Background Photographs and Videos: Emotion takes centre-stage

December 29, 2016

photosvideosWords, tone and body language together help us when we communicate with people. It is not an easy task to set the tone and send the right message across without hand gestures, expressions and few random anecdotes. As a speaker, your job is to carefully align the thoughts of your audience with yours and quell all the prejudices with which they joined the conversation. Tough, but not impossible.

Things can get much tougher when you do not have the advantage of using either body language or verbal communication. Consider the case of designing web pages. Website happens to be the main marketing and communication tool for any company. It has a large responsibility for promoting and assuring the onlooker that your business is trustworthy. The challenge is enormous, and the attention spans are minuscule. You need to set the context right in less than 5 seconds and gain the confidence of users.

Information overload, attractive colours, vibrant graphic elements and a lot more were tried over a period. Some didn’t work, and some continue to work until today. But none works the way a picture would do if the need is to set an emotion as a tone.

Consider this; you are an owner of a play school and are in need of a website. Your designer comes up with a representation that has a varied degree of vibrant colours and a lot of graphical elements that please children. Might also have added a rhyme or two looping in the background! But the fact is, all of these do not matter. Because parents are the ones, who see the website and not the wannabe kindergarten graduates. And all that a parent needs, in this case, is an element of assurance that his/her kid is going to be safe and happy. They would expect an emotional tone of ‘reliability’. Just reimagine the layout with a background photograph that has a collage of pictures of kids playing OR a few happy kids having a laugh OR just a large photograph of a teacher and a child standing in front of the school with compassion written all over the teacher’s face!

The tone gets set.

Photographs do the job of setting the emotional tone perfectly. And a short-length video running in the background does even better.

Photographs in the background

Few words of caution

Photographs or Videos in the background are great. But, please make sure you keep the following things in mind, before going for that approach.

  • Layouts, with photographs playing a dominant role, have everything dependent on the way the picture is snapped. The photograph’s content, composition and tone become the properties of your website. If you fail to get the picture right, then the site can fail as well. So be very careful with stock photos.
  • Is it necessary for you to set a strong emotional tone or is it fine even without that? In other words, can you do the job without pictures? If the answers are yes and no respectively, then choose photographs.
  • Background videos can be distractive if they are loud in their content and busy with activity. Get your videos shot according to the need and if possible, try to obscure them with the help of a foreground colour in a subtle manner. And that foreground colour needs to aid the emotion and not disturb it.
  • It can be a challenge placing text over the photographs/videos. Obscuring layers, Text shadows and gradient overlays are few techniques you may employ.

Subtle obscurer over the photograhs to enhance the visibility of text


Background photographs and Videos add a lot of excitement and emotional value to storytelling. When used with sensibility, they can establish great user engagement.


2 comments on “Background Photographs and Videos: Emotion takes centre-stage

  1. Graham Armfield

    I think that background videos can be problematic on a couple of levels.

    The first issue is around accessibility. You mention briefly about the movement behind the content. For some, the movement can be too distracting even if the video movement is not ‘busy’. If the video plays sound, it can mask the user’s screen reader output causing problems for them when trying to interpret the content on the page. These groups of people may not be able to deal with video that starts automatically and so may abandon the site – not the desired result.

    My second issue is around bandwidth. Whilst some of us may be on fast broadband with few bandwidth restrictions, that’s not true for everyone. In remote locations, connection speeds can be slow, and/or people might be paying for their data connection – on tablets or mobile devices. Do we want to burden our users in this way just to access our site?

    1. Vasu

      I should have mentioned about the videos to be used with audio muted.
      And I agree with you on the bandwidth concerns. Both Photographs and Videos are a bit of a luxury regarding bandwidth. I would certainly not advocate anyone to burden the users, but if the demographics of the users do not show a significant threat on the bandwidth, then photos as a carrier of emotion is a decent choice.

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