All the components of great design mean diddly-squat when you’re working with poor photography. Imagery is essential to a strong brand, and—as residents of human earth—we’re bombarded with that imagery every day.

Ideally every client would have custom photography tailored to their brand, but with tight deadlines and even tighter budgets, stock imagery is often the best option. Here we’ve gathered some tips on how to choose, use, and purchase stock photography for your company.

Do use images that fit within your brand’s visual style.
If your color palette is warm, look for photos shot in warm light, with corresponding colors.

Do consider composition and resolution.
If you’re looking for a website hero image, you’ll probably want to narrow your search by horizontal layout. Similarly, a search for a brochure cover image might warrant a filter for vertical layouts. Keep in mind, stock images meant for screens don’t need to be higher than 72 dpi, whereas images intended for print (or both print and digital) should be purchased at 300 dpi.

Do look for images that are cohesive with your company’s culture and mission.
If your employees love being outdoors and your company’s mission is environmental conservation, consider a landscape capture or a wildlife closeup!

Do represent your target market.
This seems pretty obvious, but make sure your stock imagery reflects the demographic you’re trying to reach.

Do consider using one photographer.
Another way to filter your stock image search is by the photographer. When images come from the same person (and have been retouched by the same hand), there’s a better chance of them complimenting one other and working together as a whole.

Do visualize details.
Think macro and micro. A company might want an aerial shot of their factory, but a high-res image of materials would be fitting, too.

Do prioritize white space.
If you plan on using an image beneath text (often seen in ads and web banners) choose a photo with ample white space. Or one with a simple background. The simpler the background, the easier for the designer to manipulate or extend!

Do follow the law.
Never use an image without permission. Some sites offer free downloads (Unsplash is a great source), but most require payment. Even if you have a high-res comp to work with in the editing process, make sure you purchase your photos before going to print or making your site live!

Do shop around.
If you plan on spending a lot of money on stock images, shop around for the best deal. Some sites offer monthly or yearly subscriptions, allowing you to download over twenty stock images a day.


Now for our don’ts.

Don’t use an image if it makes you uncomfortable.
It will probably make your clients uncomfortable, too.

Don’t use an image if the model looks uncomfortable.
These photos usually seem forced or unnatural. It’s inexplicable how popular this particular pose is in stock imagery—like women can only read laying upside down or something.

Don’t use an image of people standing in formation.
People are people, not geese.

Don’t use an image of people jumping in unison, high-fiving, or giving thumbs up.

Don’t use an image of people in a field or a meadow doing anything other than harvesting crops. Meadow shots are an entire genre of stock photography. Our search for “laptop” and “field” returned 841 results on Getty Images.

Don’t use an image that looks dated.
Clothing trends, vehicle models, and technology are all subtle hints that clients pick up on. The wrong image might suggest you’re out of touch with today’s market.

Stock images are generic by nature, so the challenge is telling your story through careful curation. Choose your stock images intentionally, pairing them with strong design and well-strategized content, and your brand will go far!