How to source imagery like a pro

contentgroupies – you asked and we listened. A number of you indicated in our recent audience survey that finding images to use in your content communication work proves to be a challenge. So, this week we’re going to look at the ins and outs of sourcing imagery that does your message justice.

Before diving into the photo sites contentgroup uses on the regular, there are a few things to keep in mind when looking for effective imagery:

1. Don’t expect to find the “perfect” image
Often, clients will ask for really specific photos showing certain places or portraying certain moods. The unfortunate truth is, it can be difficult to hit such a brief 100 per cent using stock photos. The very nature of stock imagery means that it’s quite general so that one image can hit a number of briefs. It’s also useful to keep in mind the fact that stock imagery is a supplementary element of your communication – it’s meant to quietly support, not detract from your message. If you use images that are too complex or obscure, you run the risk of confusing your audience and having them miss your point entirely. So, keep your searches simple and your mind open.

2. Avoid ‘stocky’ stock
Image libraries will generally be filtered to display the most popular ones first. While this can be helpful for finding contemporary options, it can also mean that your choices may have been used elsewhere, perhaps a lot. Overused photos can quickly become cliche and again, detract from your message because your audience will be distracted rather than engaged. It can be tempting to choose the first nice photo you see, especially if you’ve been sifting through options for a while, but keep the search going! For example, when searching for “business” photos, smiling people shaking hands is not your only option – be creative. Consider searching terms such as “meeting”, “brainstorm” or “entrepreneur”. You may be surprised by the alternatives you’re served up.

3. Know your audience
While this point sits at number three, it’s of vital importance. Know who you’re talking to and what they want from you. Is your audience highly professional or a bit more creative? Do they want to have a little fun or is the seriousness of the message paramount? Would they respond well to illustrations or is photography more suitable? Simple questions such as these will help you focus your content and address your audience’s needs. Try to use a photo only once, assuming that your audience is a loyal one and wouldn’t appreciate a lazy approach to imagery use. Also ask yourself if your pic choice is clickable, engaging and relevant to your message – if you answer yes to all of these, you’re onto a winner.


So, where do I find these images?
Before searching sites that require payment to download their imagery, it’s a good idea to check out some sites that let you use their pics for free. Some of the best ones that contentgroup’s graphic designer especially likes are Pexels, Everypixel (ensure “only free images” is checked), Visual Hunt, LibreStock and Stock Up.

Make sure you also subscribe to Death to Stock or Little Visuals. These sites deliver monthly newsletters that include free, creative, high-quality stock photos directly to your inbox. This is an excellent and efficient way to grow your own image library and have a handy resource on hand in a pinch.

Pros of using free image libraries:

  • Unique, gorgeous photos
  • Free in all sizes
  • Similar lighting and moods (great for creating themes)
  • Contributors from all over the world

Cons of free image libraries:

  • Limited search choices (keep searches as simple and broad as possible)
  • No advanced filters to help you search


Then we come to paid websites. A few of the best ones include Shutterstock, Adobe Stock and iStock. These sites offer large libraries, quick load times, easy-to-use interfaces, the best matching searches and your choice of illustrations, photos, movies and even audio. The cost of these sites can add up depending on how you use the assets and you will usually have to wade through a lot of cliché images to find what you’re after, but you’ll usually get there in the end.

There is no limit to the amount of creativity you can inject into your work with the right imagery, and you certainly don’t need a professional photographer to help you do it every time. As the saying goes, every picture tells a story – what’s yours?

Leave us your tips and tricks for image sourcing in the comments section below.

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