2 Minute Stock Image Noodles: The Cons and Convenience of Stock Image Libraries

how to stand out with design

Imagery is crucial to how you present yourself to your audience, communicate your message and build your brand. It is just as important as your logo and other elements in your visual brand style guide. Unlike your logo or colour palettes that have set parameters for different applications, imagery needs to articulate your content, whether that’s information or an offering, in a way that makes it identifiable as your brand.

Photography, Illustrations, Videos, and Icons. Oh My!

Combining photography, icons or other graphics to highlight and reinforce your content, brings variety and interest. Your brand might shun photography altogether and use stylised illustrated characters, but all the visual elements need to be cohesive, and all these elements need to be created or sourced. And make it quick.

Stock Image Libraries: Your Digital Convenience Store

In an ideal world for a large company with long lead times, all imagery would be bespoke. Photographers, videographers, and illustrators would be briefed to create all these elements, for the sole purpose of your EDM or squeeze page. It would be unique.

In the real world, for smaller campaigns with quick turnaround times, you browse the shelves of the stock site of your choice. You purchase and download your chosen assets and start plugging them into your placeholder boxes.

Straight Off the Shelf? Not Always…

You can’t always get the image you want. Often, I find muself looking a the potential an image has to be reworked for a project. Can I retouch that bottle out? Can I break this apart to be animated? Can I extend that background for copy space?

The 6 C’s of Stock Image Shopping

It pays to consider the following when browsing stock libraries:

  • Crop it: Composition can make or break an image. Zoom in on the focal points and crop out unnecessary noise.
  • Content is king: make your image relevant to accompanying headlines and copy. It doesn’t have to be literal. Working with a copywriter and designer will help pull image and text to work as one clear message.
  • Consistency: Often an image is part of a set, download a few options in that set, and use throughout a campaign to keep on theme.
  • Colour: Images that use similar colours to your style guide help reinforce your brand.
  • Compromise: Stock images are not shot to a specific brief, or your specific business in mind. Subject matter can be very general. (or too oddly specific).
  • Can the Cliches: Thumbs down to people with their thumbs up. Just keep scrolling past those stiff, overacted shots, forced smiles, awkward expressions and poorly composited imagery.

When to Call the Professionals

  • You are selling a unique physical product: unless your product is apples for example, you are simply not going to find it.
  • Specific locations, events or people e.g. your office or staff. Again, unless your staff are moonlighting as stock photography models, you aren’t going to find their images on a stock site.
  • An original high-quality image shot to your brief. Stock libraries rarely sell exclusive rights to an image, meaning that the image you think is absolutely perfect for that retargeting campaign, could be used by someone else for a completely differetn purpose, and possibly at the same time your campaign is running.

Contracting professional photographers or videographers to create and/or collaborate with you on tailored creative is not a sign of weakness! They make it their business to communicate ideas visually. In return, you will get bespoke creative, on brief, on brand and just for you.

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