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From the Trenches

Your Pain-Free Guide to Searching for Stock Photos

Right Source | December 15, 2016
Your Pain-Free Guide to Searching for Stock Photos

Have you ever brainstormed the perfect image idea to accompany a blog post — a photo that’s creative, visually interesting, and sure to get clicks — only to realize that you can’t actually find what you envisioned on various stock image websites? Surely your dream image must exist somewhere among the millions of photos spread across these websites; the question is how to unearth your photographic needle in a haystack.

Many content marketers, including us here at Right Source, turn to these stock image websites as an affordable and efficient method for finding photos to enhance our content. (After all, we know that good content is even more successful with good design.)

As the blog-poster-in-chief for both Right Source plus a half dozen of our clients, I spend several hours a week searching for stock photos for blogs and other collateral. I know firsthand that browsing these sites can be overwhelming at best and frustrating at worst. Even among millions of files, you could spend hours finding just the right image — or perhaps never find it at all.

However, if you know how to go beyond the basic search function to sift through these websites, searching for the perfect image can become significantly less painful and time-consuming. Pull up that advanced search bar and check out these four tips for becoming a stock photo search expert:

1. Choose your file type and image orientation at the very beginning.

Perhaps your company blog only uses photos, your designer wants an illustration for an eBook, or you need a vector that can scale to any size. All major stock photo websites should allow you to search by file type, so if you know which one you need, set those parameters up front to filter out unnecessary search results. Otherwise, you may find yourself scrolling through pages and pages of photos when you really want an illustration, or vice versa. Or worse, falling in love with an image that is then not available in the format you need.

You should also select your image orientation at the beginning. Most websites and many pieces of content have set image dimensions, including a horizontal or vertical orientation. At the very least, stock photo websites will allow you to select for horizontal or vertical images; some also include options for square images, as well as panoramic horizontal and panoramic vertical. Again, settings these limitations at the start will keep you from having to scroll past image after image that literally doesn’t fit your needs.

2. Put a human face on it — or not.

Most stock photo websites allow you to choose whether or not you want people included in the image results. Some, like Getty Images, offer an entire host of advanced searching options, including number of people, the age of the people, their ethnicities, and the composition of the shot (e.g., a head shot, waist up, full length, candid, looking at the camera, etc.). Of course, you can also choose to exclude people from images — for instance, if you want an image of an empty conference room.

Say you want an image of two business people of different ethnicities, one a young adult and one a senior adult, from the waist up. Without advanced search, you’d have to sort through  images that aren’t even remotely close to what you were looking for — but now, you can simply check the right boxes and a list of options that fit your criteria will appear. Not all of the images will be an exact match (for example, the criteria above may pull up an image of two young people, rather than one young adult and one senior) but the results will be much closer to what you want than they would be otherwise.

3. Don’t waste your time on editorial images.

Earlier this year, I was looking for an image of a concert hall to accompany our post on using marketing automation to reach the right audience. I found the exact photo I wanted — only to discover the image was marked editorial only. I had to start my stock photo search all over again.

In stock photo speak, “editorial image” means a photograph that hasn’t been released for commercial use and was taken without the consent of the people in the photo, whereas stock photo models sign releases saying their photos may be used for commercial purposes.

Editorial images can be used for informative content such as news stories that are not seeking to sell, advertise, or otherwise promote a product or service. But in most cases, your content won’t fall into that category; presumably, you’ll be encouraging people to take some sort of action with a CTA at the end of each piece of content (and if you’re not including calls to action, you should be!). Some stock photo websites include editorial images by default and some don’t, so double check before you begin your search and filter out editorial images if they are automatically included.

4. Take advantage of the “similar images” function.

Perhaps you’ve finally found what seems to be the perfect photo, but there’s something just slightly off about it: a weird light flare covers up a whole corner, or the background is strangely distorted, or a blue filter gives the whole image an unreal tint. It can be tempting to throw away your entire concept and start your search from scratch when this happens, but take heart and meet your new favorite tool: the similar images function.

The similar images function does exactly what its name says: It pulls up images similar to the one you have selected — and often without the fatal flare, background distortion, or that weird filter. Some of the “similar image” options are closer matches than others depending on the original photo, but this function has saved me from starting over more than once.

Finding stock images may not be the most exciting content marketing task, but it’s a necessary and important one. These tips can make stock image searching less painful and more efficient — and make your content even more successful. Want more help creating exceptional content? Reach out.

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About Right Source:

The Marketing Trenches blog provides thought leadership from actual marketing practitioners, not from professional thought leaders. Designed to help business leaders make more educated marketing decisions, our insights come directly from our experience in the trenches. You can find more from Right Source on Facebook, X (formerly Twitter), and LinkedIn.