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The Proper Use of Stock Photography

1 May 2012 No Comment

With so many people out there calling themselves web designers these days, it’s important to stand out from the crowd. Creating unique and effective websites requires not just an eye for design but a knack for choosing compelling photography and images as well. Potential clients will be most impressed if you can demonstrate a range of looks, laid out in a variety of interesting and creative ways.

While stock photography is an easy method for accessing such imagery, it’s crucial to mix things up so that your work doesn’t wind up being a carbon copy of every other website out there, designed by someone pulling from the same stock sites.

Here are the top dos and don’ts for using stock photography to your advantage.

DON’T use anything you’ve ever seen as a stock photography internet meme. Sure, we’re all fans of such gems as “women laughing while eating salad” and “people kissing computers alone” (note: to be fair, they were lonely and the computers were warm), but their unintentional, awkward hilarity isn’t something that will snag you clients, nor will they keep anyone who is internet savvy on your page. Save the memes for humor sites.

DO experiment with abstract vectors and illustration. While you may or may not be as savvy as a trained graphic artist, you’ve got the design chops to create a compelling symbol out of a library of professional images. Design a theme around the site’s audience or the company’s voice, mission or philosophy.

DON’T use images that have nothing to do with your content. You might like that picture of a beach at sunset, but if a trucking company has hired you, it probably won’t work. Unless, of course, the photo is of a semi driving into the ocean at sunset, in which case go right ahead.

DO use strong and specific imagery that relates to your content. Your client may want you to create a site that invites customers inside with an image of a welcoming smile, but it might not apply to what the client does. This image is better displayed on someone who represents that potential customer or someone who is doing something related to the business rather than on some random, sanitized woman in a business suit.

 DON’T use tired images, even if they relate directly to your content. Most stock photo cliches stem from the business world, like people in suits crossing their arms to appear intimidating, people gathering around a table for the most awkward looking meeting in all of human history, and hands firmly shaking. Houston, we have a deal!

DO use stock footage to increase engagement. Videos are an excellent way to drive the company’s message and voice home while demonstrating likability and expertise. Usability testing has shown that if people are asked to engage in your website via a “play” button, they are more likely to stick around once they have engaged themselves.

DO use different photos across the various sites you design. Stock photography has enough cliches on its own. Don’t create more within your own work.

No matter what routes you take, the key to using stock photography in web design is remembering that you’re a creative professional. Have fun, and shake things up!

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