We all turn to stock imagery from time to time to help illustrate content projects – after all, there’s reams of the stuff at our disposal. But how can you ensure it looks authentic, engaging, and, well, not so stocky? Sticky creative Kiera Black shares some tips.
There comes a time in every creative’s life when a brief requires an image-sourcing mission. Perhaps you need visual support for a downloadable ebook, some social posts, or a creative branding project.
Whatever the challenge, you probably know the drill. You log into your favourite stock site and hover a hesitant cursor over the search box. ‘Hmm,’ you ponder. ‘What words most accurately describe what I’m looking for here?’ It’s a common problem. The good news is, stock images are often produced specifically to fulfil even the nichest of briefs, so if you’re after ‘sardonic businessman cycles to work in full plaid’ or ‘cat celebrating St. Patrick’s Day’, you likely won’t be disappointed.
But while these searches can be amusing – and valuable in some cases, I’m sure – they can tend towards cheesiness and inauthenticity. Unfortunately, the same goes for many results for terms that are too vague. Looking for something to illustrate a client’s new equality policy webpage? Search ‘Workplace equality’ and you’ll doubtless be faced with countless images of suited-and-booted colleagues high-fiving in indistinct hallways. But anything is better than the inevitable male-and-female engineering duo, walking through a warehouse in head-to-toe high-vis and pointing to… er, nothing in particular.
So, if you’re looking for something a little different and visually pleasing – a bit less obviously stocky – to fulfil your creative brief, try these tips…
Go for graphics that are relevant
Sounds like an obvious one, but always make sure you match the photo to the brand or topic. Is there a dominant brand colour scheme? Look for images with the same tones rippling subtly throughout. Searching for footage for a large corporate client? Don’t include images of dogs lolling on the lawn or a teeming shoal of fish. Metaphor and abstraction can be great, as we’ll see shortly, but check the link between topic and image is easy enough to decipher. Test it out on a colleague – if they can’t guess the link, chances are it’s too tenuous.
Avoid images that are too posed
Yes, it’s me – Captain Obvious again! But it must be emphasised: Choosing such eye-sores as ‘Couple Laughing, Holding Key in Empty House’ to promote a modern estate agent should be avoided under all circumstances. Likewise, the ‘Woman Smiling at Yogurt’ to head up a women’s health page is a big no-no. Opt for natural shots. People shouldn’t be facing camera or behaving in unnatural ways. Try to choose angles where no one person is bang in the centre of the shot – make it seem instead as if the chosen image is a candid sneak peek of an everyday occurrence.
Think outside the box
When searching for specific images, don’t be afraid to think metaphorically to go for something a little more abstract. It can be more appealing to go for a visual metaphor or analogy rather than a direct representation of your subject. Brief on architecture or office spaces? Try a close-up of geometric tiles instead of a team decked out in hard hats surveying a construction site. Talking travel? A close shot of rippling turquoise waves is more evocative than a shiny, happy family smiling in the sand. The image should briefly appeal to the reader’s eye but shouldn’t distract them from the rest of the content.
Don’t forget to consider lighting
You automatically risk images looking unnatural if there’s a random lens flare coming across the shot or if there’s a cool blue tinge to the photo. Of course, you might deliberately be going for a certain look – but in that case, make sure all images used across the same page have similar lighting to avoiding them looking jarring.
Switch up your search methods
Sometimes the free platforms will have more ‘natural’ images purely because they’re not as high-quality or high-budget as the paid ones. Some brilliant platforms, which offer stills and video, include: Shutterstock, Pexels, Unsplash, Dreamstime, Pixabay, Vimeo, Pond5, and Getty. It’s worth shopping around and searching the ‘similar to this’ tab on images that seem almost right.