It’s pretty much the last thing you expected to see while waiting in line for your morning coffee …
Splashed right there on the front page for all to see, the horrible aftermath of a massive tornado.
Houses split open with remnants of everyday life scattered across a field of mud.
A mother and daughter embracing as tears form liquid bubbles of dust and ashes on the driveway.
But in the distance. Just a few feet beyond the pile of rubble. A bright, pink teddybear sits, perfectly situated on a miniature bookcase.
The stark contrast in color gives it an almost angelic glow. It’s perfect. Protected the whole time by an invisible forcefield.
A sign of hope…
The sound of the grinding coffee beans quickly fades. The barista waits patiently as you reach down to pick up the newspaper.
As your eyes drift down the photo, the headline grabs your attention. You start reading. You’re hooked.
The Power of Visuals
Your brain can identify images seen for as little as 13 milliseconds. Much faster than reading and processing text.
According to Buzzfeed, in just one minute, 208,300 photos are posted to Facebook, 510,000 photos are liked on Instagram, and 100 hours of video are being uploaded to YouTube.
And get this:
- Posts with photos get 180% more engagement than those without.
- Viewers spend 100% more time on web pages when they have videos.
- Viewers are also 85% more likely to make a purchase after watching a product video.
Visuals are key to successfully marketing your business online.
Your website, blog, and social media channels are full of images. But are they the right images? Are they helping or hurting?
Stock photos can take your site or blog to the next level and help you attract, engage, and connect with potential customers. But if you’re like most people, you’re not sure how to find great stock photos.
So what do you do? You look at what everyone else is doing. Your friends. Your competitors. Even popular websites.
That’s bad. Quit it!
Why is that bad? Because unfortunately, most people are doing it wrong.
In fact, before I tell you how to pick stock photos that don’t suck, let’s look at what everyone else is doing wrong.
3 Types of Stock Photos That Suck
(aka Photos That Look Like Stock Photos)
These aren’t the only types of stock photos that suck. But, the fact is, these are very common…
1. Beautiful fake business folk in forced poses with cheesy smiles
No one at your office looks like that. (If they do, fire them immediately. Something is wrong.)
No one at work ever jumps. Simultaneously. While looking in the same direction. Cheering.
The lady answering your phone is not a model. She’s not always smiling with perfect white teeth.
And she rarely touches her earpiece and tilts her head while flirting with strangers on the phone at work.
(The lady-wearing-a-headset photos are so awful and overused that there’s a website dedicated exclusively to these photos)
2. Stock photos of people writing trendy, touchy-feely words on invisible whiteboards
When was the last time you and your coworkers sat in front of a whiteboard with a client and discussed “success” in terms of “inspiration”, “leadership”, and “motivation”?
Whether it’s a whiteboard, clear glass, a chalk board, a piece of paper, or a computer screen, don’t show pictures of words to visually define the words you’re using. You’re customers aren’t idiots and it makes you look lazy.
3. Faceless, cliche, flexible, all white 3D people
They’re faceless. They’re all white. They’re cliche.
Did I mention they’re faceless?
I know I’m going to step on some toes here and probably offend a few people. The people who have used these on every piece of marketing collateral they’ve created in the past 24 months…
but honestly, these stock photos have to be the worst design invention since clip art.
You’re not still using clip art, are you?
If you’re using any of these three types of stock photos, do yourself a favor and replace them. Now!
Ok, now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s take a look at how to find and select stock photos that work well, that enhance your message, and that, well, don’t suck.
How To Pick Stock Photos That Don’t Suck
Picking great stock photos can be pretty frustrating. It seems easy…
before you get started.
Then you realize finding stock photos for your list of services is not a walk in the park.
What photo goes well with terms like Research, Analysis, or Problem Solving? If you’re a consultant, this might be the type of content you’re finding photos for.
If you’re an attorney, your terms (or keywords) may include words like contracts, negotiations, intellectual property, or mergers and acquisitions.
If your business is health and fitness, your keywords may include exercise, diet, paleo, workout, nutrition, or yoga.
What are you going to use for your Contact Us page? Besides an image of an attractive phone operator using a headset (you’re not going to use that lady with the headset, right?), what else is there?
Let me help!
Here are some tips to help you find sources for great photos and also help you choose the best photos for your particulate needs.
Steal (Good) Ideas
Maybe you’re having a hard time coming up with good ideas for stock photos. Or maybe you’re just not that creative. That’s ok. You can steal ideas from people who are.
Note: we’re stealing ideas, not photos!
Bookmark a few sites that do a great job selecting photos for their website, blog, or social media posts.
Look for sites in your industry, and take note of who’s doing a great job selecting stock photos that don’t suck.
Now, click on a post with an image you like. Then look at the caption under the photo or scroll down to the bottom of the entire blog post, and find the attribution.
The attribution is where the publisher gives credit to the person who took the photo.
For example, check out this post on Copyblogger, 5 Ways to Get More of the Online Attention You Crave, there’s a nice picture of an Elvis figurine.
Scroll down to the bottom of that post and you’ll see that this photo was found on Flickr.
Here’s a post on Mashable with the attribution listed in the caption under the photo. Also from Flickr.
This process will do two things for you.
One, it will help you get a sense for what types of images are good images.
And two, it will help you find new resources and photographers.
If you like a photo that came from a photographer on Flickr, you can probably look through that photographer’s gallery to find other photos you like as well.
Use Great Sources
If you go looking through a junkyard, you’re going to find junk.
Make sure you look in the right places. If you need a great photo for your website, it’s probably worth paying for. I often use iStockphoto.com.
However, using great sources with quality photos doesn’t mean you have to pay for every photo. I don’t buy photos to use on blog posts.
There are plenty of sites that offer free stock photos via a Creative Commons license. Most of the time you’ll need to give credit to the photographer in some form or fashion.
Like the sites mentioned above, I use Flickr. It’s super simple to use to find great stock photos.
Use the advanced search and click “Any License” drop down menu to limit your search to photos with the appropriate Creative Commons license for your needs.
Click the “Advanced” link to help narrow your selection based on the orientation of the photo (landscape or portrait), size, date taken, and more.
I typically narrow my search to Landscape or Panoramic since I’m looking for horizontal photos for my blog or social media posts.
Once you find your photo and click on it to see the larger version, use the Share link to copy and paste the code right onto your website.
Here are 5 more sources for finding free stock photos that don’t suck.
Be Realistic and Genuine
Don’t use stock photos to try to impress your customers.
If you’re looking for stock photos of people. Pick photos that show people who look like you or your coworkers.
Be realistic. Be genuine.
If your marketing materials are full of models in designer suits and dresses, and your prospect shows up to a room full of jeans and t-shirts, they’ll notice.
The difference between how you market your business and what you “deliver” when the client shows up will create a disconnect. You’ll lose trust. And probably the sale.
Imagine looking online for a nice restaurant. The photos posted look like Ruth’s Chris. But you and your date arrive to find something more akin to Outback Steakhouse… or worse.
You’re not going to be happy.
Regardless of your type business or industry, make sure the photos you chose are the best version of what you actually offer. Or who you really are.
If your entire staff is of the same nationality, don’t use stock photos with extreme diversity.
If your law firm, accounting firm, or consulting firm consists of middle-aged, slightly unattractive men, don’t fill your website with a diverse group of 20-something, highly-attractive men and women.
The one exception to the realistic rule is photos of food.
Your food photos need to be amazing.
If you need pictures of food and you can’t afford to hire a photographer, find stock photos of food that represent what you serve.
And look for stock photos that are significantly higher in image quality than what you can take with your phone or camera.
Even if you use Flickr, or another free option. I found the below photo on Flickr.
There’s nothing more damaging when marketing a restaurant than using poor quality photos of sad looking food.
Here’s the bottom line for being realistic and genuine…
It’s ok to use average people doing average every-day things if it’s an accurate representation of your business. People do business with people, not businesses.
Think Figuratively, Not Literally
If you’re writing about a five-year road map for your product…
don’t use a stock photo of a road map.
If you’re describing your solutions as “on target”, do NOT use a photo of an actual target.
Seriously, you can do better than that.
Go a little deeper. Take a few minutes. Brainstorm. Think.
Here’s an exercise that might help:
Grab a piece of paper and write down your keyword for the topic at hand.
Then make a list of mental associations based on that keyword.
Use your list to find a better image.
For example, let’s say you are talking about a road map for your product.
Write down “Road Map”. Then make a list of word associations.
Here are my mental associations (yes, scary, I know):
Bonus Tip: stock photos of wide open spaces, the sky, and people in wide open spaces will work almost every time.
From looking at my list, I would probably start looking for a picture of someone hiking through the mountains and perhaps looking down a trail that fades into the sky.
Here’s what I found on Flickr in less than 60 seconds.
Find Local Photos
Sometimes there’s no need to find photos that are relevant for difficult keywords.
I often have problems coming up with great photos for describing various legal areas of practice – intellectual property, contracts, mergers and acquisitions, etc.
One can only use a photo of an actual document being signed so many times.
Instead, look for great photos of your city, town, or region.
Find beautiful landscapes.
Historic buildings with significance to you or your business.
Monuments that tell a story.
Parks. Shops. Restaurants. Attractions.
What’s unique about your location?
I have a client who is a corporate attorney in Santa Barbara, CA. For his site, we chose to use photos of Santa Barbara at night, the beautiful, unique courthouse, and local landscapes.
For an attorney in Durham, NC, we chose photos of old tobacco warehouses, street art, and historic landmarks. All stock photos that don’t suck.
What do you see around you?
Use your photos to tell us a story, show us history, or make us feel like we’re there.
Look For Abstract Photos
Ok, I get it. You’re in the middle of nowhere, no one’s posted local photos on Flickr, and you don’t have a decent camera.
That’s fine. Don’t give up.
Look for abstract stock photos.
You can start by doing a search for…
you guessed it, “abstract photos”.
You can also look for photos related to architecture, technology, and sculptures.
Macro photography is all about getting close. Zooming in on everyday objects to see something we’ve never seen before.
Head over to Flickr and do a search for “macro bugs”. Seriously, go ahead.
Now do another search for “macro art”.
What about a sign.
A group of boats or cars.
The texture of a wall.
A worn walkway.
Combine macro photography with local photos and you’ve got a whole new world to explore!
On the web.
Head over to Amazon and do a search for your topic or keywords. Look at book covers and related images.
Now head over to Buzzsumo, a great tool for finding the most shared content on a particular topic. Type in your keywords.
You may need to put them in quotes if it’s a very specific phrase.
You’ll get a list of popular posts about that topic. Click through to view those articles and posts and see what kinds of images other people are using.
Lastly, do a search for graphic design, photography, or something similar in a creative niche.
You’ll want to find sites like Smashing Magazine, Creative Bloq, The Next Web, or Fast Company’s design blog
One of my favorite sites right now is Canva. It’s a free resource for creating great images and graphics for your next project.
In addition to being a very cool tool, Canva has a lot of great stock photos in their library.
Take a few minutes to look around at the sites you find.
See what’s trending.
What colors are being used? What types of photos? Styles? Treatments?
You’re not looking for specific images here, but you are looking for inspiration. New ideas.
You’re also getting a better idea of what good design and good photos look like.
Jot down a few notes about what stands out or impacts you and then go back to your search, keeping those things in mind.
Don’t rush the process. It takes time.
It may not be fun for you. And I’m not suggesting you waste time…
but if you’ve spent hours creating a great piece of content, or even more time and money on a new website, the last thing you want to do is sling around some stock photos that suck.
Using the wrong photos can do serious damage. For a long time to come.
If you’re sticking to the free route, slowing down is even more important.
But like most things in life, the more you do it, the better you’ll get at it.
You’ll learn which sites have the best photos for your business, and you’ll also learn the specific words and phrases to search for.
On the other hand, maybe your time is better spent building your business. If that’s the case, perhaps it’s worth paying a professional to find great photos.
We call that a win-win.
So there you have it…
a super simple method for finding stock photos that not only don’t suck, but that actually attract, engage, and connect with your ideal clients and customers.
I hope this helps you take your website or blog to the next level.
One more thing, before you go, be sure to check out this long list of creative marketing ideas!
And if you’re having a hard time finding the perfect image, hit me up on Twitter. I’ll see if I can help!