11 websites driven by powerful, dramatic photography

Wdd Logo.
June 14, 2011

Photography is one of the most potent tools in the designer’s toolbox. It is no surprise that it is used all over the web.

And in the small subset of websites featured in this article, we find photography used very prominently.

The samples shown here focus so heavily on photography that you hardly notice the brands behind them.

In fact, some of the websites have no apparent branding at all, focusing instead on selling their products, which is actually a bit of a relief.

Let’s review how each of these websites leverage the power of photography.

1. NL Engenharia

Architectural firms typically focus on photography on their websites. On NL Engenharia, though, the photography pretty much takes over the entire website. And for good reason; it quickly communicates the style, quality and scale of the firm’s work. You immediately see the type of work this firm does. This weeds out visitors who wouldn’t immediately be interested in its style. Many less confident shops would not be willing to define themselves so narrowly, for fear of losing work.

When to use this approach
This approach is great because it focuses the business. This type of work will not interest everyone. In a way, the photography functions to pre-qualify visitors. It becomes a critical component in the sales funnel. The firm knows that anyone who makes contact will know exactly what it offers.

2. Afgn

The sole purpose of Afgn is to share the creator’s photographs with the world. The fantastically simple interface puts the photography at center stage. No need for an elaborate framework to display the photos; the overlay on the left gives all the context you need to understand them. And we are free to hide the overlay and view the full photos. I particularly love that this gallery eliminates the need for thumbnails; you start with a full-sized photo.

Lesson to learn
Sometimes, bringing the content right to the fore makes the best sense. This website shows how content can replace the need for a framework at all.

3. True Illusion

True Illusion is a studio that offers photography work, so naturally the content goes deeper in layers than the websites above. But I really love how the company still allows the photography to stand out; putting the work front and center like this is powerful. Don’t make people dig to find your work. Sell them on what you do from the moment they land on the website.

Cut to the chase
One of the most painful things is how many agencies make you dig for their portfolio. If your work is this delicious, make it easy for visitors to fall in love with it. You can sell the actual products later. This goes back to our idea of pre-qualifying visitors.

4. Driven

Driven is rather hard to pin down. Is it a blog? A magazine? A photo gallery? One thing it is not is normal. In showing off incredible cars through beautiful photography, this website breaks from your standard layout. Yes, there is text to go along with the visuals. But the photography of these incredible cars really drives the content (pun intended). The cars are so gorgeous, in fact, that you don’t need any special kind of photography to show them off.

Break the rules
Sometimes you can get away with disregarding the conventions of the web. It’s not easy and it won’t always work, but websites like this prove that risks can pay off. It also shows how eye-grabbing objects go a long way to smoothing over usability problems.

5. Clyde Quay Wharf

It should come as no surprise that photography plays a powerful role in selling real estate. On Clyde Quay Wharf, photography dominates the design. And why not? One look at the location and you can’t help but want to live there. Given that these apartments start at $1.3 million, the website has to do whatever it can to justify the price tag. Showing the unique location is a great approach in this case, at least to someone as unsavvy about real estate as me. After all, you can find beautiful apartments anywhere. Finding a location like this is much harder, and it gives the properties a distinctive air.

Focus on the unique
This design focuses on the unique selling point of this property: location. Find the most distinct selling point of your product, and hammer the message home. Without it, this would be yet another website selling yet another fancy apartment.

6. Grand Things

Photography instantly communicates information. Grand Things immediately sets a mood, using black and white photography to tell a story. It takes a bit of wording to set the stage, but the big dramatic photograph works flawlessly with the content, preparing the visitor for the subject.

Words help
As much as photography communicates, don’t leave too much to the imagination. Without the words, people would be rather helpless to understand the purpose of this website. Only a few words are needed, but they set the context for the photograph.

7. Moccabar

Photography can also be used to communicate ideas and information that can’t quite be captured in words. Consider Moccabar, a high-end bar. No amount of fancy marketing copy could ever communicate the particular style of this bar. In fact, on seeing the photos, even referring to this as a bar would be a stretch. The photographs immerse you in the location first and foremost. Inset photographs surrounded by text would not do the place justice.

What makes you special?
Some products and clients break the mold. Convincing people of as much can be hard, though. Photography can be the proof that shows that the client is more than a stereotype.

8. Peter McLeavey Gallery

Many galleries focus on their central location, their beautiful building or some other detail that they deem important. The Peter McLeavey Gallery puts the artwork front and center. Most customers don’t come to you because of the environment, as cool as it might be. By focusing entirely on the artwork, this website feels totally unique and memorable.

Lose your ego
Put yourself in the user’s shoes, and consider why they might be visiting the website. Prominent photography like this can support that purpose. Don’t focus on yourself or what you love about the company. Focus on what users want.

9. Awolnation

On the website for the band Awolnation, photography serves a singular purpose: to set a mood. The website focuses not so much on the band, as many other band websites do. Rather, it establishes a kitschy retro theme that adds to the band’s unique personality. The photography supports this, setting the mood with its sci-fi, retro-art aesthetic. Listen to some of the music and watch the video to see why the photography plays directly into the style of the band.

Set a mood
Photography doesn’t always have to be literal. It can merely set a mood. Getting the balance right can be difficult, but sometimes a pretty picture is just a pretty picture.

10. Cufflink Suite

Some products are just more exciting than others. And for the less-exciting ones, creative photography can make them seem more so. A website about cuff links might not seem to have much going for it. But when you land on Cufflink Suite, you get the feeling that you’re experiencing something exceptional. It is remarkable how the photograph completely changes your perception.

Go big
This photograph would not have nearly the same impact if it was small, in a nice little frame on a standard e-commerce page. Size and scale magically give a subject greater impact. I remember this from design school: when in doubt, make it bigger! (Except the logo.)

11. Handi Hikes

Handi Hikes uses big photographs to give context to its products. The market for travel guides is heavily saturated, but this company offers a personal touch by producing highly focused, highly functional hiking guides. The photographs in the background ensure that you understand what type of guides are for sale.

Provide context
The photographs here explain the context in which you would use these products. Consider how or where your product will be used. Photographs can serve as extensions of the product, communicating its purpose and benefits.


Photographs can serve many purposes in what information you communicate and how you communicate it. These websites put photographs in prominent places, making them the starting point for the conversation with visitors.

You can use photographs to set a mood, alter expectations, break a stereotype or communicate an entire theme. I love the radical approaches of these websites. They break photography out of its traditionally small container, making it the focal point of the design.

Written exclsuively for WDD by Patrick McNeil. Patrick is a freelance writer, developer and designer. In particular, he loves to write about web design, train people in web development and build websites. Patrick’s passion for web design trends and patterns can be found in his books on TheWebDesignersIdeaBook.com. Follow Patrick on Twitter @designmeltdown.

How do you use photography on your websites? Please share your thoughts below...

WDD Staff

WDD staff are proud to be able to bring you this daily blog about web design and development. If there's something you think we should be talking about let us know @DesignerDepot.

Read Next

Exciting New Tools for Designers, June 2024

In this month’s roundup of the best tools for web designers and developers, we’ll explore a range of new and noteworthy…

3 Essential Design Trends, June 2024

Summer is off to a fun start with some highly dramatic website design trends showing up in projects. Let's dive in!

15 Best New Fonts, May 2024

In this month’s edition, there are lots of historically-inspired typefaces, more of the growing trend for French…

How to Reduce The Carbon Footprint of Your Website

On average, a web page produces 4.61 grams of CO2 for every page view; for whole sites, that amounts to hundreds of KG…

20 Best New Websites, May 2024

Welcome to May’s compilation of the best sites on the web. This month we’re focused on color for younger humans,…

Has AI Killed User Testing?

Web designers employ user testing to evaluate a website’s functionality and overall UX (user experience). Various…

Exciting New Tools for Designers, May 2024

This year, we’ve seen a wave of groundbreaking apps and tools. AI is reshaping the industry, enhancing productivity,…

Using AI to Predict Design Trends

Design trends evolve at a blistering pace, especially in web design. On multi-month projects, you might work on a…

15 Best New Fonts, April 2024

Just like web design, type design follows trends. And while there’s always room for an exciting outsider, we tend to…

3 Essential Design Trends, May 2024

Integrated navigation elements, interactive typography, and digital overprints are three website design trends making…

How to Write World-Beating Web Content

Writing for the web is different from all other formats. We typically do not read to any real depth on the web; we…

20 Best New Websites, April 2024

Welcome to our sites of the month for April. With some websites, the details make all the difference, while in others,…