A guide for people who are new to the world of choosing stock photography for their blog or other content.
I recently had a client who was struggling to find good stock photos for their blog. Choosing stock photos sounds really easy; you just go to a site like shutterstock, type in what you are looking for and voila! Right?
Unfortunately, it rarely goes that smoothly. The topic you are working with may be abstract, making it hard to come up with search terms. The options that you get back from your search might have many low quality images for you to filter through. And when you are on hour three of searching through endless photos and you just want the whole damn experience to end, searching for stock photos can feel like the hardest thing you've ever done.
Take a deep breath… everything will be okay. I’ve picked up the following tips from years of choosing stock photography; hopefully it will help you find that perfect image to go alongside your beautifully written content ;)
For the purposes of this article, when I say "good stock" I'm talking about photos that look like they were taken specifically for your brand. Essentially we are looking for stock photos that don't look like stock photos (stay with me here)!
Do these things:
Be aware of your brand, and what it looks like in imagery.
It helps to internalize a look for your brand and creating a mood board can be a big help. If your blog is for your personal brand, gather a bunch of images that really speak to you, look around your home at images you have collected and put them all in one document (or get a designer to help you!). Pay attention to the general colours, materials, shapes, and styles.
Look for mood first
Look for photos that would fit on your mood board, don’t worry too much about composition at first. Many stock photo services have a “related” section that contain similar photos, sometimes even from the same photoshoot. Looking at related photos is an excellent way to filter out some of the bad stock.
Give your search terms some thought
If you are writing about doughnuts, imagery is going to be easy to find. If you are writing about designing the structure of an organization, it’s going to be a little more difficult. Look at any metaphors you are using in your writing to help you find search terms. Or stick to abstract images if your concept is abstract. Patterns found in nature or architecture are great because they let readers form their own ideas about how the image goes with the content.
Let the image influence your writing
It's great to look for images while you are writing, you might be inspired by the images you are looking at. You might think of a good metaphor for your abstract idea based on an image you like.
Stick with one big idea
Don’t put too much pressure on the photo, it’s not going to capture every idea in your post, it’s better to choose one idea and illustrate it well (you should probably be doing this in your writing too!). Or use multiple photos for different parts of your post.
Look for interesting crops of images
It doesn’t matter if the whole image isn’t perfect, look at photos for their parts and then chop them up, you might even get two different images in one! If your image is high quality enough, you can even zoom in.
Create a stash
Grab photos that you like along the way and keep them in a folder, they might be great for a future post. If you download the comp (watermarked image), you can find it again later by putting the image number into the search on the site you found it. Or some services allow you to favourite photos if you make an account.
What is bad stock?
Unless these are made specifically for you, it’s not likely that they will match your brand. Using multiple vector drawings from different artists will create a mishmash of styles. If you want icons to make diagrams I recommend the Noun Project over stock images.
Photographs with a fake background
White counts as fake. Keep your photos looking real by making sure the backgrounds look real. The stuff without backgrounds is there for experienced photoshop users to magic them into an image that looks real, they are not intended to go straight up into your blog post.
This one’s a little tricky, at first the robot people might be hard to spot. Look out for over-simplified backgrounds, pristine clothing and props, overly-happy smiles, and studio lighting.
Relax, it’s going to be okay
Choosing great stock photos is a skill, one that I even still struggle with. Go easy on yourself, you will become better with practice and it’s better to just get the content out there. Even if you look back at it and think you used the wrong image, you’ve learned from the experience and you can always update the photo at a later date if you want.
Don't have a lot of cashflow? There are a few nice options for you. I usually reference this badass list of free stock images article that lists a whole bunch of awesome free stock photo resources. My favourites are:
Life of Pix
You can also search Flickr for images that are licensed for commercial use, just make sure you are looking in the "commercial use allowed" section.