If your whole team shudders at the very words stock photos, today’s blog is for you. Many small businesses and startups are in the same stock photo debacle. No one is sure if they should budget for access to cheesy stock photo libraries. Frankly, navigating those libraries is annoying and takes a lot of time and energy.

The truth is, most people new to choosing stock photos for their brand get weighed down in the details of the process, making the stock photo hunt more difficult and time-consuming than it needs to be.

Here is Bright Planning’s short guide to help you stop choosing horrific stock photos and move forward with a better photo strategy!

Create Your Own “Stock” Photos First with a Photographer

We do recommend budgeting photo shoots with a great photographer as a part of the design or redesign process. Some brands need to budget more for custom photoshoots than others.  As website layouts and social media strategies become more photo-heavy, many businesses find that they need to build libraries of photos to use across marketing platforms.

Start Building Your Brand Stock Photo Library

But even companies with a great photographer on staff might need to lean on stock photos on a regular basis. We recommend that you start easing your stock photo sorrows by building a library of photos to choose from in a pinch.

Thankfully, there are a handful of high-quality stock photo libraries that are completely free to access. Stock Snap and Unsplash are a few of our favorites.

Learning how to search and curate photos within these libraries will require a few hours. Be prepared to set aside some time and browse for good shots. Try to think outside the box about your content. Search based on brand-specific words and images that pop into your head. Mark photos that immediately compel you as “favorites” (usually indicated by a heart symbol) and the stock photo site will compile them in a folder for you. Don’t think too hard at this stage in the process; you can filter the photos more when you go to download your favorites.

Look For Contrast When You Choose Photos

When it comes time to choose stock photos, people put way too much effort into finding a specific image that is directly related to the subject matter of their content. With your eye set on a specific image in your head, you’ll pass by a whole bunch of photos that could have worked. That’s because from a branding perspective, it is totally acceptable to use what we call “surprising contrast” in your photo choices.

For example, the hypothetical owners of an online apothecary and body shop have a world of floral and leafy green images at their fingertips. We’re all jealous of their brand for having so many amazing stock photo options.

But if the owners of the apothecary try to identify every flower in every photo to ensure they actually sell each of those flowers as an ingredient in their products…that’s overkill. We would suggest this business choose stock images that contrast and complement what they actually offer in their shop: images including water, rivers, rain, sun, forests, people walking, people looking healthy, florals, twine, and so on. Your team can come together and pitch words and images to build a framework and go from there.

If you don’t choose photos with contrast in mind, your photo selection process will be lengthy. Keeping contrast in your brand toolkit means you don’t need to work so hard. If you can’t find a photo you like that is related to your content in a reasonable amount of time, consider choosing a photo which is related to your overarching brand imagery instead.

Remember: You Can Build Strong Imagery For Your Brand

Your business may not be an obvious framework for strong stock photo images. For example, marketing consultancies do not necessarily have obvious images associated with their work. That’s okay. Create strong imagery for your brand and roll with it!

For example, Bright Planning uses a planet image in our logo. Because our business mission is to help guide people through their marketing strategies and plan campaigns like space missions, we play with that concept in our images. Our stock image themes include constellations, sky imagery, planet imagery. Also, because we serve sustainable and eco-friendly businesses, we love to use natural imagery, in addition to more business planning related photos.

Quick Discernment: Stop Wasting Time!

On many occasions, your snap judgement is enough to determine whether the photo is on-brand or not. Once you’ve developed a framework of imagery associated with your brand, start building on that framework. If you see a photo you like that relates to another image associated to your brand strategy, it will probably work.

Choose photos you like! Don’t compromise and choose awkward, forced photos that are more explicitly related to the content. In marketing meetings, we so often talk about the short attention span of today’s website visitor. You have 10 seconds to capture their attention. Make sure the photo conveys an emotion or atmosphere that reflects your brand, not necessarily the content itself.

Your customer doesn’t think about your brand photos nearly as much as you do. They will think about your stock photo for all of the three seconds they’re looking at it. They are not writing an analysis of how your photo relates to the title of your post. Your customers will be using snap judgement when they visit your site, so use yours when you select photos.

Don’t Kill Your Marketing Strategy: Pick What You Like And Move On

When your whole team nitpicks a limited set of stock photo options, you’re overthinking the process and wasting energy that could be applied elsewhere. That’s how horrid, awkward stock photos happen. So remember: it is much better to choose a contrasting photo you like than a forced photo that connects explicitly to your content. Trust someone on your team to head up the stock photo library project, building on the framework of thoughtful, brand-specific imagery. Delegate and save time.

Customer Experience Tip: Compress Your Photos Every Time

The photos you’ll find on the stock photo websites we suggested are high-resolution, which is perfect. High-resolution photos help your brand’s website look crisp, engaging and professional. However, if you download photos and then throw them up on your site, the files will be huge and your website’s loading speed will get sluggish.

Websites with huge files that load slowly are much less energy efficient, and they often lead to customers leaving the site before they can interact with any of your content. We recommend the Compress Jpeg tool to compress 20 photos at a time and keep your website speedy and customer-friendly.