Tips for working with stock photography

Stock photography sometimes gets a bad reputation for being cheesy and cliched but for most people without the time, skills or equipment to make great images stock photography can be really useful.

Photo by Robert Shunev on Unsplash

Stock photography can help to fill in the gaps where you’re missing image content and because the images are usually really good quality they can really help to lift the design of a website.

Personally, I use stock photography to illustrate my blog posts because taking an original shot for each blog post I write would take an awful lot of time.

Over the years I’ve learned how to work with and make the most of stock photography so here are some hints and tips:

1. Try and avoid cliches

If I was to pick out one image to avoid it’s the handshake image simply because it’s been done to death.

When stock photography started to make its way onto the web and onto business websites the suited businessmen shaking hands and laughing was used everywhere. It‘s now considered the easy option when it comes to illustrating business success and it’s probably one that’s best avoided.

2. Check if your competitors are using the same images

One of the problems with stock photography is that it’s entirely possible that your competitors might be using the images you want to use on their own websites. Using exactly the same images as your competitor will more than likely start to dilute your own marketing so it’s worth sitting down and having a quick look at the images they’re using.

There’s a really easy way to see where certain images are being used and how popular they are by downloading a proof image from the stock photography site and uploading it to a Google image search. This will show you where that image is being used and give you an indication of how popular it is.

3. Illustrating concepts

Concepts can be difficult to illustrate without resorting to cliches and this is where you’ll need to get creative in how you use stock photography.

For example if you search for something like “Experience” or “Knowledge” you’ll probably get hundreds of images of books, libraries or light bulbs.

If I have to illustrate concepts with stock photography I’ll use a thesaurus to find similar words to the one I’m trying to illustrate. That has the advantage of casting the net a bit wider and potentially giving me a selection of images that are slightly more original.

4. Using people shots

I’m a big fan of using images of people on websites because they help to make a real connection. People shots are particularly important for small businesses who differentiate themselves through their level of personal service. To instantly see who you might be dealing with on a business website is incredibly powerful.

However some people really don’t like the idea of putting their photo on a website. I had an example of this recently where a client wanted a management team style image on their about us page. They didn’t have an existing photo of their team and some people were reluctant to feature in the shot so they wondered if a stock image might work?

I’m not a great fan of this idea but if you have to go down this route I’d say it’s best to avoid straight on face shots where people are easily identifiable and instead try to choose one of the following approaches:

5. Setting yourself a budget

Using stock photography on your website can get very expensive very quickly so it’s worth thinking about where you might need any additional images at the start of a project and setting yourself a budget.

Images play a large part in the early stages of a website design so this is the time to ask yourself some questions. Do you really need that large hero image on every page of the website? Could you just use a large image on your homepage and alter the layout so other pages don’t need one?

Certain stock photography websites have a premium and budget range of images available so you can cut costs significantly by choosing shots from the budget range, which are usually still really good.

The other alternative to paid stock photography websites are sites like Unsplash which offer free images which you can download and use in your projects. Unsplash has revolutionised free stock photography and the image quality is exceptional. The only problem you might run into here is finding industry specific images. If you use images from Unsplash always remember to credit the photographer.