The DOs and DON’Ts of Stock Photography

In some circles, “stock photography” is a dirty term. But that’s not due to any problem with stock photography itself so much as how we use (and misuse) it. Applied strategically, stock photography is a stimulating, cost-effective, time-saving and creative way to truly engage an audience. Here is our list of DOs and DON’Ts to get you through.

DON’T use clich imagery. We’ve all seen those photos: that crystal clear close-up of hands shaking; those businesspeople in suits laughing around a slick, elegant meeting table. Deal approved! Business here is fun! We’re not even to go through all of the countless clich’s that have rightfully become memes due to their inherent ridiculousness and overuse.

Avoid this fate by staying away from anything you’ve seen on a hundred sites (especially memesites). You’ll want to look out for the content, of course, but don’t forget that background can become cliché too. The idea here is to use strong and unique imagery to send a strong message, not blend into the pack.

DO use stock photography that relates to the content or voice of the website. While the goal of a business is to find and retain as many customers as possible, trying to please everyone with generic images will please no one. Rather, it confuses potential customers who can’t discern what a business does, and it makes businesses look un-creative and out of it. The same problem goes with picking visually interesting imagery that captures attention but has nothing to do with the site. That said…

DON’T be afraid to go abstract. Abstract imagery can be just as relevant as human- or object-centric photos. Visually arresting imagery is sure to pique interest and will still communicate a company’s mission, just as long as the photo relates to the voice, content or emotional feel of the business or site. Even better, abstract imagery can frame a business as being a creative innovator, rather than the kind that follows the pack.

DON’T feel limited by what a stock photo offers on its own. Get creative with it. A simple stock photo can be the base for more creative and experimental photos, or even a series spread across several pages. Try tilting photos to unexpected angles, or photoshopping them into something else. In other words, use stock photos to inspire bigger visions – the kind that will engage users in a way no other medium can.

DO use stock photography to do the talking for you. Images can be used to illustrate a point or to evoke a universal emotional experience with one big, compelling image on the front page.

But DON’T take this as an okay for overstuffing your site with either. The last thing you want is for your professionally designed website to look like an old MySpace page. Choose strategically, using a more is less strategy.

DO engage users with stock footage. Videos can be just as if not more compelling than photos. Users are primed to consume the story they have to offer, and are much more likely to click on a video than with any other type of visual media. And that kind of engagement is just what we want.

Used correctly, stock images and footage offer a great way to direct visitors to a website and send a strong message once they’re there. With stock, you can produce a creative, unique website at a fraction of the cost. That’s the best kind of website of all.