Stock photos: important marketing tool or necessary evil? Alas, the answer is a bit of both.
We’ve all seen stock photos of professionals in a business environment laughing at the camera, holding up random graphics, or giving an enthusiastic thumbs up. Or we recoiled from staged images of a desktop or laptop computer with a random cup of coffee strategically placed next to it. It’s very easy to spot an inauthentic, staged photo that shouldn’t be accompanied by a picture frame. Yet your content still needs some kind of illustration – according to the MDG blog, content with compelling images gets an average of 94% more views than those without.
Good stock photos – authentic ones that won’t make you gag – are there. Here are some strategies for finding images that won’t ruin your marketing efforts or site design:
Keep these basic best practices in mind when choosing a stock photo:
- Select images that reflect the content you’re trying to communicate, even articulating the message and evoking emotion, not just something “pretty”.
- Use well-lit photos – images taken obviously with good lighting in mind. And make sure the photos you choose are consistent in lighting so they look like an actual set.
- Use high resolution, high quality images – anything less could hurt your brand.
- Use relevant and up-to-date images.
- You can edit images in Canva or Photoshop by adding transparent color overlays or blurring or cropping them.
- Not sure if a stock photo you choose has been overused to death? Tineye is a management tool where you upload a stock photo to a search and find out how many times that image has been used, along with a list of all the websites it’s been used on. This might help you get an idea of how others are using the photo and how you portray it.
When researching people in stock photos, look for “candids,” that is, natural poses in which the subjects are not perfectly posed. Consider the objects around the image, the subject’s expression, what the subject is wearing, what the subject is interacting with, etc. If you want to draw attention to an element on the page (like a CTA), consider placing the person in the stock photo facing the element to draw more attention to it.
If your stock footage looks fake, your brand trust could be at risk. Images should reinforce your brand’s voice, style, and mood, and even reflect your audience. Check demographics and your personalities, and use that information to select images of people at the right age and income.
The right goal
If you’re looking for a tech shot, rather than using an awkwardly cropped image of someone’s hand on a keyboard or table, find an image of a whole person naturally interacting with a device in an authentic setting.
Stock photos for blogs may be different from the ones you use for a hero picture or case study. For example, if you want to apply text on top of a hero image, choose text-friendly photos, which means you can apply text on either side with enough space to that the copy is easily readable and does not obstruct the main focal point of the image.
See the difference, know the difference
The next two images are stock photos, and at first glance and upon closer examination, you can see how the first fails and the second succeeds.
This is the typical stock photo of professionals in suits smiling at the camera. Besides being obviously staged, there’s too much contrast between the lighting behind the subjects. In addition, their costumes give off a feeling of coldness. These ’employees’ might be happy for the camera, but the vibe in the picture is that they’ll go back to their cubicles and be miserable until the end of the day.
Here’s a professional in a modern office, posing naturally (when appropriate), interacting with someone off-camera. A person is cropped on the right side to give the photo a more candid feel, as if it took place in an actual meeting. This type of photo can potentially be used in a hero image thanks to the negative space on the left side (where the subject of the photo is conveniently oriented), which can be used to include text or a CTA.
Here are some sites where you can find free stock photos:
- Unsplash – Includes authentic, casual stock photos that include a wide variety of nature and objects. You can easily search for a photo or browse their curated collections.
- Pexels – Browse by popular search collections or with filters that include choosing images by color.
- Stocksnap.io – With hundreds of images added weekly, this site keeps generating new images as you scroll down the page so you can skip the hassle of clicking “next page”.
- Burst – Powered by Shopify, Burst is a free stock photos site for entrepreneurs that was created to help small brands stand out by providing instant access to high-quality, royalty-free product photos.
Using a premium stock service such as Getty Images or iStock will help you narrow down your search for the type of image you’re looking for. Filters reduce the number of results. For example, a filter might include orientation, which gives you a selection of vertical, horizontal, or landscape photos. This feature comes in handy when looking for images for specific layouts such as hero images – you won’t have to awkwardly crop or distort the image to fit your design.
Other filters include the number of people in the image, location, image type, and color. By choosing colors that work with your color palette, your chosen photos will blend seamlessly into your layout.
Some premium photo services available include:
- Getty Images – One of the most famous and well-known stock photo sites on the web, Getty recently acquired iStock and offers different levels of subscription plans, ranging from team subscriptions to stock credits for purchases of individual images.
- Shutterstock – Another option that includes millions of royalty-free photos, illustrations, and vectors.
Adobe Stock – Designers can access photos directly from Sketch, Photoshop and other Adobe programs.