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Every Picture Tells A Story: Using Stock Photography To Enhance Design

Creative Market March 31, 2021 · 3 min read

Just like words and music come to life through instrumentation, graphic design can be dramatically enhanced and embellished through the use of great photography.  By incorporating the photographic image into your work, you can add a whole new dimension to the visual “storytelling” you do for your clients.
This is not a new dictum, for photography has been a vital part of graphic and advertising design for decades.  And now it is an integral element in web design and content marketing as well.
But as a working designer today, you have something that your creative forebearers did not.  And that is immediate access to reams of stock photography!  Online.  At your fingertips.  With a simple click.  Stock photos are more accessible than ever before.  With the creative advantages they offer, along with being deadline-friendly, what’s not to like!
The challenge, of course, is that stock photos are pre-existing images, not photographs created by you and a cameraman in a studio for hours to get “the perfect shot.”  However, with a little ingenuity, a keen eye, and a margin for adaptability, you can find the “right” shot for almost any project.
Here are some tips on the selection and use of stock photography in your design work:
Choose Pictures that Have an Affinity with Your Content
Just as the design and copy need to have a connection with the content (aka your client’s product or service), the photography you choose should have the same connection.  With a little luck, you might find the perfect photo on first glance at a photo bank.  By the same token, you might need to do a little detective work to uncover the right image.  Here’s where a little wiggle room comes in handy, providing you remain true to the essence of your client’s message.
Avoid Photographs that Are Overused or Cliché
Don’t use the obvious, or generic, in selecting photo imagery for your layouts.  A handshake for “partnership,” or that same photo of that cute kitten you’ve seen a thousand times for “cat food,” should be the last thing on your mind.  Be creative.  Think “out of the box.”  Find unique subject matter to deliver the visual punch that a compelling photo provides.
Always Use In Style, State-of-the-Art Photographs
Anything that appears outdated in an advertisement or graphic design is sure to sabotage its effectiveness, unless you’re intentionally aiming at a retro look.  Likewise, any image of low-quality is a fast ticket to commercial suicide.  So, when selecting stock photographs always keep an eye out for fashions, hairstyles, and cars, et al, that would indicate the photo was taken decades ago.
Also, always be diligent in using photos that look to have been taken by a skilled professional with a state-of-the-art, high resolution camera.  High-quality, persuasive imagery is usually not taken by a weekend photo buff with a cell phone.
Be Creative in Placing Photos into Your Broader Design Tapestry
Use your imagination in designing your over-all canvas.  Do you use a photo as a full bleed and drop copy into it?  Or do you integrate graphics, copy, and photos in a visually dynamic way that fully utilizes the symmetry between positive and negative space?  Basic design questions, for sure.  But questions to ask yourself as you navigate the design highway.
Every picture tells a story, but how that story is told is also important in how it grabs, persuades, and sells your clients’ prospects and customers.

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Cover photo by Brent Galloway.

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3 Comments
  • "Avoid Photographs that Are Overused or Cliché" That's a really good one. There's some photographs (like the handshake you mentioned) that just signal bad stock photography. I also really like the advice to be creative in how you place photos. Cropping, combining and otherwise making images your own is a great way to create unique compositions. 8 years ago
  • I'm stoked to see one of my photos put to use – especially on such a great post! I agree that photography plays a huge role in design and content marketing these days. It can definitely make or break your work. I know since I launched my new blog I put a lot more focus on each post's feature image, and how I reuse it (crop and drop copy onto) for sharing on social media sites. 8 years ago
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