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How to Use Stock Photos that Aren't Terrible

Updated: Dec 30, 2022

Maintaining social media can be hard for a number of reasons. Knowing when to post, what to post, what to say in the post and what you’re looking to get out of the post are all their own individual battles, yet must be tackled within the same image. To make matters even more complex, marketing in the digital world is incredibly fast paced, therefore, not only do you have to be thinking about all those previously mentioned details, you also have to have an image that speaks to your audience and is able to tell your story and intention without words. You need an image that is capable of grabbing the attention of strangers long enough to get them to want to read your copy and dive further into your brand. But rest assured, once this happens, they’ll be hooked.

However, you might be thinking “I don’t have the time, resources or money to put towards hiring a photographer, designer, you name it, into curating every image in my feed”. This is where our advice regarding stock photos comes in. Before your mind instinctively jumps to cheesy business folk, exaggerated, inauthentic expressions, and people with a painfully boring fashion sense, check out Unsplash is just one of the many incredible platforms that offer beautiful, high-quality, downloadable photography for free, and can be used for non-commercial and commercial content. Additionally, permission is not necessary from the original photographer, however, attribution whenever possible is always recommended. All you need is a vague idea of what you’re looking to post about, type in a single or few keywords into their search, and viola, you have an extensive collection of content to choose from.

While the world may now be your oyster, there are a few tricks to making photography that is not yours, albeit beautiful, feel more in line and tailored intentionally to your brand. For instance, if you are a fun, upbeat coffee roaster that prioritizes the connection of individuals and sparks inspiration, you’re going to want to find photos that express emotions, rather than focusing solely on your product in every post. With this method, you will want to dig a little deeper and find photos that resonate with the feelings you are seeking to create, and how your company interacts with the everyday world. For example, if you want to visually showcase how your coffee brings people together, finding people genuinely laughing, in a believable setting will help viewers connect with your brand and understand what your company seeks to add to their life. This may take a few more searches than just typing “people laughing”, for example, you should think about the other emotions that relate to that feeling, such as “together”, “joy”, or "morning routine", and look around a bit rather than just grabbing the first image that pops up in the feed.

In addition to finding more emotive based content, adding text can be a useful tool to tone back some of the potential discrepancy between what you are looking to highlight and what the image actually conveys. This is especially helpful if you are highlighting a promotion, sale, event, or seeking any tangible action to be made. In general, bold, simple text added over stock photos makes a statement, while allowing the image to speak as an accent to the message, rather than being the message.

Lastly, with stock photos it is gravely important to be intentional about consistency of style and color. When two photos of distinctly different hues, lenses or perspectives are side by side, they stand out like a sore thumb. This is especially relevant when taking stock photos from websites such as Unsplash, as many of the contributing photographers are experimental, with photos that are more artistically driven rather than for commercial use. This is not to say that a distinct or outside of the status-quo style shouldn’t be used, but rather ensuring that the photos look cohesive together, and add to your brand, rather than distract is important. Generally, finding photos that are minimally edited and adhere to traditional composition standards allow for a greater potential to be transformed to what you need.

All in all, we recommend intentionally using stock photos to help communicate the why behind your message, when your other photos aren’t hitting the mark, or when you don’t have the time, money or resources to hire a professional photographer. When constructing a post, your message should start at the core and resonate intuitively within the photo. With a little bit of creativity and thinking outside of the box, you can turn stock photos into a highly curated, authentic addition to your feed. Just ensure that you are finding photos that aid in telling your story, feel genuine, and are visually consistent.


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