Choosing Stock Photography Without Being Cheesy

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Start with a plan

Many stock photo libraries have hundreds of thousands, if not millions of photographs for you to buy and download. However, as you are looking through photo after photo, is easy to lose sight of your website’s style or branding.

Before you even start buying photos, you should think about how you want your website to come across to the visitor:

  • Will your site contain illustrations or photos or both?
  • Are you thinking literal or metaphorical?
  • Is there a certain style that you would like to show your visitors?
  • Should your photos have backgrounds or no background?
  • Do you want them to look a certain way, like aged or filtered?

Choose a Source of Images With a Good Reputation

There are many sources of stock image libraries out there, some, such as Unsplash, are free to use, others allow you to buy individual images and/or take out subscriptions. Unfortunately, many of the photos are boring, cheesy or cliched, so you need to recognize those and ignore them.

On the other hand, you will find that even huge libraries like iStockphoto may not have the exact photo you are looking for. To make sure that you exhaust your search, be prepared to use different keywords and combinations of keywords to ensure that you find the image you need.

Use Animals and/or People

When I sold photographs of landscapes, often the ones containing people were more popular. This was because the visitor identifies with the person in the scene. The fact is that people are more likely to be converted (i.e. perform the action you are looking for, whether it be buy a product, open an account or get on a mailing list) if they have some sort of emotional connection to your offering.

However…

Avoid Pictures of Random Smiling Employees/Customers/etc

Don’t have photos of people that are over enthusiastic – unless you’re being ironic.

Many site owners feel the need to add photos of unfeasibly happy people doing different tasks. However, most people are wise to this type of photography now, and if the image, like the one at the top of this piece, shouts stock photography then avoid it like the plague. Did you know that there are over 200 pages of images of people smiling while eating salad on iStockphoto? How many people do you know that at salad while beaming? 

Make Sure the Images Suit Your Branding

You should make sure that any photo you put onto your site is consistent with your branding. You can do that in a number of ways.

I tend to buy from a single photographer or illustrator, or choose a few of them that have a similar style. On many stock photography sites you can click on the photographer’s name and find all of the work that they have uploaded. Alternatively, on other sites, you are provided with thumbnails of similar photos underneath the one you have searched for.

In the examples below, the first two photos below belong together. The colour palette for both is muted pastels with low contrast. This gives a calming/relaxing vibe.

The two photos below jar against each other. One has the same pastel palette in the photos shown above, while the other has high contrast and bold colours. The first photo is relaxing, the second shouts action. Place the two photos on the same page and the message will be confused.

Keep Your Credibility

Images go in and out of fashion just like anything else, and while photographs of engineers looking stern while moving computer software objects around on glass screens might have been the in thing a few years ago, times have changed. If you’re a builder and have a website for your business, nobody is going to think that you have Ethan Hunt of Mission:Impossible fame helping you to remodel a bathroom using space aged software.

So try to find images that conveys a sense of you and that also engage with your audience. Look credible rather than incredible.

Understand the Licensing Agreements

Once you’ve found your perfect photo, you need to make sure that the file you want to use can legally be used by you. If the image is copyright, it’s up to you to find out the details of the restrictions. Example of restrictions on premium photos include:

  • editorial use only
  • credit the photographer
  • non-commercial use only
  • not to be used on physical products

A Note About Found Photos

This is important. If you find an image on a Google search, you should assume that it is copyright protected. If it’s a ‘must have’ photo, then you should take the time to find the copyright owner and find out if you can use it. Copyrightlaws.com has a great primer on Google Images and Copyright that’s worth a quick read.

In Conclusion

You can get some great photos from stock photography libraries if you:

  • plan before you buy, 
  • be honest with your visitors,
  • don’t abuse copyright,
  • and make sure that your photos fit in with your company’s, and your site’s message.
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