Making Stock Photos Work

If you follow a few guidelines, purchasing stock photography for your institution can be a worthwhile investment. We’ve put together our list of Top Five Tips to make stock imagery work for you.

Tip 1: Even Stock Images Should Further Your Brand Story
If a picture is worth a thousand words, then every photograph has the power to convey the essence of your brand. We’re not talking campus beauty shots or action shots of events and activities here. While those are important supporting images for your story, the shots we’re talking about get to the heart, the emotion, the persona of your brand.

For more on what we mean by that, see a very recent post by EMG President Bob Brock titled, “A Better Reality.” When you’re searching for stock photography, have strategic goals in mind. Effective imagery lies at the intersection of the goals you want to achieve and the feeling you want to convey.

So whether you’re purchasing images of individuals or things, be sure you have a clear sense of your institution’s brand persona. Changing brand personality from image to image or brochure to brochure will give audiences an impression of a brand that does not have a clear idea of “who” it is.

Tip 2: Try to Take the Stock Look Out of Stock Images
There can be a certain “stock” feel to purchased imagery. And if those images are secondary or tertiary images in your design, it’s not so bad. But if these images are your brand images, spend some time to give them a bit of a custom, branded feel. Of course you must check the usage rights of the stock house where you purchased the image to determine what kind of latitude you have. This also requires some basic knowledge of photoshop. Knowledge that most designers have. Here’s a before and after example.

Let’s say you find a image that tells some of the story you’re looking to tell, but doesn’t quite have the feel you’re after. Your campus, let’s say, isn’t as urban as the campus of the stock image on the left below. And the blue plaid shirt is a bit too provincial for your student body. A few tweaks and you’ve made the image feel a bit more like your brand.

Tip 3: Stay Legal
This may seem like no-brainer, but licensing agreements can be confusing.  But a lack of understanding can lead to unpleasant experiences and even, in some cases, to fairly severe penalties. So make sure you familiarize yourself with the usage and rights agreements of each stock house you use. They can vary.

Stock photography is commonly sold as “rights managed” or “royalty-free.” The price difference and licensing implications are significant.

The cost of a rights-managed image usually depends on its usage – factors such as duration, number of times used, circulation, and intended use come into play and can get pricey pretty quickly. On the other hand, royalty-free images can be purchased for a set price and be used as much as you like and in several different ways if you choose.

Tip 4: When You do Buy, Don’t Skimp on Quality
Most stock is available in a variety of resolutions (lower res=lower price and vice versa) depending on what you plan to use it for. If you’re buying royalty-free images that you plan to use across several mediums, make sure you’ve thought through the largest format in which you might use it. Then buy the image at that size. On the other hand, if you’re just planning to use the image on your website, don’t pay the premium for the high-res image.

A quick primer on image resolution. Printed images in brochures typically need to be at least 300 dpi (dots per inch) in order to maintain their integrity. Images on the web only need to be 72 dpi. But it’s a little more complex than that.

Often, stock houses will offer only 72 dpi images, this doesn’t mean you can’t use them for print. Look at the size of the image. If it’s huge, you can convert it to a 300 dpi resolution and maintain the image’s integrity. The formula to figure out whether the image will work for you is easy.

Take the pixel size of the image, and divide it by the image dpi.  So let’s say the image is 2048 pixels wide, divided by 72 DPI = 28.4 inches and it’s 1356 pixels high, divided by 72 DPI = 18.8 inches tall. That’s a big image. To see what size at which you’ll be able to use it for print, use the same formula, but use 300 dpi as the divider: 2048/300 = 6.83 inches wide by 1356/ 300 = 4.52 inches tall. This is likely to be big enough for most print jobs. But if you need bigger, go bigger. But if you just need a web image, buy the smaller 72 dpi image.

Tip 5: Like People, Stock Houses Vary in Personality
While there are some massive stock houses (like Getty Images) that provide huge and varied inventories, there are also many smaller stock houses that provide imagery with specific points of view and personalities – urban, unusual, artsy, or out-of-the box, for example.  It’s best to shop around the various specialty stock houses to see if there are specific vendors whose images fit your brand personality better than others.  You’d be surprised how often that happens. There are even subject-specific (i.e. science, nature, etc.) stock houses.

We’ve put together a list of some of the houses both free and for purchase we’ve run across. It’s worth cruising through them to see what they have to offer. Stock houses are also great places to get inspiration if you’re planning your own photoshoot!

Stock Photography Resources

Paid Stock Photography Resources
iStockphoto Getty Images Corbis Images
Shutterstock Veer Jupiterimages
Photocase Pixmac Fotolia
Big Stock Photo Photos.com Stockxpert
Moodboard  Acclaim Images Image Source
StockFuel Stock Photo Masterfile
123RF FotoSearch Dreamstime
Inmagine
Free Stock Photography Resources
Free Range Stock Stock.XCHN Every Stock Photo
MorgueFile Mayang’s Free Textures Photogen
Free Stock Photos ImageBase Free Stock Photography
Stock Vault RGBStock

Published by

Ineke Caycedo

Vice President of Brand Development

Ineke has guided award-winning client visual identity development, testing, and brand implementations for more than 25 years. She is responsible for overall design approach and direction for dozens of well-known academic brand campaigns in the U.S. She specializes in developing a unique, attention-grabbing visual approach to bring to life each institution’s differentiating brand narrative. Ineke’s branded campaigns have an unerring record for resonance and motivational power among audiences, as demonstrated by EMG clients’ ability to consistently achieve ROI. She is a recognized expert in data-driven generational marketing, with expertise in shaping design, color, photography, texture, style, and tone to hit the sweet spot with each demographic and audience sector. Her creative guidance has led to enduring creative frameworks, unique branded imagery, and conversation-starting digital advertising campaigns, collateral, and websites for institutions across the U.S.

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