A Guide to Finding and Using Stock Photography

stock-photo-collage.jpg

You know the importance of great images on your website and social media channels but finding the right photos can become overwhelming and frustrating. If you don’t have a big budget for professional branded photography, there are plenty of high quality stock photo sites out there.

The trick is to be clear about your brands visual style, how and where you are going to use the pictures, and what you think will resonate with your ideal audience.

Below are links to some sites that I recommend as well as some guidelines to help. Some of these sites let you search by subject matter and colour etc. If you find an image you like, have a look at the photographer's portfolio as they may have others that work well as a collection. The idea is to start finding a consistent look for all of your marketing materials across your website, social media, leaflets etc. 

Disclaimer: Always check the terms and conditions before using any images on your site.


Free Stock Photography Sites

The quality of free images is amazing these days and for those with small (or no) budgets these can be a great place to start. The downside is that you may see the same images used by many others, but with a bit of creativity the way you combine your content and brand elements will be unique to you. 


Paid Stock Photography Sites

These days there's a huge selection of gorgeous imagery for sale and the prices can be surprisingly reasonable. In addition to the bigger sites, there are a number of small, independent businesses whose images you won’t find overused. If you have the budget, these can be worth it for those important images on your home page, banner images, social media cover photos etc. Often a lot of thought has gone into the composition so you can get multiple images from one photo by creative cropping.

** UPDATE Jan 2019 - Here are three new sites I’ve found - all are mainly a modern, feminine style…


HOW TO CHOOSE THE BEST IMAGES

As you will see, finding beautiful photos is easy but how to choose the right ones for your business is another thing. You want to build a cohesive look that works for your brand, so you’re going to have to think and plan your visual style. Otherwise you may just end up with a mishmash of nice photos but the overall effect will dilute your brand not support it.


1. PLAN YOUR CONTENT

Make a list of all the images you need for your website and what they are for. Do you want a slideshow on your homepage or do you only need a single image? Do you want some background images that will have text over them? Also, think about the orientation of the images you need. If you're looking for a big horizontal banner image for your home page, don’t fall in love with a portrait shaped image - it probably won’t work. 

Most of the photos on these photo sites are large files with excellent resolution but if you see an image you want to crop, bear in mind the quality may be effected.


 2. WHAT’S YOUR BRAND PERSONALITY?

If you were to choose three words that best represent your brand what would they be? Here are some examples or choose your own -  keep these words in mind when you are researching.

Friendly
Approachable
Authentic
Compassionate
Expert

Calm
Aspirational
Earthy
Artistic
Warm

Fun
Bubbly
Intuitive
Energetic
Community

Elegant
Organic
Practical
Bold
Confident


3. CHOOSE YOUR COLOUR PALETTE

Whether you have a professionally designed brand or not, by limiting the colours you use on your site, and having imagery that works well with those colours is a great way to look more professional. Having a swatch of your brand colours to refer to will help you decide if a photo is going to work or not.

Here are three sample branding palettes I created using free stock photos. By picking out the colour palette from the images, can you see how a style and mood is easily created by keeping the images consistent? 

So, if you haven’t got a well developed brand palette, this is another approach - find the images first! 


4. CLARIFY THE SUBJECT MATTER

Next, decide what do you want to find images images of. What subject matter do you think will appeal to your ideal audience? What subjects best represent your brand and your type of business? For example:

  • Landscapes

  • Flowers & Nature

  • People

  • Abstract

  • Patterns

Within each subject, there are obviously numerous ways they can be depicted. Eg. Do you want people in the image? If so, are they smiling or serious, what sort of age group? Do you want to show men, women, children or a mixture? Use your three brand personality words identified above to help refine your selection. 


5. BRINGING IT ALL TOGETHER - STYLE & MOOD

Now you have a better idea about the type of images, the subject matter and colour palette - bring it all together to help identify the visual style and mood of your brand. For example, light and airy, fun and playful, sophisticated and moody and use all this insight as a basis for your research.


6. BUILD YOUR IMAGE LIBRARY

Create a folder on your computer specifically for stock photos. If you spend time periodically looking for new photos you’ve always got an image bank to choose from whenever you want to update your website, write a blog post or newsletter or post on social media. It's well worth the investment in time! 


Emma George