As a graphic designer, images are a huge part of my life. If I’m not searching for them to use in different materials, I’m thinking about them, being asked questions about them or editing them. There’s a reason designers become almost obsessive about pictures – the right one is so effective. It can be used to evoke a certain feeling, transport the viewer or explain something very quickly.
For a long time, microstock photography sites, like iStockphoto, Shutterstock and Fotolia, have been the best option for anyone needing good quality, high-resolution, royalty-free images that didn’t eat up your budget. Unfortunately, these photos can often feel fake and unrealistic, so much so that they’ve become a bit of a joke and have even been mocked by movies. Thankfully not all pictures on these sites resemble the cheesy stock images we’re all used to seeing, but more often than not I find myself veering away from them in search of something that feels more natural and less obvious.
Earlier in my career there weren’t many places I could go to find the types of images I wanted. However, in recent years, there has been in a shift in the types of pictures available. People are demanding that everything in their lives – food, cleaning products and even politicians – be more truthful and real. In turn this has extended to the images consumers respond to, and therefore what companies and designers want to use. Out of this need came many “non-stock” stockphoto sites where photographers post amazing images completely free for anyone to download and protected under the Creative Commons license.
These websites have opened up a whole new world of options for anyone needing great images but lacking the ability, time or money to take them or have someone else take them. The microstock sites that I used early in my career had to jump on board too, and they now offer a larger library of realistic pictures. But don’t worry – the cheesy ones are still there for your enjoyment!
With all of these resources available, choosing the right image can be difficult. I am often asked how I find powerful, meaningful photos. While some things are hard to teach, these three tips should help anyone pick better images:
- Find and use high-res. If you take away only one thing from this post, it should be that high-resolution is a necessity, not an option. Any pictures you use need to be considered high-resolution for the medium through which they’re being displayed or they’ll appear pixelated, fuzzy or blurry as opposed to crisp and clear. This issue is especially relevant as screen resolutions on computers and phones get better. No matter how great the content of your image is, it does nothing to help you if it looks terrible.
- Think about your client / project / target audience. This may seem like common sense, but it’s easier than you’d think to get swept up by the style or beauty of an image without fully considering its content. Is my favorite picture of a French bulldog riding a skateboard appropriate for every client? Sadly, no, even though I wish it was!
- Think metaphorically. When searching for a photo I start by considering what I’m trying to convey to the audience or how I want them to feel when looking at the image. An image should say something to the viewer that your words alone cannot. Word association is a great tool that helps me identify smart content as opposed to obvious content. I could limit myself to only use the skateboarding French bulldog for a project that involves pets or animals. However, this picture could denote a lot of other things, like learning, accomplishing a difficult task or moving forward, and can therefore be used for projects with other subject matters.
Having more photo sites available that offer both great content and great quality at little to no cost was needed. I personally couldn’t be happier that these sites exist, but knowing where (and how) to find the right picture continues to be a huge challenge. These three tips should help you wade through the seemingly endless options to find the perfect image for your next project!
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