My Do’s and Don’ts of Using Stock Photos

Whether we like it or not, stock photography is a necessary tool for any designer. And while the waves of images of everything from ‘woman smiling while eating a salad’ to ‘doctor and patient consultation’ can be overwhelming, I’ve compiled these do’s and don’ts to help you navigate the waters.

DO

Use images that enhance your content

For example, using a photo like this on a sports medicine brochure would enhance your messaging and give context.

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DON’T

Use generic photos without adding context

Using a photo like this, however, will confuse your audience rather than give context.

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DO

Modify the image to fit your content

Try adding text over the image to help readers connect the dots. For example, had we added the text ‘Finding the right supplement for your body’ to the above image it would make a lot more sense.

DON’T

Over complicate the modification process (photoshop)

Photoshop isn’t always necessary. If the photo you have isn’t doing the trick, keep looking rather than over modifying!

DO

Use photos that align with your client’s persona

Is your client’s brand more serious or playful? Take their tone into account and think about what message they want to convey. For example, these two images are both for a veterinarian but the one on the left is more emotional while the image on the right is more rational.

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DON’T

Use stock images just for the sake of using images

Not every piece of collateral or advertisement NEEDS an image! If there’s a blank space, but the copy won’t correlate well with a photo, then find some other way to complete the design.

DO

Crop, collage and experiment!

Some great designs are a result of cropping images to get just what you need.  If you loooove this image, but the guy who isn’t as into Instagramming his food isn’t working for you just crop him out; better yet – create a collage of people taking food pictures that do work for you! Don’t forget to experiment, or do some A/B testing to see which photos and color tones look best.

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DON’T

Feel like you have to use the entire image

Like I mentioned above, just because the image comes as a whole doesn’t mean you can’t modify it. Just be careful that your cropping doesn’t take away from the flow of the photograph.

DO

Experiment with Instagram and real snapshots

People relate better to real-life instances so even though the stock photo might show a group of friends taking a selfie it’s usually pretty obvious that it’s a stock photo. Try mixing in real snapshots like the left image. See the difference?

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DON’T

Use stock images for every photo

Mix in real photos, edited backgrounds with text, or even drawings to keep your materials feeling original rather than a template with fake photography.

One final Don’t – Don’t assume all stock images are cheesy! Not all stock photography is posed and awkward, so take the time to listen to your client’s needs and the goals of the piece and find the right photos accordingly.

-Amanda

Amanda: A Stock Photo