Do you hear the words ‘Stock Photo” and instantly feel a cold sense of dread wash over you? You’re not alone.
As a digital designer, I’ve seen countless social media groups, blog posts and even entire websites dedicated to laughing at the worst stock photos the internet has to offer.
I can’t help but wonder, why are these types of stock photos still available? Who is taking these photos of suitably diverse office workers high-fiving in front of a laptop? There must be a demand for them. But why?
Visual content is among the top performing content across platforms and formats, making visual communication an unavoidable piece of the marketing puzzle.
When you don’t have access to original, high quality photography, stock photos are a lifesaver.
They’re an easy way to solve a difficult problem, but without professional design knowledge, bad stock photos are able to sneak through the gap. Not everyone has the time or resources to create their own professional photography, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t other options out there. Good stock photo options do exist and are easily accessible.
So how do you pick a great stock photo?
I’ll walk you through the 5 mistakes I see most often so you can start choosing stock photos that accurately communicate your company’s character, plus share some of the stock photo websites that we love here at atomix!
Mistake 1: Going for the obvious choice.
This is where many businesses go wrong. The obvious choice, in most cases, is an overused choice. If the concept you’ve come up with to visually convey a message seems like common sense, it’s likely been used a thousand times before.
Imagine you work in marketing for a car dealership and you need an image to accompany a blog post about buying a new car. Would you start looking for a smiling customer holding keys and standing in front of a car? Guess what… Your competitor is doing the same thing.
To stand out from the crowd, you should be unique and keep thinking. Write down as many ideas as possible, and try using metaphors or concepts to visualise your topic. Don’t be afraid to go abstract! Using the new car blog as an example, you could choose an image that shows a group of friends enjoying a road trip. The trick is to try and convey a feeling to your reader, rather than a literal connection. Help them see ‘freedom’ rather than ‘new car’.
Mistake 2: Using the same images your competitors are using
Differentiating your business from your competitors is an essential part of building a memorable brand. If the look and feel of your marketing materials is similar to theirs, how will your customers understand the unique benefits you offer?
Before you start choosing images, have a look at what your competitors are using. Are there any similarities among them? Try to break away from these clichés. It might take you a little longer to find images that are unique as well as relevant to your content, but visually distinguishing your brand is worth the extra effort.
Mistake 3: Avoiding images that include people
Using images with people helps your website visitors to relate and connect with your graphics. According to this study by the Content Strategist and 500px, photos of a single person looking away from the camera are more popular. This style lends itself to a more authentic, candid feel to the shot.
However, your audience will turn away from stock photos, so you need to be clever about it. If you’re not able to get high quality photos of real people in your company, try to find images of people looking natural and authentic.
Before you choose an image, ask yourself if it could be a snapshot of one of your customers going about their day to day lives? If the answer is no, this image isn’t likely to have the effect you’re after. Using the wrong type of person in your marketing material can send the wrong message, so make sure your target audience will be able to relate to the people in your image.
Mistake 4: Picking the image that seems to fit the theme best
When you’re searching for images, you’ll generally be focusing on the theme of that specific page. To go back to our car dealership example, their marketing manager was looking for an image about buying a new car for their blog. However, the next blog is about how to check whether your car is economical. The two topics suggest very different styles, and she ends up with a blog full of contradicting and opposing images.
You should be thinking about your branding while you look for an image. If your branding is light and minimalistic, make sure your images are full of white space and stick to a minimal colour palette. If your branding is loud and active, your images should stand out just as much.
As you look for the perfect image to go with your blog, think about how it would look alongside your other images. Would they look like a collection? You can do this by selecting images based on a prominent colour that suits your existing branding, or even creating and applying your own filter to add a unique touch.
Mistake 5: Forgetting about the background
The last thing you need to check before you download or purchase a stock photo is the background. You might have chosen the perfect image of a man smiling naturally to use on your landing page or blog, but a busy and distracting background could confuse your message.
When professional photographers take their photographs, every aspect of the shot has been manipulated to suit their purposes. Every element in the image is there thanks to careful planning. Stock photos, especially those available in free stock image libraries, are often not taken by professionals, so it’s important to carefully check the details.
Is the photograph slightly blurry? Does the image need editing or touching up? Is there something in the background that shouldn’t be there? How long ago was the photo taken? Everything in that image should work to communicate the message you want your audience to understand.
Don’t worry, there’s a bright side
You might feel as though avoiding stock images entirely is the only way to avoid some of these issues, but I promise that’s not the case. Stock photos are a great starting place to develop your style with genuine images. You just need to look in the right places and experiment with colour, framing, perspective and subjects to see what will make your content pop.
Our favourite free stock photo websites
Our favourite paid stock photo websites