Using stock photography in your brand materials is like having a full-time professional photographer on staff, saving you both time and money. Still, stock photos often get a bad rap for being generic, devoid of personality, and not unique enough to properly represent a brand. This reputation isn’t unfounded. There’s a plethora of bad stock images floating around the marketing universe. But, for every cliched corporate team image, there’s one you can leverage to augment your brand story. The key is finding stock photos that uphold your brand identity. All it takes is an understanding of your brand, some patient searching, and a little editing.
Before you can begin the process of choosing stock photos, you need to understand your brand inside and out. Knowing your brand and which elements translate through imagery is vital to ensuring the images you use in your marketing properly reflect the identity you’ve worked so hard to build.
At the core of every brand identity is that brand’s audience. Defining your audiences through personas will help you select images that make a statement while staying true to your brand. With these personas in mind, choose photos that represent tasks and challenges your audience can relate to and appeal to their aesthetic preferences. No matter who your audience is, the images you use in your marketing should resonate with them if they are to add any value.
Your brand’s personality and voice is just as important as the personality of your audience when it comes to selecting stock images. Images can represent the characteristics that make your brand unique. A consumer brand with a lighthearted sense of humor is going to use different images than a business-to-business brand with a more serious tone. Stock photos give you a visual opportunity to showcase this personality and tell a deeper story about your brand.
Your brand’s visual identity includes style characteristics, brand colors, your logo and acceptable variations, typography specifications, and graphic elements that define your brand. It should also define image styles that best capture your brand’s personality. It’s ultimately one of the most important elements to keep in mind when choosing stock photos.
You’ve defined the elements you need to represent through your images. Now, it’s time for the hard part. The search. Sifting through stock images to find one that represents your brand is not easy, but keeping a few guiding factors in mind will help steer your search in the right direction:
The mood of the stock photos you choose should represent your audience, your brand’s voice, and the content surrounding each image. Photos elicit a million and one moods from happiness to sadness, grandeur to simplicity, and everything between. The mood your image represents can help draw the audience into the content, so be sure it accurately reflects what you’re trying to convey in the piece as a whole.
Are the people in the photo laughing or deep in thought? Are the colors in the image light or brooding? What emotions does the image evoke? Filter the answers to these questions through the lens of your brand’s personality and voice.
Images give additional context to your content, so it’s important that your images and content align to build upon the same message. For instance, if your photo is featured in a blog post about email marketing, you don’t want to use a stock photo of someone browsing a web page. If you feature an abstract icon or imagery, be sure the data and text surrounding the image clearly conveys its meaning. Each photo you choose needs to have a purpose, and that purpose should serve your overarching message.
All stock images are not created equal, so pay attention to image quality. That quality should, of course, complement the three key elements of your brand. Photos with a high resolution and proper exposure can bring a level of professionalism to your images. Stock images left intentionally unpolished with less technical precision can lend a more natural look. Remember, perfection isn’t always perfect when you’re trying to tell a story that connects with your audience.
Style is where your brand’s visual guidelines shine during your stock photo search. Photos that feature your brand’s colors, or colors that complement them, will quickly move to the top of your selection list. Beyond color, you should consider what the guidelines say about use of people, camera angles, abstract images, scenery, etc. Your photos must align with every aspect of your brand’s visual identity, if they don’t, you may have some editing to do.
While the primary stock photo decision is choosing the photo itself, you can also play with the aesthetics of the specific photo you choose. Cropping out an element that doesn’t quite fit can tell a more complete story. Changing a photo’s background can convey a completely different mood that aligns better with your brand’s personality. Patterns and other graphics can be layered on top of an image to better tie them into your brand identity. It can be tempting to edit simply because the opportunity is there, but make sure every edit reflects your brand identity.
With a myriad of stock images available online, knowing where to begin your search is half the battle. Here are a few of our go-to resources to find some of the best images:
Thinkstock (our go-to for royalty-free photos)
Stock photos that don’t suck (links to free stock photos)
Unsplash (photos straight to your inbox)
Finding stock photos that embody your brand can be a daunting task, but not an impossible one. If you avoid the cheesy stock photo cliches, maintain a firm grasp on your brand identity, and use editing to your advantage, you can find images that represent your brand and your content.