Once upon a time, I had the same self-imposed rule for stock photo sites as I did for boring books: if I didn’t make it to page 50, I wasn’t trying hard enough. It’s still a chore to make it past chapter two of a tedious book, but picking the perfect stock photo isn’t so bad anymore.
Finding the perfect image isn’t only about knowing what you want; it’s also about knowing how to find it. Sure, it will likely still take a little bit of time to come across the photo of your dreams, but most stock sites already include intuitive tools that help you along. Plus, there are plenty of other options out there if one site isn’t producing results. After a few years and a few thousand pages of search results, I have five fundamental tips to save you time in your search for stock photography.
#1 Capitalize on Keywords, of Course
Let’s say you are publishing a blog post about upscale hotels. Naturally, you’d search “hotel” or “upscale hotel” or “hotel room.” But there’s more to it than that. Besides, if any ol’ photo will do, then you may want to rethink your imagery strategy. You want the visuals to match the mood, tone and message of the content, and you want it to be on brand, too. In order to do so, you need to think about how you’re searching in addition to what you’re searching.
View keywords of a photo you like. If you see a photo that’s relatively close to what you want, click on it. Most sites display the keywords of each individual image. Use these for inspiration. You may realize you want to narrow down the results to “hotel rooms with hardwood floor” or “hotel suite” instead.
Learn the language. Keywords vary from site to site. One may use “African-American” and “Hispanic” while another may use “Black” and “Latinx” to reference models of color. Keywords may vary by photographer account, too. Person A may submit “baggage,” Person B may submit “luggage,” and Person C may submit “suitcase.” See which term is most common. The site or photographer you use may have a preference.
Use long-tail keywords for specificity. Don’t settle for one-, two- or three-word searches. Dig deeper. If the article is about how to pack or unpack on vacation, “hotel suite with clothes and suitcase” will yield more relevant results than “hotel suite” alone.
Exclude negative keywords. Perhaps, rather than wanting a hotel suite with something you want a hotel suite without something. Most sites allow you to add a minus sign in front of a word to exclude results that match that query. So if it’s not on brand to furnish a room with a work desk, search for “hotel suite with suitcase -desk.”
Search for the wrong thing. As counterintuitive as it sounds, it’s easier for some of us to say what we don’t want than what we do want. If you don’t see the ideal image, search for “messy hotel suite” or “cheap motel room.” I use this often to figure out what was bothering me about a previous photo.
Be abstract. You may not be able to find the perfect fit with an abstract search, but it certainly helps you think differently about your search. “Packing on vacation” or “travel organization” may yield a photo that changes your search strategy entirely.
#2 Use Series to Your Advantage
Another fantastic, useful tool is the Related Images section. I’d venture to say that 20% of the photos I choose come out of this tactic. Click on an image that barely misses the mark and see if it’s part of a series. Photographers often snap multiple angles and situations using the same setting, props or models. If you spot a hotel suite photo with the ideal decor and layout but you wish it was from another angle or that the suitcase was open rather than closed, look to see if it’s in a series.
#3 Filter Effectively
Filters are your friend. If you need a photo for a vertical ad banner, don’t waste your time searching without a filter for vertical—or, better yet, panoramic vertical—orientation. Likewise, if you want a photo of a family in a hotel suite, set the Number of People filter to three or more. This makes your search for “family in hotel suite with suitcase” much more effective.
Some sites also include categories based on holidays, events, content, etc. Opting for the Travel category, for instance, may filter out photos of hotel dollhouses or photos that were taken in hotel rooms but really have nothing to do with travel at all.
One of the best tools, in my opinion as a branding guru, is the color picker. This is especially helpful to me when I am creating mockups for a website or building a brand campaign for a client. Photos that mesh well with your color palette create a much more aesthetically pleasing experience. Pluck an RGB, CMYK or hex color code from your brand guide and plug it into the color picker. This helps create the illusion that the photo was taken specifically for your project.
I also love to sort by Newest rather than Most Popular or Relevance, especially if there are a lot of results for a particular search. This reduces the potential for picking an unoriginal or overdone image. And nothing is worse than using the same image as your competitors.
#4 Search in Reverse
Sometimes, clients come to me with a photo they really like that they found on Google. More often than not, though, it isn’t royalty free, it isn’t high resolution or it isn’t on brand. But if it makes the client happy and it’s a salvageable idea, use it to search for a better selection. Top stock sites usually include a reverse search feature that allows you to upload a photo you like and then scours its database to find photos that are similar.
Of course, you need to be strategic about which image you upload. Artificial intelligence has come a long way, but it can’t tell precisely what you like about a particular photo. It can only determine to a limited degree what kind of color, composition and content the photo may contain.
#5 Look Around
If you start to feel frustrated by the lack of ideal options on one stock site, move on to the next. There are plenty of prominent sites out there, and each has its own set of features and filters. One site may be a better fit for your parameters. Plus, some photographers sell their photos exclusively to one particular site, so shop around. The perfect photo may be exclusive to iStock rather than Adobe Stock, for instance.
Companies in niche markets may benefit from finding an industry-specific stock site. Medical Images, for example, exhibits a wide range of medical field images and illustrations, from arthritic hand photos to Zika virus diagrams. Want to represent a specific demographic? There are sites for that, too. Nappy boasts hundreds of options of black and brown people—all for free.
Outsource the Search
These tips and tricks can drastically reduce the amount of time you spend searching for stock photos, especially once you’re used to it, but sometimes it’s an overwhelming process. Let us find the perfect photo for you! At EnVeritas Group, our content experts and designers can scour the world of stock imagery to discover a photo that will entice consumers, convert leads and build your brand. Contact us and ask about our graphic and web design services.
Cody Owens – Account Manager & Lead Designer