Stock images. Love them or hate them, but we're sure you've had to use them. At the very least you probably make fun of them.
As fun as some terrible stock images may be to laugh at, there is no shame in using a quality stock image for your brand. (We promise they exist!) They save time and are a practical solution when you have something specific in mind, and are even more practical if you don't have the budget to hire a photographer.
The trick is to make your stock photo not seem like a stock photo, but instead a carefully curated image to tell your brand’s story. Not sure how to pull that off? Ask yourself the following when browsing for the perfect image:
- Where are you posting your image? Are you using it for a social media graphic? Your homepage? A blog post? These are important things to consider. You may want to use a busier image as a standalone, versus a simpler one with space for you to you overlay text on as a social media graphic. You also have to consider the stock image’s resolution and size. As much as you may want a certain image to be stretched across your entire homepage, make sure you pick an image big enough to do so, or else it will get pixelated and blurry. And we shouldn't have to say this, but don't use an image with a watermark! Either pay for it, or spend the time finding something free.
Now that you know where you’re going to use your image, does it stay true to your message? When choosing an image, find one that does not distract from the main message of your article, update, or headline. Think of your image as complementing your overall message. At the end of the day, you want people to remember the accompanying messaging and not just the image, however amazing it may be. To accomplish this, try to stay away from images that are too controversial or recognizable. Run it by a colleague or friend and ask what the image makes them think, or how it makes them feel.
Who is your audience? We know we mention this nearly every week, but it never gets less important. When selecting an image, think of your ideal customer. What do they want to see? Are you targeting the type of customers that appreciate a few good memes every now and then? How about ones that best connect to images with families? Either way, think about the fact that your audience wants to see themselves and their own interests reflected your image. If you use stock images with people in them, select images that could contain members of your own audience.
Does it fit your brand’s aesthetic? Try to select photos that complement your colors and overall branding. We’re not saying that if your main color is hot pink, everything has to pink. Just be mindful of sticking to an aesthetic that represents your brand, so there is consistency whether they’re all edited in a similar way or have a similar theme. One way to do this is to save your stock images in one folder and look at them together; do any seem out of place?
Now that you’re a stock image pro, where should you find stock images?
- For free stock images, try Pixabay. Pixabay searches over 880,000 and multiple stock image sites to provide you with image results. It’s a great starting point to review all of your options.
- Another search engine for free images is the new Creative Commons tool. If you're going to be modifying the image by adding text or putting into a graphic, make sure you click "Modify, adapt or build upon."
- If you want to pay for your stock images (and the best images should be paid for), Stocksy is a wonderful resource of highly curated stock images that also supports their artists.
There are tons of resources out there, of course (and here's a list), but we highly encourage you to regularly spend some time searching for images and save them somewhere handy. It's fun, and it will help you later when you have to quickly create something and don't have time to look.
And one last important note: Search carefully to make sure you know which images are truly free for you to use and which require attribution. People work hard to set up, shoot, edit and share these images, and the last thing we want is for your brand to be associated with theft, right? Err on the side of giving credit if you're not totally sure.
We hope this helps you choose better images! Reply to us if you find a favorite, truly terrible stock image to share. (Our co-founder Katie recently came across this gem; you’re welcome.)