Home Ideas & inspiration 5 Ways to Make Stock Photos Work + 2 Bonus Tips

5 Ways to Make Stock Photos Work + 2 Bonus Tips

by Mary Ivanova

5 Ways to Make Stock Photos Work

Stock photos are the Cinderella of advertising – they might not sweep the floor or wash the dishes but might as well, since they are so often misused and underappreciated. Ever cringed at a glaringly irrelevant and grossly cliche image used to illustrate a blog or a low-end consulting firm? Smiling people in suits and too much makeup aren’t all there is to stock photography, so let’s take a look at some of the better ways to use it in your marketing.

1. Background it

Whether or not you employ a professional photographer and designer to create your visual content, you want your giveaway announcement or an event invite to look professional. In order to get the best of both worlds, use stock photos to create visual designs – add visual elements, font and frames to take the focus off the image and onto your primary information. Once your selected stock image becomes background, its humble stock image origins become that much less apparent.

As long as your topic does not call for a photo of your actual product, facility or employees, use a themed stock image as a background for announcements or invites. Take your time browsing through the stock images to find the one most suited to your purposes most closely – I swear I got a pair of shears exactly like these at home:

5 Ways to Make Stock Photos Work + 2 Bonus Tips

2. Mixology isn’t just for the drinks

Don’t pack your website or blog with stock images only – have your own photographs to add to the mix and combine the two types of illustrations to get the best of both worlds. Stock photos will provide the coveted professional touch, while authenticity should come from your own. As long as the two look similar in style, color and composition, you are golden.

3. Filter out the banality

Stock images are taken and edited by professional photographers and are distributed as such – perfect composition, great light and dark balance, image sharpness, near-perfect color scheme and no imperfections. That slick look is what betrays the stock nature of the images, so try to rough it up a bit using various filters that make the photo more like the ones you or or staff took. Make a stock image black and white, change brightness or use various filters to customize your design.

Let take a generic picture of a nondescript girl enjoying her empty cup of tea at a friend’s house:

5 Ways to Make Stock Photos Work + 2 Bonus Tips

Filter generously:

5 Ways to Make Stock Photos Work + 2 Bonus Tips

Add a frame:

5 Ways to Make Stock Photos Work + 2 Bonus Tips

Download the image and then browse templates you’d like to use. Pick one and upload the edited stock image you’ve just saved as a background (see our tip #1). Type in your text and change its color, if necessary:

5 Ways to Make Stock Photos Work + 2 Bonus Tips

Download your final design:

5 Ways to Make Stock Photos Work + 2 Bonus Tips

4. Don’t fear the hypotheticals

If you’ve read any guides on using stock images before, you’ve probably noticed the general consensus is that using stock images for brochures or mockups is totally fine, but why? Well, people tend to be less judgy about your use of stock photography when the subject you are trying to illustrate for is purely hypothetical and/or will take place in the future. Play that to your advantage – use stock images to illustrate future events, but hurry – this tip will probably only hold until humanity has invented a time machine;)

Let’s look at an example – say, you are hosting a raffle for your customers and your main prize is a movie night at the Kodak theater (now The Dolby Theatre). Unless you are a popcorn producer, no one is going to hold it against you if you use a stock photo to illustrate your announcement.

5 Ways to Make Stock Photos Work + 2 Bonus Tips

5. Humor me

With stock images being the subject of plenty of ridicule it seems only natural that you try and employ your sharp sense of humor (when appropriate) while using such images. No matter how fun and imaginative your wall of text is, everyone needs a break from reading once in a while (or every 10 seconds, as the trend goes in the recent years), so fess up to using stock images to lighten up your materials and be fun about it.

Bonus tips on using stock images

Confer with Google

In order to improve your stock image experience, use google in two very distinct ways. First, conduct a thorough reverse image search to help you figure out how and where (and if) the image you’ve set your eyes on has been used before. If the photo has made a single appearance as an illustration on an obscure knitting blog, you are probably safe to proceed.

Let’s see where our popcorn image from before is being used:

5 Ways to Make Stock Photos Work + 2 Bonus Tips

I got a Thai movie guide website, an illustration to a podcast, a Russian poster-for-sale website, and an article on motivation, confidence and self-esteem in Spanish. I’d say it’s safe to bet that most of the people I’d be inviting to my hypothetical small business movie night either haven’t visited any of the above or won’t be able to immediately spot the familiar image.

Another useful Google trick is searching for and studying the popular mistakes in stock image use, you never know which one will get you – the hapless photoshopping of your product into an overused stock image, the clumsy stiching of two stock images together to help your illustration fit a website width or, importantly, purchasing the wrong license for your intended stock photo use.

Preserve the vibe

Avoid the first sin of using stock images – the wildly irrelevant ones. Make sure your selection fits neatly into your overall style and brand, and doesn’t interrupt the flow of your website or social media pages.

Closing thoughts

If you look closely at all the listed tips, you’ll see that the key idea behind most of them is adding something of your own to the stock image, thus driving it partially into the derivative territory and making it more than a lazy copy-paste. Why that works? In short, the grandeur of your own creative idea ideally dwarves the importance of the image itself.

With the idea being more integral to your message than the stock illustration, your creation acquires the meta quality of an understanding between your audience and yourself – that the used stock image is, indeed, a replaceable placeholder, set in place to highlight the meaning behind the words, and not vice versa. Now, research free stock photos on Crello!

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