A how-to series on picking the perfect photos and illustrations for your documents and slide decks
Each of us has had to create digital documents for work or personal use. And even if you’re not a graphic designer, you should still add visual flair to reports typed in Word or PowerPoint decks. One way to brighten up an otherwise nap-inducing quarterly presentation or status report is to add stock photos or illustrations. But, there’s a right way and a wrong way to go about this. With so many choices, how do you choose excellent images that will work well together and enhance your creation? There are some great stock photos out there, but there are also lots of really, really bad ones. What makes for a great picture?
Fear not, friend. I’m here to help. As a professional graphic designer and semi-pro photographer, I want to give you some valuable tips that will help turn your documents and decks into works of art you can be proud of. In this series of articles, I’ll be sharing professional advice gathered from my three decades of image making.
First things first: Licensing
The first rule of stock photography is simply to use properly licensed images. If you have been finding and copying images on the web from a Google search, there’s a better way. (And one that will keep you out of trouble.) I’ll go into that in more detail later. But, let’s get right to the fun stuff.
The best rule for selecting great stock photography is: Keep it natural!
By “natural,” I’m referring to everything from lighting, to facial expressions, to scenery. Authentic, natural elements add an extra layer of credibility to your story and help deliver your message in a deeper, more meaningful way. Here are some examples.
LIGHTING. High-contrast, artificial light makes an image look fake. Bright flash photography gives a photo harsh shadows and hot highlights. It’s better to choose photos with soft, even light to give authenticity to the scene. Look for images lit with natural sunlight. Or for night images, make sure the indoor light is soft and warm.
EXPRESSIONS. Natural expressions also give a more authentic feel to a photo. Use candid images that are not posed or forced looking. Images that capture a natural reaction, a fleeting moment, or a genuine smile are much preferred to those with wide grins where the model is looking straight at the camera.
SCENERY. Choose photos taken in authentic settings. Some stock photos are clearly staged or taken in a photo studio. You might see just a plain white background and minimal props. Or it may look like a simulated office where the only items in the room are a desk and computer. Look for composition details that show some authentic depth. Backgrounds with a variety of colors and textures, furniture in a variety of shapes and sizes, or real tools of the trade — these extra details tie everything together nicely. A setting with some depth will also feel more natural than one with a flat background. Hallways, doors, windows, corners — all set the stage of a genuine, immersive environment.
REALITY. It’s tempting to use a surreal, digital composition or an image enhanced with Photoshop filters. But, that style is a bit outdated. Use images that show real scenarios captured in-camera. Delicious and hilarious as it may seem, a puppy-monkey-baby skydiving into a vat of flaming nachos is not as appealing as one that has captured an authentic life moment.
Those are some basics about choosing great visuals. But, let’s review some more details about Rule Number ONE. Licensing — in other words, using imagery obtained through proper means. The images in the samples above show a “watermark” — the brand of the stock site that sells them. It’s there to prevent unauthorized use. But, once you license an image, you will download the clean version where the watermark has been removed.
“Royalty-free” photography does not mean that it’s free to use. It is a licensing term that means you don’t have to pay multiple fees for each additional usage.
Please do not use an image that you do not have permission to use. Copying an image found through a Google search is dangerously simple — but not a very nice thing to do. Image makers should be credited and paid for their work just like any other pro. So, here’s how to get great, professional images that are also legal and safe.
First, use a site that’s made for people who need images. Three cost-saving solutions are: iStockPhoto, Shutterstock, and Stocksy. They license photos, illustrations, and even video clips. It’s simple. Just sign up for a free account on the site, purchase credits, browse the image library, and download your licensed pictures.
If you want to keep it even simpler, there are some free stock photo sites out there too. If your budget is tight (or non-existent), try Pexels, Unsplash, or Freepik. The variety is more limited on these sites. So, it may be harder to find the perfect image. But, you can’t beat the price!
In part two of this series, I’ll give you more tips on picking great photos: using a consistent theme, a modern style, and model diversity.
Do you have questions about stock images or design? Drop me a line for a free consultation. firstname.lastname@example.org