Beyond PR

Apr 21, 2016

How to Pick the Best Stock Images for Your Message

How to Pick the Best Stock Photo for Your MessageAbiding by the best practices of modern content marketing, you need to include a visual with every piece of content your brand distributes. Depending on the scope of your content production and distribution strategy, that can quickly add up to a lot of graphics.

Stock photos and illustrations can provide a cost-effective way to help you meet today’s creative demands, but the search for quality images can still take some time.

To help you find what you need faster, I’m sharing my best tips along with some expert advice from Robyn Lange, Curator and Photo Editor at Shutterstock, a leading global provider of digital imagery.

1. Rethink stock imagery’s reputation

Thanks to a flood of low quality and downright bad images available online, stock imagery sometimes gets a bad rap.

I asked Lange what she might say to stock photo haters to get them to change their perspective.

“I would counter the negative with a positive by directing the naysayers to the ‘Featured Collections’ that I curate for our website,” she says. “The main focus of my job is to pull out the absolute best content from our vast and varied collection and make it easily accessible. 80 million assets can be daunting, but there are some truly unique and beautiful gems to be found. I think that once brands start to see what is available to them they will change their minds about the state of stock imagery.”

Save time by setting up an account with a stock provider that offers packages which fit your visual needs in quality, budget, and flexibility (i.e., subscription or pay-as-you-go).

To narrow down the field, run several searches within each tool based on your common content topics, and then compare results based on ease-of-use, topic relevancy and image quality.

2. Aim for authenticity

Awkward poses, silly props and those over-excited office workers – it’s easy to pick out really bad stock photos because they just look fake.

Customers value a brand that presents itself in an authentic way. To match expectations, make sure you select imagery that feels natural.

Lange explains, “The key to choosing real imagery revolves around some pretty simple concepts: lighting and color schemes that feel natural, as well as realistic scenarios that you can imagine in your own world. Finally, try to avoid plain white backgrounds.”

Pay extra attention to all facial expressions within the photo. Our brains are sensitive to reading muscle cues, but some are more emotionally perceptive than others.

Before purchasing an image, I find it helpful to have a colleague review my selection to make sure my image is capturing the right tone.


3. Select stock with a story

As content marketers already know, stories are captivating. Great images have their own story to tell.

“I look for imagery that feels authentic and conveys a story to the viewer. I like accessible photos that give me the sense that I could somehow be involved in the moment being presented,” says Lange.

Stories aren’t static, so look for a sense of movement. The image should give you a feeling that something is about to happen (anticipation), is happening (action), or just happened (reaction).

4. Look beyond the picture in your head

When I asked Lange about the most common frustration she heard from customers, she said most people get stressed out when they can’t find an image to match what they’ve visualized in their head.

She offers this strategy to guide you: “My best practice is to start with one keyword that is relevant, and then throughout the search change to other keywords that are similar – circle your prey, so to speak. Try to be deliberate in your research and cover a broad spectrum. I find that if I am too specific in my search, I end up missing out on a lot of potential images that would have conveyed my initial idea perfectly.”

According to Lange, Shutterstock has created tools to solve this common challenge. “Our technology team recently built computer vision technology that powers a new suite of search tools based on pixel data, rather than meta data,” she explains. “The technology looks at the composition of an image you like and will offer visually similar images. Using reverse image search, customers can also upload an image they like to find similar images they can license for their business.”

5. Unravel abstract ideas

One of the hardest types of image to find are those that need to represent abstract ideas or conceptual B2B industry terms.

Lange knows the struggle is real. “I go through this process on a regular basis when I curate the monthly slideshows for partners, which are themed around abstract concepts like ‘empathy’ or ‘action.’ On our website we have a great feature called Shutterstock Instant, and it’s essentially a visual thesaurus.”

She explains, “When you enter a search term it will pull up all of the relevant imagery, but then off to the side there is a list of suggested keywords that are synonyms of the original concept. Abstraction can be so difficult to pin down that I find it helpful to have fresh ideas at my fingertips that can help keep me moving while I brainstorm.”

To get the brainstorm going, do a Google image search of the term you want to represent to see how others have attempted to solve this visual problem. You’ll get a sense of what works and what has become cliché.

6. Keep format flexibility in mind

No matter your immediate use, you will likely need your selected image to look good on multiple social platforms, and that means multiple formats and monitor sizes. Facebook and Twitter are optimized for landscape dimensions, while tall portrait formats perform better on Pinterest.

Lange suggests, “Keep it clean and simple so that it can be easily cropped or you can easily add text to it. Anything that’s too cluttered or noisy will lose its impact, especially on mobile platforms.”

If you’re not sure how well the image will crop to varying layouts, download the free watermarked sample and take it for a test drive.

7. Invest time ahead of time

Finding the very best images available can take some time. Lange suggests starting your search before you’re looking for a specific solution. “When you have the time to meander, you can feel more open about potential imagery for future projects,” she explains. “Create a lightbox with photos and vectors that you find interesting and revisit it when you are searching for inspiration.”

Lange also suggests taking idea inspiration from outside sources, “The world is so saturated with imagery right now that it’s easy to look around for inspiration when you’re feeling static. Museums, book covers, even other brands that you admire. Explore what it is that makes you feel connected to these places or things – how do they convey their message? There can be a fear that abstraction will miss the point, but the human mind is very adept at connecting the dots. Don’t underestimate your audience.”

As our guide Press Releases That Stand Out in the Digital Age shows, incorporating even simple multimedia components into your content will make a dramatic difference in terms of effectiveness.

The key is knowing which visuals to include to reach your particular audience.

To make it easier, PR Newswire has partnered with Shutterstock to provide customers access to its library of high-quality, licensed photos.

Read the multimedia news release or watch Shutterstock’s video below to learn how this new image recommendation and distribution tool will help boost your press release’s engagement.


Author Jamie Heckler is the Senior Creative Manager at PR Newswire. Follow her on Twitter @jamieheckle for more #design, #PR & #marketing updates.

Robyn Lange joined Shutterstock as an in-house Curator, highlighting the best of the 80 million images in the collection. She developed an extensive knowledge of image libraries through 20 years spent as a photo editor. Working for publications such as Time, Vogue, and, T: The New York Times Style Magazine, she has worked closely with some of the most talented photographers in the industry and produced elaborate photo shoots across the world.

3 Comments on Blog Post Title

­ Cabo Ash 13:03 EDT on Apr 22, 2016

Interesting Article. I think getting the Authenticity out of stock imagery is difficult, but not unobtainable.
I agree that we look for images with a fixed idea already in our head and sometimes unwilling to change that idea even though the stock photos we find with that idea are often mediocre.
I prefer to use use a mediocre unique image I took myself than a mediocre stock image… (however am being convinced more and more to change my deas to use a great image.)

Jamie Heckler 13:48 EDT on Apr 22, 2016

Unique images are great assets to have on hand, but unfortunately not everyone has the photography skills and resources to take that route. Hopefully our tips will help you find some better quality stock photos to supplement your own in times of need.

­ Sophie 11:33 EDT on Apr 28, 2016

As a blogger I find this article incredibly useful. I often struggle to find images that work with my posts and don’t have copyright constraints. Using stock photos is a great way to find images that meet your branding and your story. I really liked point number 4. When using stock photos I get very caught up on finding one that exactly matches the image in my head. Keeping an open mind as to what photo to use can expand your options. Great article! These are all things I will remember on my next stock photo search

Fill in your details below: