A Guide to Picking Stock Images
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A Guide to Picking Stock Images

When your budget doesn’t allow for a photoshoot, you’ll need to rely on stock imagery.

There’s a lot to take into consideration when choosing the right image for the job. How does the image make the audience feel? Is the image on brand? Is the subject of the image a suitable demographic for the audience you are targeting?

This article breaks down the tricks you’ll need to know, to make it a little easier next time you’re choosing a stock image.

1. A picture says 1,000 words

The expression on the face of the subject can do a lot to win or deter a potential customer. Think about the mood that the image creates and whether this aligns with your product or brand. A natural smile can create warmth, whereas a cheesy one can come across as fake and uninviting.

2. A Colour is a vibe

It’s no secret that colour affects the way we feel, and in advertising, this plays a massive part in our design choices. Where appropriate, choose images that reflect your brand colours. Or use colour to convey a feeling (e.g. blue for relaxation or yellow for joy) and allow consumers to make the connection subconsciously.


…not just the world you see on TV.

Brands need to push themselves to be diverse and inclusive. As the designers and marketers working on the brands we can help by choosing imagery that mirrors real life.

It’s also beneficial to consider the target demographic of your campaign. Targeted online advertising allows us to choose who we serve our ads to and which ads they get served. This means we should be very specific with our imagery – choose an image that can help your audience relate. For example, if you are trying to encourage 20-somethings to buy car insurance, don’t use an image of a retired couple on the beach.


The composition of a photo can also convey emotion or tell a story. Think about your audience, your product and your message. Photographers will use certain techniques, like depth-of-field or perspective shooting, to frame their image. You should consider these techniques and how they make the audience feel. For example, choose a close-up with shallow depth of field to project passion and warmth or a wide aerial shot to convey openness and space.


Found an image but it’s not entirely perfect? Consider cropping to provide a different perspective and ‘zoom in’ on the section of the image that best conveys your message. Cropping can help frame your photo in a way that is appropriate for your ad, such as when you need to consider placement of text and logos.


The lighting in an image can create come serious feels. Similar to composition, lighting has carefully been considered by the photographer to fit the style of imagery – use this to your advantage in your image selection. An image that is bright and well-lit can make the viewer feel more relaxed and at ease, where as mood lighting or a darker setting creates a more intense mood.


Stock imagery can quite often look posed and fake. Using an image that is too clichéd can cause mistrust between your brand and the audience. Try to steer clear of ‘posey’ photos. Aim for images that look and feel candid. For example, if you are choosing a lifestyle shot, consider images where the subject is not smiling directly to camera. Do the subjects’ interactions, body languages and smiles feel natural? Does it authentically tell the story? This can contribute to brand trust and appeal.

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Choosing the right image has the power to make or break your design. Getting cut-through is key and this will influence how your audience engages with your message. There is a lot to think about, but as you filter through images online, you will see that most of these considerations will come naturally over time.

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Designers and marketers play a role in deciding what gets put out into the world. While the client has the final say, this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try and push the boundaries.

Search Fails

The process of finding the right image can be tedious and take longer than you think. Don’t just go with the first image you find. It’s important to try a variation of key words and be specific to narrow down your search.

Sometimes the most innocent search terms can produce the most surprising results. Over the years, we have had our fair share of epic search fails, check them out below and let us know if you find any of your own!

What we searched: “couple holidaying in europe”

What we had in mind: An attractive young couple, carefree and sunkissed, in the European summer, perhaps on a beach or enjoying a meal.

What we found instead:


What we searched: “man with laptop”

What we had in mind: A male, in his 20s or 30s, candidly smiling, using a laptop in either a desk or lounge setting.

What we found instead:


What we searched: “young businessman”

What we had in mind: A group of young hip individuals, having a candid but happy moment together in their office elevator.

What we found instead:


What we searched: “breakfast in the kitchen”

What we had in mind: Anything other than a man being rained on in the comfort of his own home.

What we found instead:


What we searched: “family in loungeroom”

What we had in mind: An attractive young family, sitting on their lounge, looking at one another smiling, perhaps with the TV on in the background.

What we found instead:

What we searched: “mother in the park”

What we had in mind: A mother of one or two young children, relaxing in the grass while the children play.

What we found instead:

What we searched: “couple on a date”

What we had in mind: A couple out to dinner or drinks, enjoying each other’s company, laughing and looking into each others’ eyes.

What we found instead:

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Now you know what to look for. And what NOT to look for. But if you still find yourself landing dud images, we’d be happy to lead your creative back in the right direction.

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