Can Stock Photography Ever Be a Truly Stunning Design Feature?
Stock photography gets a bad rap. Many people use it badly and that can give the impression that it has little to offer, but nothing could be further from the truth. Working with stock photography, just like commissioning images specially, requires imagination. If it’s approached in the right way, it can yield very impressive results. So what does it take to achieve this, and why do people choose the stock option?
A money saving move
Well-planned, well-taken professional photographs can make a website look fantastic, but they’re expensive, especially if new ones are needed all the time. Some people try to compensate by taking their own photographs, but poor quality images can make a site look unprofessional and damage the image of the organization behind it – again, essentially, costing money. Purchasing stock photography can be surprisingly affordable, especially if it’s done by opening an account with an agency, which may cost money up front but ensures a lower ongoing rate per image. Some agencies also offer packages that let an organization pay upfront for access to as many images as it wants over a set period. Packages like this can make budgeting much easier and are great for sites with fast-flowing traffic.
A chance to get creative
Working with stock images can be a fulfilling creative endeavor. A good agency can provide access to a far wider variety of images than it would be possible for one organization to commission directly, so there are many more options to choose from and they can be put together in combinations that are unique, creating precisely the desired mood. They can also be used in a variety of different contexts. They can be used to create backgrounds, banners or borders; they can introduce text or sit beside it; or they can substitute for text, because sometimes it’s not necessary to say a thing when it can simply be shown. Visitors read more when text is broken up with images, and they stay longer on sites whose imagery appeals to their sensibilities.
Finding the right agency
Different agencies offer packages to suit different organizations, so it can take time to find the right one. The big name agencies have the widest selections of images to offer but often charge more as a result, and for most organizations, the difference between having 40 million and 400 million images to choose from doesn’t amount to much in real terms. Dreamstime is a site offering high quality stock photos at a very low cost – some are even free. Price varies depending on a number of factors such as the specificity of the image, and this gives buyers the opportunity to choose a low cost option where it suits their purposes or pay a little more when what they’re looking for absolutely has to fit a strict set of criteria. The agency also offers subscription plans for those who like to keep things simpler.
Choosing the right images
There are many factors to consider when choosing stock images, beyond the simple matter of whether or not they focus on the right subject. Key points to consider are as follows:
- Does the image suit the tone of the site? A comic image can look badly out of place on a site dealing with serious subjects. A picture of cute kittens could be popular on Facebook but doesn’t look professional in most contexts.
- Will site visitors relate to the image? If the site is reaching out to a cross section of the population, the images chosen should reflect that. If it’s for an organization that caters to pensioners, it will need images of older people.
- Does the image suit the color scheme of the site? A well designed website will feature the signature colors of the organization behind it, and images that clash with these can look ugly and distracting.
- Is the quality sufficient? Some stock photo agencies sell lower resolution versions of images more cheaply, but these can create a bad impression on a professional site. Poorly focused or badly lit images can be similarly damaging.
- Is the image up to date? Pictures that contain outdated details can make a site look out of touch. Sometimes these problems are hidden in the details, such as a person in the background reading a newspaper that’s no longer in print.
Avoiding the clichés
Some kinds of image are badly overused. The BBC, for instance, uses the same unimaginative images of keyboards, mice and tablets repeatedly in its tech section, which has led to it becoming a bit of a joke in the industry – damaging to a news site that needs to be taken seriously. Whatever the focus of the site that images are being chosen for, it helps to look at what others in the same sector are doing and to try and find a different angle. Simply avoiding the most popular images is a step in the right direction. It’s also wise to avoid using the same image repeatedly for articles on the same subject, even if it’s good – visitors may well end up reading those articles back to back and have a bad impression.
Branding stock images
Even when seeking out varied images, it’s important to develop a consistent style that fits with the organization’s branded image. This is easier to do if a single individual is making all the image selections. Images can also be edited to subtly alter their colors or aspects of their composition so they fit that style more closely. Some organizations choose to edit their products or logos into images, but this needs to be done very well in order to appear convincing.
Simple editing tricks
There’s no need to buy advanced editing software in order to alter stock photos to suit the requirements of most sites. A simple packaged program like Photoshop Elements or even a piece of free software like the GIMP is quite adequate if a bit of time can be taken to get to know it. Basic tasks such as cropping or flipping images are simple but can be very effective. Altering brightness, contrast and hue is also easy and with a bit of practice will create great results.
Used intelligently, stock photos can make a site stand out every bit as well as commissioned ones, and they offer considerably more flexibility at a lower cost.