Let’s be honest: stock photography often gets a bad rap. It’s not hard to see why; with a seemingly endless amount of stock image websites floating around the web, cheesy stock images are prevalent. You’ve seen it before: countless images of business people high-fiving and adorning flowing capes to their business attire. All that aside, it’s worth noting that not all stock photography is terrible. You simply need to know what to look for when adding stock images to your designs and marketing materials- and what to avoid.
As a user experience designer, I’ve learned a lot about choosing stock photos over the years. I’ve seen awesome designs completely derailed by the stock photos utilized, but I’ve also seen stock photos boost and strengthen designs as well. We live in a world of short attention spans, and for that reason, the images you choose for use in your designs need to be effective and visually attractive. The images you use should add to and compliment the overall design, not take away from it. People don’t read websites, they scan them. You have one shot at capturing your audience’s attention, so you need to choose images that tie the full design together and entice them to explore more, not get bored.
Consider Your Target Audience
When adding stock photos to your website designs, make sure you’re choosing stock photos for your target audience to react to. When I’m choosing images to incorporate into my designs, there are a ton of things I take into account. My target audience is generally number one on that list. Who’s the client I’m selling this design to? Are they a laid back, casual bunch or are they more straight-laced and business-focused? What’s the overall message I want to convey through the design? What feeling do I want them to land on when viewing the designs?
These questions can help narrow down the tone or mood an image should convey.
Color is Key
The stock images you use in your final design should fall into the same scheme as the overall design. If your design mostly uses cool colors, you should choose a stock image to reflect that. If the stock image doesn’t match the design, it’s going to visually confuse your audience. Colors used should be kept at a minimum to emphasize the base color scheme. Colors help define the structure of objects. Use color as another tool in your design, using high contrast to highlight important visual information. This will help the viewer’s eye know where to travel when digesting the design as a whole.
Using Visual Cues
Visual Cues, or Directional Cues, are visual elements of your design that direct the viewer to the most important parts of the design, such as a call to action or a lead capture form. Directional cues come in various formats, from arrows to the gaze of a model in a stock photo. Subconsciously, your brain can identify these subtle signals, assisting in the flow of the design itself. Color itself can be used as a directional cue. These examples are mostly thought of as implicit visual cues because they’re subtle. More explicit visual cues are a bit different. For instance, if you use a stock photo with someone gazing in a certain direction, the viewer will pick up on that. People tend to look at what others are looking at. That said, if the model in your stock photo is looking toward where the lead generation form is on the page, this helps attract the viewer’s eye to the form. This generally happens without the viewer realizing it. Pointing or gesturing in a photo can have this same effect.
Incorporating People or Animals as Subject Matter
We all know that using photographs in a design help the viewer feel connected to the content that the design supports. Using photographs of people or animals creates an instant connection in our minds. It helps make the design more personal. Why do these sort of images affect us in such a way? It might be that because we are human beings; we simply like looking at other human beings. Faces are familiar to us. Using an image with a smiling personal will be beneficial to your designs, as long as it supports the content subject matter.
It can’t be understated how important the stock photographs you use in your design are. There’s a definite art to choosing stock photos, and hopefully some of these tips will help you the next time you’re making your selections. As a general rule, you should work to select photos that strengthen your overall design.