Whether you’re working on a brochure, a website, email newsletter or social media post, you’re going to need some images. In our highly visual world, it’s imperative to have great images, graphics and illustrations to help tell your story.
Stock images and stock photography sites can be an excellent resource. But the downside of stock photography is that it’s, well, stock photography. You and lots of other marketers have access to all the same photos and illustrations, meaning your project isn’t truly original. Pay attention to websites you visit and posts you see on social media – you’ll start to notice stock photos (maybe even some of the same ones) everywhere. In fact, if you want to hear an “insider baseball” rant, ask a graphic designer who their least favorite stock photography model is. They’ll probably have one. I’d post a picture to mine, but I really don’t want to see his face on my blog!
So, how can you incorporate stock images into your work so it still looks graphically pleasing and professional?
If possible, work with a professional graphic designer who can help you select the very best stock images and can skillfully weave together stock shots and custom images taken by a local talented photographer. This allows you to get the best of both worlds and you save a little money over using custom photography exclusively. If you’re on your own though, here’s some tips.
When mixing custom photos and stock images, keep a few things in mind:
- As much as possible, keep the lighting consistent.
- Avoid using too many generic shots, such as hands shaking or a smiling person on a headset. Your project ends up looking like everyone else’s.
- Use a mix of stock photos and stock graphics, such as designs, illustrations and icons. This is a great way to add visual interest and stave off monotony.
- Avoid cheesy pictures or images that are obviously stock. If it looks unrealistic, don’t use it. And, when in doubt, get a few opinions.
Here’s an example of how I was able to use a blend of custom and stock photography:
Selecting the best stock photo sites
Choose your stock photo sites wisely. Two sites with a large catalog of images at a good price are ShutterStock.com and AdobeStock.com. These sites do cost money, but are more affordable than they used to be. If you’re planning to use a lot of stock photography, you might want to invest in a subscription versus paying for each photo individually.
If you are fortunate enough to have a big – or unlimited – budget, use GettyImages.com. It’s the gold standard for stock photography but it doesn’t come cheap with a single image starting at $175.
Free, low-cost photo options
OK, so what happens when you have little to no budget or you’re a nonprofit trying to create blog posts and social media content on a dime? A number of free or low-cost stock image sites are available, and some actually aren’t bad depending on your project and specific image needs. Just remember, when it comes to free or low-cost stock sites, the hardest part is combing through all the files to get to what’s good. So set aside some time for sorting, sorting and more sorting – that’s half the battle!
Unsplash.com, DeathtoStockPhoto.com, and BarnImages.com have cool commercial photography available for free. Also check WikiMedia Commons and Flickr where you might find images available for use under public domain or a creative commons license. Some government sites also have images available in the public domain.
Get permission for photo use
Whether you’re using free or paid sites, make sure you’ve looked at the licensing agreements and understand how you can — and most importantly can’t – use the images. Some are available for editorial use only and some require attribution. Do you need a model release? Is there any time limit to when you have to use the images you purchase?
Making certain you have the rights to the images you’re using is critical. Certainly don’t just download any image you find on Google or someone else’s blog or website.
When it comes to creative work, great imagery can take your project to the next level. Even if you’re working with a small budget, there are ways to make your projects look high-end. This is where consulting with a professional graphic designer is helpful. We can come up with creative ways to get around a low photography or stock photo budget.
Here’s an example of how I was able to get creative and use low-cost stock photography for a project that had a small budget for photography:
I’d love to hear how you find and use stock images. Do you have a favorite site? Let’s hear about why it works for you.
Have a great week,