

  • consider gender and ethnicity balance
  • be sensitive to social norms across a range of cultures.

Images should not

  • be obviously staged, unnatural, or manipulated situations.
  • be clichéd.
  • make use of graded filters, special effects, cut-outs, blended imagery, text over images, borders, etc
  • use black and white photography, unless it has a particularly high impact and is relevant to the context
  • use illustrations or drawings, unless they depict works of art that are relevant to the context.

Image types

Architecture and landscape


Architecture and landscape shots put the emphasis on the University’s buildings and campus.


Landscapes are mainly useful to engage and inspire users, to impress the with the aesthetics of the campuses, and locations. They are therefore useful for Engagement-focussed areas of the website.


  • Avoid including too many people in the shot, because we want to emphasise the aesthetic beauty of the building or location, rather than focus on the people who use those locations.
  • Landscapes should convey an appropriately inspiring atmosphere or highlight of the campus.
  • Images can in many situations take up a large amount of a user’s screen space, so they will often have a big impact.
  • We’d like these photos to create a sense of curiosity in the viewer. A landscape can tell a story and create intrigue that you want to find our more about it. Again, think of our key words: Intelligent. Genuine. Engaging. Inspiring. Passionate. Confident. It may be hard to capture all these in a landscape, but they should at least portray a sense of engagement and inspiration.
Tourists punting down the River Stour in Canterbury
Fireworks for 50th anniversary celebration at Kent
Two students walking around Liberty Quays in Medway
Courtyard with student walking around infront of the Crit building at the School of Architecture
View into the tent of the Summer Ball

Landscapes and architecture photos can often benefit from sparsity and space to convey a sense of beauty.

Sometimes having anonymous people in the shot can enhance the sense of scale, or add some contrast or focus.



Strong, bold images. Often with a single and very obvious focus or repeated pattern. Simple range of colours. May be abstract.


Detail shots are generally useful wherever some visual interest is needed, but there is no direct architectural, landscape, portrait, or facility shot available.

Details are therefore particularly useful for things like online prospectus pages, where images are needed to give visual interest to a course data page.


  • real world reportage style that captures the intrigue of the subject, that are thought provoking and intellectually stimulating.
  • simple, bold and eye-catching.
  • a very clear subject, such as images which are closely cropped on one subject.
  • represent the web page’s material, subject, or ethos.
  • abstract, interpretive and thematic.
  • do not directly represent people, unless they are particularly bold or striking images, and relate directly to the subject of the page.
  • make simple use of colours where possible. Try to avoid lots of competing colours, unless you deliberately want to make a point that colour is important.
Model showing topographical lines



To show facilities at Kent being used by confident, engaged, inspiring people. For example, showing particular research labs, sporting facilities, libraries, restaurants, etc. and the people that use them.


Facilities shots lend themselves more to the research and engage areas of the website, where you want to showcase the facilities Kent offers, and the people who use them.


  • Try to make it feel like the photos are of real people using real facilities, in a very everyday and engaged way. This is what people at Kent do all the time.
  • The people using the facilities are intelligent, confident, and engaged in what they do.
  • The photos should feel genuine. They clearly show people at Kent, and don’t feel like corporate stock photos.
  • Try to have a focus to the photo. Show off the facilities, but also show how one person or a small group of people collaborate using those facilities.
  • Could you write an engaging bio of the people in the group, and use the photo for a cover story about them and how they use the facilities? If the answer is no, the photo likely won’t be needed.

Although this may have been staged, the image below feels authentic. Spot colours from clothing and the exhibition space add visual interest. There is a sense of energy in the picture.

A teacher with a student as an exhibition

A group of students involved in an art workshop

This image captures a sense of intense and unstaged activity in an interesting environment that a lot of prospective students might relate to.

The images below feel 'human' therefore providing greater connection to the audience. They have a natural, approachable feel even though some may be staged. The tone isn't frivolous and academically compromising. They are intelligent, genuine, engaging, inspiring, passionate and confident.

Students having a cup of coffee and a chat in the kitchen
Professor giving a lecture in the Kent Business School
Student building a model
A teacher pointing out work to a student at an architectural exhibition
Students playing instruments in the Colyer Fergusson
Students studying an xray in the Sports Clinic
Students playing football
Student and teacher looking at artwork at an exhibition

People and portraits


Photos of people aren’t in themselves powerful. What works is the sense that there’s a story behind the people. You immediately want to know more about them and what they’re doing. The goal of people and portrait photos is to create an immediate bond between the viewer and the University. The University is about its people.

A portrait is much more powerful when it focuses on one person, and tells us something about what their character might be. The goal of a portrait is to show an individual’s character in line with our brand’s key words: Intelligent. Genuine. Engaging. Inspiring. Passionate. Confident.

Group portraits are ok too, where you want to say something about that group as a team. It doesn’t matter too much whether members of the group are smiling, standing, sitting, waving, etc. What counts is that we get a sense of genuineness, passion, and confidence. These are real people, and I the viewer can identify with them.

Photos of people generally work really well when those people are acting together as a group. Photos of people on their own don’t always work so well.


Portraits will be used primarily for staff and student features, and potentially as profile shots. The photos will be accompanied by some kind of a back-story on the website. The shots won’t be used out of context, and won’t in any way appear to be a stock photo.

Portraits (both single and group) can be used across research, education, and engagement areas, to convey a strong sense of empathy between viewer and the University.

Note that portraits which include significant amounts of context around the subject are more useful as feature stories than a simple profile.

General people shots work really well for Engage type topics. For examples photos of people playing sports, playing music, or engaged in communal activities.


  • It’s ok to have full-face, three-quarter portraits, or even profile shots.
  • Subjects should ideally be looking at the camera. Off-camera is acceptable for three-quarter portraits, and can still convey a very strong sense of confidence.
  • It’s ok for the subject to be smiling.
  • Do not include other people in the shot if your subject is an individual.
  • It’s fine to include some context to help tell the story of who this person is. This type of photo is less useful for profile shots, but can make an excellent feature story photo.

Examples of portraits

All the portraits below are great. They are strong, intelligent, confident, engaging, and genuine. It can be helpful to include some context around the subject. This can always be cropped later if a closer crop is needed.

Note that it’s just fine to have people full-face, three-quarter, or even profile. And gaze directed at the camera is fine too. Subjects can be smiling, or not smiling. Whatever works in that context with that person.

Karen Cox
Graduation ceremony
A student at the school in Brussels
A student at the Kent Business School
A student measuring skull sizes

Examples of people/group shots

Group of students around a table building a model while being instructed by their teacher

This photo is dealing with teacher training. There’s something very genuine and authentic about the image. It is clearly not staged, but you feel involved.

Architecture students working on a project

Technically this is not a great shot, but it captures the moment. If feels authentic and is not staged. You get a sense of the engagement and interest. The spot colours also make the picture visually interesting.

Students playing jazz on stage

There is energy in this composition. You are drawn into the musician’s space. A touch of spot colour from the instruments and lighting adds interest.

Student receiving award from Gavin Esler during congregations

You feel drawn into the image and can feel a sense of celebration. It is inspiring. Spot colours add interest to the composition.

Two students on a field trip sitting on rocks by the seaside

This is a snapshot and not a particularly great image, however it communicates authenticity. It clearly unstaged and you get a sense of the field trip and the human element that goes along with it.

A student skydiving in mid-air showing thumbs up
Group of students celebrating Holi Festival covered in colourful dust

Of course the images above are staged, but they still feel fun and authentic and would work really well in the right context (a news story, special event or student experience page).

The images below are not at all what we want. They have no narrative drive. They were used to excess on websites from the 2000s when people weren’t so web-weary. These days they should be avoided at all costs.

Business man motivating his happy team