One of the most common complaints I hear about stock photos is that they look, well, like stock photos. 🤷♀️ And after having multiple clients recently ask about stock photos, I knew it was time I put together a list of my very best tips for choosing the right stock photos for your brand.
Tip #1: Represent Your Target Audience
The first thing I consider when looking at stock photos is, “Do the people in the photos represent my target demographic?”
What you put out is what you’ll attract, so it’s really key that the images you’re selecting represent the audience you want to work with.
They’ll see themselves in your brand photos and say either, “I’m in the right place” or “No, I don’t think I belong here.”
Tip #2: Aim for Authenticity
When looking at photo options, I ask myself a couple questions:
- Does this scene look natural?
- Is it realistic?
- Or, is styled photography a better option? (think photos you often see for wedding or makeup brands)
Not sure which is right for you?
Styled photos are incredibly beautiful, but because they aren’t as authentic, they can feel a bit disconnected IMO. Because of that, I recommend choosing natural and realistic photos for most brands. But if your brand is more playful and aspirational, styled photos can be a great option for you.
Tip #3: Consider the Story You Want to Tell
The third set of questions I consider when looking at stock photo options have to do with communication:
- Does this photo tell the story I want to tell?
- Does it communicate the right message?
- Does it showcase the end result I help people achieve?
First and foremost, design and images are a COMMUNICATION tool. Surprised? My degree actually isn’t in ‘graphic design’. I have a Bachelor of Arts in Visual Communication and Design.
Let’s consider a quick scenario about communication through images:
Say you’re a therapist and you want to help people achieve a happier life. You could go 2 different routes with your photos:
Choose a photo that shows frustration and sadness because that’s what they’re currently feeling and they’ll likely identify with it.
Choose a photo that shows people at that desired end result, feeling at peace and experiencing joy and freedom.
Yes, your audience would identify with photo #1, but they want to know that you can help them get that positive end result. Some people may even still suggest going this route, but I don’t. I prefer to be aspirational and focus on transformation, rather than focus on fears and frustrations.
Going with direction #2 will have a more powerful impact for you. Your audience wants to feel confident that you can help them achieve the result they’re looking for. They’ll be attracted to that message because they crave that end result.
“Should I invest in custom photography?”
If you run a business in the following markets, I highly recommend custom photography (AKA, hiring a photographer). It truly makes all the difference in the world:
- Food 👈
- Interior Design / Custom home building / Real estate
- Basically, many product-based businesses
Can you DIY great product photos?
Absolutely! There are a ton of resources and courses out there that teach how to take amazing photos on your iPhone. I highly recommend investing in one if you want to take your own photos.
Using good backgrounds can make a huge difference.
There are also services out there now where you can send in your product and they’ll create product photos for you. I’ve been dying to try Soona, but haven’t had the opportunity too. Plus, I don’t sell physical products, so there’s that lol. 😂
You may even be able to fake a product photo by creating a mockup instead. There are tons of mockup tools out there.
How about for my service-based friends? Do you need custom photography?
Custom photos are always going to make your brand feel more unique and one-of-a-kind. Plus, they’ll feel more authentic, because they are!
If you have the budget, I highly recommend it and they might even be more affordable than you think.
If you’re just getting started and don’t have the budget right now, I’d recommend focusing your business investments elsewhere.
My favorite sources for stock photos:
- Canva: Canva has a ton of really great stock photos and are always adding more. If you’re considering a Canva Pro account, having access to more stock photo options is one of the biggest perks.
These run a little bit higher than a lot of other stock photo sources, but they are truly worth it. This is my absolute favorite source for stock photos.
They don’t have a ton of options here, but they do have some really good finds. I love the bundles, where you can find a set of photos with the same look and feel, and generally at a lower price than buying photos individually elsewhere.
My Favorite Trick for Finding Great Photos on Canva