How to Use Stock Photos (and Get Away With It)

An affordable alternative to custom photography for small businesses is use of original stock photos. “Original stock photos” is an oxymoron, you say? Well, that’s partly true, but there are ways to find the most original photos, rather than pictures that have been floating around since the mid-eighties and appear on every dentist’s website across America. The key is selecting and using pictures in a way that is consistent with your Visual Identity, so that it doesn’t look like stock imagery.

Although using un-original stock photos is common (just consider the rapid growth of Getty Images and the hundreds of sites like it), there’s reason to be thoughtful and selective. Carelessly selected stock imagery can work against you in a lot of ways:

  • Inability to express your brand’s individuality; 
  • Outdated appearance = an outdated brand; and
  • Perception of a lack of attention to detail and overall sloppiness. Fortunately, these risks can be easily avoided with a few helpful tips.

Here are 7 tips to help you on your way to selecting the most original stock photos possible:

1. Pay attention to details IN the image.

Are the people using flip phones or cassette tape players? Unless your brand sells vintage electronics, avoid images that show obsolete technology. Few consumers are going to be won over by a Commodore 64.

Clothing can also date a photograph. Attire that tends to remain timeless includes tailored suits, pencil skirts, white button up tops, basic blouses, well-fitted jeans and t-shirts. Avoid baggy clothing that may confuse your brand with the 80’s.

2. Filter images for “newest.”

This may be the most simple tip, but is easily overlooked and can help avoid some of the issues in the first tip. Many sources of original stock images can be filtered by “newest,” so be sure to select that option. For example, this is an old picture of a business person, and this is a new picture of a business person.

3. Does the mood of the image match the rest of your visual identity?

Are people dressed professionally, or in casual attire? Are they socializing over a family gathering or a company picnic? The tone of the photo must match the mood of your other visual elements: are you formal and streamlined, or do you use graphic fonts that create a festive atmosphere? Be sure to select photos that mirror the same mood of your other visual details.

4. Does the quality of light and color match your visual identity?

Would you pair a photo with a dark filter next to an image that’s highly saturated? Probably not. Don’t make the same mistake when pairing original stock photos with other visuals. Select photos that share the same quality of lighting or color scheme. Otherwise, they will not look like they were made for you. One easy trick: once you find a vendor or artist that works for you, look for more photos from them.

5. Candid shots will feel less staged.

Photos of people posing and looking directly at the camera look fake. Don’t use them! Nothing says phony more than Glamour Shots and men in over-sized suits shaking hands…  if you are looking for original stock photos, it’s wise to ignore the obvious choices with lots of search results.

6. We’re a diverse world. Show it.

Remember the all-white primary cast of Friends? Don’t harken back to the 1990’s. Lack of diversity in photography hurts you in multiple ways by showing either a lack of awareness or a desire to target (or exclude) a specific group. Use images to reflect your participation in a diverse consumer market.

7. Stop being so literal.

The temptation to use pictures of strawberries when you are writing about strawberries, or the aforementioned handshake when you are talking about a successful business deal is strong. Very strong! You are smarter than that! Don’t do it! Use a photo of a field of strawberries, or strawberry ice cream, or Darryl Strawberry, anything but a strawberry. The easiest way to implement the use of original stock photos is to think… originally.

Use of original stock photos can be a highly-cost effective tool to help build out your visual identity. Just don’t let it be obvious: take the time to select the right images for your brand.

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Small Business Branding Tips
Small Business Branding Tips
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