How to Work with Stock Imagery in Graphic Design

How to Work with Stock Imagery in Graphic Design

Stock images should be viewed as an absolute lifeline for graphic designers. And they should never be dismissed as an easy way out. You see, not everyone can be an absolute master with the camera and there’s few people who can find a crowd of 500 people at short notice to photograph.

But what exactly is stock imagery and how should you work with it?

The Lowdown on Stock Images

A photographer (or designer) creates generic images which can be related to specific themes e.g. a shot of a crowded theatre would be linked to a keyword of ‘audience’.

The artist then sells these images (or sets up a royalties package) to distribution companies such as Shutterstock, Bigstockphoto and Gettyimages.

These distribution companies then offer these photos to all and sundry for a small price. There’s no limit to the amount of times they can be sold and there are usually no copyright issues, but please make sure you always check the small print before using them!

When Should You Use Stock Images?

As I touched upon earlier, stock images make for a highly advantageous option when time’s working against you. And, of course, everyone’s going to be limited by their environment e.g. a designer based in Kenya is going to be hard pressed to find a polar bear to snap!

You also need to take into account the client’s budget when deciding on image options. If they’re a huge, multi global organisation then it’s more than likely that they’re willing to pay for a professional photographer to get involved.

If, however, it’s a local kebab shop just wanting some work done on their shop hoardings and menus, then stock images offer a fantastic money saving option. Stock images are never going to break the bank and range from free (my particular favourites) up to around £10.00.

How to Use Stock Images Effectively

First and foremost, you should always make sure that the stock image satisfies your client’s needs. It’s no good going for the old “Well, a picture of two men in an office kinda conveys the essence of customer service” because, it doesn’t. It’s just two men in an office, not a distillation of going the extra mile for a customer!

You also need to understand your client’s profile in order to promote the right image for them. Say, for example, it’s a holiday company which specialises in holidays for the over 60s, you wouldn’t, in a million years, pepper your designs full of clubbing 20-somethings – believe me, I’ve seen this done. Instead, keep things relatable for the client’s audience, e.g. a relaxing boat ride.

If you’re working on large designs such as the background for a website then you’re in luck as stock images can easily help weave an interesting background. However, as with all large imagery you’re going to want to get as high a quality as possible. Luckily, most stock photo distributors sell their images in a variety of sizes, so it’s unlikely you’ll miss out on that perfect image.

The perfect image, though, can often fall down at the final hurdle due to size or colour issues. Now, this doesn’t have to be an issue assuming the copyright for the image allows you to manipulate the image for your needs.

The most obvious quick fix for size issues is resizing and cropping as long as the proportions aren’t stretched out of recognition. And most colour issues such as shading, tones, contrast etc. can be sorted in Photoshop.

What Are the Drawbacks to Stock Images?

Although each and every stock image is a unique design, they’re available to every man and his dog to purchase and use.

As a result you’ll find that you run the risk of quite innocently designing something that’s been seen before. This could be embarrassing for your client, so I’d always suggest at least checking their main competitors to avoid this calamitous possibility.

Stock images also have a generic feel rather than that specific message you’re looking to deliver. Frustratingly, I’ve spent far too many hours endlessly searching through stock images to find images which suit a client’s needs.

Take the ‘audience’ example from earlier; did you know just how many different types of audience you can have?! There are hundreds and this makes for a painstaking search!

And then you have to find one with the right dimensions to fit your needs, so you may have to start searching for that needle in a haystack all over again.

Stock imagery is, in my opinion, a veritable booty of opportunity for graphic designers, but it has to be handled correctly to give professional results. Let me know about your experiences with stock images in the comments below!



Leave a Reply


e-Mail * (will not be published)