Matching The Perfect Stock Images To Your Client’s Site Copy: 11 Golden Rules.
by Tara Hornor
Mar 28, 2014
If content is king, then images are queen. And we all know how a king needs a queen for balance, advice, and smooth operation behind the scenes. The queen makes sure that the king looks suave and ultimately remains king. In many ancient legends, good queens prevented their king from overwhelming the subjects of the kingdom and played the leading role or at least a huge role in making the story memorable enough to become legend.
In the same way, images point to the content of a website design, illustrating the text and keeping the text from being too overwhelming for readers. In fact, images allow for less text so that readers can better grasp the message in short, succinct, illustrated copy. And images are one of the most important elements in making a website and, therefore, a company memorable – if the images are the right ones, that is.
Siemens uses a stock image as a background.
Just as the perfect match between a king and queen results in a smoothly operating kingdom, matching the perfect stock images to your client site’s copy results in a powerful, memorable message. The term “stock images” refers mostly to photos, but it can also sometimes include vector or bitmap art or other graphics and illustrations.
Often clients or designers will choose stock photos rather than professional, custom ones to save money when they create a website. With a price tag of anywhere from free to about $15, stock images can be quite budget-friendly. Other benefits include that stock images are easy to find and also fast to acquire, since you only need to find, purchase, and download the image immediately.
However, many would argue to never use stock images when you create a website, mainly because they are generic. They don’t give much insight into a company and its owner or staff. Your client may come across as not legitimate. And the same photo that you used on your client’s website design may be used on other websites, even on competitor’s sites.
Steve’s Plumbing uses a stock images that can be found all over the web.
Don’t give up on stock photographs or illustrations just yet, though. You can still use them by making sure you know how to choose that perfect image for your client. The following are 11 rules you can follow to ensure that the stock images on your client’s website improve the design, rather than hinder it.
1. Don’t Use Stock Images For Company Illustrations.
The very first rule in using stock photos to design a website is to never, ever use them for important company illustrations. Use genuine photos when mentioning company employees, the building, products, services in action, etc. Otherwise, you will end up with a generic site, as mentioned above. Photos of the actual staff, the staff at work, or even of your building lend credibility and also make a client much more memorable and real.
If you have photography skills, you could always offer your services in addition to the web design. Or you could ask your client to take photos of their staff at work and do some quick touch-ups on the photo (see Rule 11 below). Reserve stock photos for when you need to add a visual to further enhance a point, to create background, or to enhance the design.
The Mobee website uses both product images as well as stock photographs on its site.
The Mobee website uses both product images as well as stock photographs on its site.
There are several copyright laws used for images found on the web. The strictest copyright is indicated by the letter “c” enclosed within a circle. An image with the copyright symbol or even an image that is found on a site with the copyright symbol (even if the symbol is not on the image itself) is not available for use, unless you contact the owner and get explicit written permission.
The copyright symbol indicates an image not available for use.
On the other end of the spectrum are images that are completely free (both monetarily and for use), such as what the US copyright laws describes:
“If the image you are using is in the public domain, a U.S. federal government image (though not all government works are in the public domain), or the copyright owner has clearly (and reliably) stated that you may freely use the image without obtaining permission.”
Attribution – you can remix or adapt, even commercially, as long as you attribute the work, even adaptations.
- Share-Alike – same as Attribution, except that if you make adaptations, your adapted work has to have the same license as the original work.
- No-Derivatives – same as Attribution, except that if you make any changes, you cannot publicly distribute the material.
- Non-Commercial – you cannot use the image for commercial purposes.
Most non-official image websites, such as Flickr, use CC licensing for images, and the type of CC license is chosen by the owner of the images.
Creative Commons can apply to images free for commercial use or personal use only.
Official stock image websites often use a royalty-free license, which can vary slightly from site to site. Some have limits on how many times an image can be printed, for instance. For use on websites, you are pretty home free with a purchased royalty-free license, including creating derivatives. Most royalty-free restrict the same uses, such as no pornographic use and no reselling. The images will come with a watermark until purchased, such as the following example from iStockPhoto:
Stock image sites use watermarks.
3. Use Legitimate Stock Image Websites.
Also make sure that it has been touted as a genuine, reliable stock image site, which a simple search on Google can help you discover. The best ones contain millions of stock images, which is best for choosing less-used images. You may want to use a site that also lists how many times the image has been downloaded. The more downloads an image has, the more likely the image will show up on a competitive site.
The following are some top stock image sites with royalty-free licensing:
iStockPhoto.com – This site includes literally millions of stock images, vector art, videos, and audio clips. One of several stock image sites owned by Getty Images, this one allows for a subscription with unlimited daily downloads.
GettyImages.com – The official Getty mages site provides stock images, illustrations, creative images, videos, and audio. It also includes a huge archive of images for editorial use, which means they are free for news reports or for sites like Wikipedia.
Shutterstock.com – The Shutterstock website boasts over 35 million stock photographs, illustrations, vectors, icons, footage, and even editorial. Sign up to get a free image sent to your inbox every week.
BigStockPhoto.com – This stock image site is quite similar to the rest, except with a slightly different subscription plan. They also offer credit packs for those who only need photos every once in a while.
Fotolia.com – The Fotolia site provides their own unique purchase options, including pay as you go, credits, or subscriptions. Their focus is on a global audience, so prices are listed in pounds.
4. Even Better, Purchase Images From Photographers and Artists.
One way to ensure that stock images are highly original is to purchase one directly from the artist. Most often these are ones that won’t be reused over and over. Some artists even offer some of their work for free under a Creative Commons license. Others may not list their photo as one for sale, but will be willing to sell it to you if you simply ask and explain your method of use.
The following are some excellent websites on which you can find legitimate photographers and artists. Some of these sites even have built-in purchasing for images.
500px.com – This is a photography website on which thousands of professionals display their portfolios and offer prints/ digital versions for sale.
Flickr.com – The difficult part of Flickr is wading through amateur images, but the layout of the site makes it easy to browse through tons of photos in a matter of minutes. To search for CC images, make sure to go to theFlickr.com/creativecommons url.
5. Keep Location In Mind.
The company and audience location is an important one to keep in mind when choosing stock images for your client’s website design. Don’t use a photograph of snow and ice if the business is based in Australia. The same goes for if your client is targeting mostly a local or regional audience – use pictures indicative of that area.
A winter photo would not work for a client in a sunny location.
Now, not all of your clients will need to worry about location. After all, they may be targeting a global audience. In this case, though, be sure that the stock photos are generic location-wise. Or use a variety of location images. The idea is to know the company and audience so that they can relate to the images.
6. Images Should Be Relatable And Relevant.
Just as important as location is to consider the audience age, gender, income levels, and other demographics when you create a website. If viewers don’t make an emotional connection with your images in some way, then they are not going to remember the client site after leaving it.
This photograph would work for an audience of 20-year-olds but not 40-year-olds.
Another consideration is relevancy of the images. Any graphics on your client’s web pages should either help viewers know exactly what it is your client is offering in a few seconds, or create a strong emotional association. The following website uses a full-screen layout of two photographs, with one photo of a man’s face and the other an image related to sailing. The website sells men’s sportswear, so they took the approach of emotional appeal, rather than literal interpretation.
The North Sails sportswear site uses images that appeal to its audience’s emotions.
7. Consider The Style And Tone.
Every photograph, illustration, and even vectors portray a certain tone or style when you create a website. If a company wants to appear family-friendly, elegant, humorous, happy, high-class, or another image, use photos that portray this message. A client will not appreciate a dark image if they want to appear friendly to their target audience.
The Nautilus kickboxing page uses an intense photo to reinforce the legitimacy of its classes.
Notice in the cardio kick boxing page of the above website the dark photo. If you browse through the rest of the site, you’ll see stock photos of smiling people in the gym. This one, however, gives the impression that this class is hard-core and incorporates real martial arts moves.
8. Photos Should Look Genuine, Not Staged.
A photo that doesn’t look genuine makes a website design appear spammy, untrustworthy, or cheap. It is one thing for a site to reflect the fact that a company is a small business. But it is quite another if the design looks cheap. Keep in mind when you design a website, fake looking photos will definitely give off this appearance of inferiority.
This smiling runner floating off the ground looks fake.
Take a look at the stock image above. The woman is smiling a little too happily to appear that she is truly exercising. Even worse, she is looking straight into the camera and her feet are oddly positioned a few inches off of the ground. If your client needs to indicate a genuine exercise program, then a stock photo like the following example will be much more realistic.
This running photo has a natural look and feel.
9. Use A High-Quality Image… Usually.
Using a high-quality image when you design a website is a given. Any professional designer knows this rule. And every good designer should also know to use the highest quality they can without hurting the load speed of the website. As a rule, JPG format should be used for photographs, since the file size is much more manageable than it would be in PNG format. But keep in mind that reducing a JPG file size will reduce its quality, which is why you want to start with a high quality image.
But what about the “usually” part? There are times when you can get away with a lesser quality image. For instance, if the image is only going to be a small size, then a low quality will go unnoticed. Another way to get away with a low quality image is to manipulate it in Photoshop. Filters, Fill Layers, and more cover up a multitude of sins.
This photograph of people walking appears slightly awkward as is, but could be a great background with editing.
Photo manipulations can also be helpful if you use photos that your client took themselves of their company or staff.
10. Manipulate Image Colors In Photoshop.
Let’s say you found the perfect image for your client’s site, but the colors clash with the website color scheme. Should you keep looking? Of course not! As mentioned above, use Photoshop or another image editing tool to make the colors match. The following are some awesome tutorials for learning different ways to manipulate the color of a photograph or vector.
Harmonize Tricky Tones and Colors
Learn how to blend the colors in a photograph in this Photoshop tutorial.
How to Create a Color Fill Layer
Learn how to use the color fill layer in Photoshop.
Color Replacement Tool
Use these tips when replacing the color of objects in Photoshop.
Photoshop Replace Color
Use the Replace Color Tool for quick color changes in Photoshop.
Create Vintage Photo Effect
Add a vintage effect to photographs for an old-fashioned look.
Turn any image into a watercolor painting in this Photoshop tutorial.
11. Create New Images From Stock Images.
Easy tricks can be used to change the look of a stock image to create a truly unique photo for your client. The fun part is that many of these tricks don’t take long at all, especially if you use them quite often. The following are some easy and excellent tutorials for creating stunning photo manipulations:
How to Digitally Add Shallow Depth of Field
Create some interesting perspectives in photographs using this tutorial's tips.
Photoshop Roadmap: Video Roundup
Lots of excellent beginner and advanced image manipulation tutorials can be found on this page.
Lomo Light Leaks for Retro/ Hipster Look
The Lomo Light Leaks photos can be quickly placed on top of photographs to create a new look.
How to Make Fake Miniature Scenes
Retroize Photos in Seconds
Turn Day into Night: Photoshop Colour Shifted Exposure
Turn day scene photos into night scene photos in this easy tutorial
Choosing The Perfect Queen.
Not too long ago, a king chose his queen based on several factors, such as for establishing treaties and creating allies. When you design a website, think of choosing images in the same way. Your king (copy) and queen (images) are only as strong as their compatibility. Make sure that you follow the 11 rules above to ensure a smooth marriage of copy and images on your client’s site.
Do you have any suggestions for choosing stock images for web design? Share your tips in the comments below!
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