How to Choose the Right Stock Photo for Your Next Project

April 27, 2021
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Choose a relevant photo

Don’t use images merely as placeholders. The image you choose should resonate with your audience and one that is relevant to your content. Think about your audience and your content and ask:

  • Does the photo reflect your audience and their interest?
  • Are the subjects or people similar to your audience?
  • Does the image reflect what you want to convey?

You should not pick a photo simply because it’s beautiful or aesthetically appealing. The visual should tell a story and amplify your overall narrative.

Placement and purpose

The placement and prominence of your photo are considerable contributory factors influencing the aspects you might want to consider when choosing your photo.

Even when you’re looking at visuals used merely as background images (e.g. faded with a text overlay) you should still consider the tone, mood and atmosphere. The feeling you’re trying to convey with your story should be reflected in your choice of visuals.

When choosing images I usually try to apply the ‘stand alone’ methodology asking a simple question; can the photo stand alone and still convey my story? Your content is hopefully shared on social media, index, ranked and showing up on SERPs, and generally distributed in various ways. Hence, chances are that the photo you choose is accompanied by a short and sometimes arbitrary abstract of content on these channels. In any case, consider if your photo is good enough to be featured as a thumbnail selling your story.

Real People

Photos disconnected from reality, portraying unrealistic scenarios, usually lacks relatability. Search for candids; photographs captured without creating a posed appearance. This is a snapshot of a real-life event, unplanned and often full of emotions and sentiment. Hence it’s more likely to feel authentic and real when it depicts a scenario that realistically would occur in the real world.

The use of people in a photo can make it seem more approachable but can also be used to draw attention to a specific subject – and in turn, make the subject stand out, come in focus and help create a congenial atmosphere (when using relatable people).

It’s always a good exercise to create audience personas based on the demographic data of your desired customers (and continuously reassess your data). Once done, take a look at your photos through the eyes of your desired audience; does the photo fit, and is it relatable?

Look out for distractions

Watch out for distracting element within the photo. Small aspects or elements can sometimes ruin the overall impression. Usually, I ask myself:

  • Does the subject have an unusual expression?
  • Are there any elements out of place?
  • Is any element in a colour that diverts or take too much focus?
  • Are any elements in the photo out-of-date? (e.g. old tech)
At first sight: A happy couple outside in the fall landscape. Taking a closer look: The hat and seasonal aspect might be distracting elements for your content

It pays to think a bit outside of the box. Sometimes the best photo is just one click away. Consider if the distracting elements easily can be cropped out of the photo using a simple editing tool. This is also why you should take the size of the photo into account when creating your initial pool of potential photos.

Pick your style and stick with it

Pick an image that reflects your style. The visuals you choose should not only reflect the style of your current project, but also the brand as a whole.

The visual style of your photos helps you stand out. It’s not the specific photo that makes you different – it’s the compilation of all the choices you make. Ensure that there’s consistency in the style and that it fits your brand’s voice and mood.

Quick Checklist

Choosing the right stock photo isn’t a science but it helps to apply a few rules:

  1. Avoid clichéd and ‘cheesy’ images.
  2. Pick a relatable photo with real people (when applicable).
  3. Keep it relevant and up-to-date.
  4. Choose consistent tone, colors and mood.
  5. Select a photo that works your desired format (landscape, square or portrait).
  6. Be consistent in your choices
    Avoid or remove distractions
  7. Use naturally well-lit photos
  8. Choose a photo that depicts a real-life scenario

I sincerely hope that this article can help you choose the right stock photo (for you and more importantly for your audience). Remember, you’re trying to connect with the person on the other end of the screen; hence it’s their optics that counts.

About the author

Christoffer Larsen Is the CMO at JumpStory. He has +10 years of experience within digital marketing, automation & strategy. Previously, Chris worked in marketing leadership roles at TwentyThree, Famly and in Copenhagen and New York. With a focus on making a significant revenue impact at global B2B SaaS companies and top digital agencies, he has driven tangible growth through data-focused campaigns and CRO.

Christoffer Larsen