17 Aug The When and How of Using Stock Photos in Social and Blogs
In journalism school, we were trained to think about pictures and graphics to go with every article. Working on the college newspaper, we were fortunate the photographer from the public relations department would share photos with us for the front page. For other stories, we had a few staff photographers. And then we encountered the story with no professional and no amateur photographer around, and we just had to shoot a few pictures ourselves. (These were the days before phone cameras, so we had to have a tensy bit of knowledge of photography.) However the situation played out, when we assigned articles every week we always asked “what artwork will go with this?”.
As we write blogs for ourselves and our clients, we’re constantly thinking about the right artwork. Sometimes a stock photo will do, but more often than not, the best photo is one you take yourself. Even if you aren’t a professional photographer, you can find a few resources and learn a few tricks to help you have your own “stock” of photos to use.
Make it original.
Last year a client asked about sending out a direct mail piece. We created the mailer and sent it for approval. His immediate response was “can we use our own patients?”. We worked out the HIPPA compliance issues and he took the pictures. The mailer caused many more people to talk about it than a stock photo would, and we were able to use those same photos for social media, blog posts and newspaper ads. (Please excuse the pixelation of the photos. We’re protecting our client’s clients.)
Do you have clients using your products you can use to illustrate your articles? Don’t want anyone to know your list of clients? Work on framing the photo so it’s obvious it’s a real photo, but not really obvious who is in the photo.
Professional vs iPhone
Nothing beats a professional photo. However, holding a photoshoot for every blog post or every social media update is really a bit much. Consider a combination of professional photographs mixed with photos from your own high-quality camera. For social media posts, iPhone photos can be used artfully. Talk to a local photographer who specializes in business photographs. Talk about how you want to use the photos and the goals of your blog. A couple of photo shoots every year could very well yield you a stock of high-quality photos you can use cropped and framed in multiple ways with multiple articles. The investment will draw particular attention to your articles and set you apart as a true professional.
For printed pieces, like company brochures, direct mail, magazine ads or even for standard use on your website, we highly recommend using a professional photographer who specializes in business photography. While your blog and social media photos can survive being slightly lower quality because of the quantity you use, these other applications will not be changed quickly and will often be viewed by more people than a single blog article. (As evidenced by the two pictures of me, the right lighting and a pro behind the camera makes a world of difference.)
Make it interesting.
Whether you take a picture of your hands typing on your keyboard or a professional does it or you use a stock photo in the end it’s still your hands typing on a keyboard. Chances are your clients see that all day long. Don’t take the lazy way out. Think about another angle for your article. If you’re talking about a technical service or product, you’re going to have to think differently to grab a reader’s attention. How can you pull in an animal, a child, a funny outdoor scene or a group of people into the illustration? Think about the Etrade baby or the Geiko camel. If you can draw a line from your picture to your article, theme or idea, that’s all you need.
Take photos everywhere.
A few weeks ago my family took a Spring break trip to the zoo. I took several photos while we were there both of my children with animals in the background and of the animals by themselves. As I snapped those photos, I thought about how I could frame them to use as the background for quotes on social media or as illustrations for online articles. I’m constantly thinking about how I could use beautiful, unique, or interesting scenes from my daily life as illustrations for my work or my clients’ work. Train yourself to look through a different lense. With cameras on your smartphone, it’s easy to take high quality photos for online use and set them back for another day.
Use Stock Photos
Sometimes you just have to use a stock photo. Top magazines do it as do top blogs and many corporate social media sites. A well-taken, creative stock photo or illustration can often represent your brand even better than all those iPhone photos you’ve taken. So when you just don’t have what you want in your folder, keep on hand a list of sites where you can find free, cheap, or top quality stock photos. Different projects call for different types of photos, be prepared with the resources you need. For departments who use multiple images every month, consider a monthly subscription with a paid service for the best price on photos.
If you are using stock photos in runs of over 500,000, for use in a television commercial or online video or in merchandise for sale, you will need a separate license. Please make sure to read the fine print from each of these sites to know whether or not your use is covered by the license you purchase.
Stock Photos Sites
123RF.com The site offers some free and some paid photos. Most of the free photos are low-res which means they work well for blogs and social media but not so well for print projects. The paid photos are low-cost ($6-10 for high resolution) compared to some other sites.
Freeimages.com We’ve used this site for many years. Again, the site offers both free and paid images. The paid images are supplied by iStock by Getty Images. Some of the photos are what you would expect from a free site–a little cheesy and amateurish. A little filtering, however, allows you to find some hidden gems.
Pixabay.com This year we discoverd Pixabay. It seems to offer a slightly different selection of images and many are good quality. All the photos are listed as public domain with no attribution needed.
Low-Cost Subscription Services
Photodune.net A graphic designer friend alerted us to PhotoDune and it’s been a go-to site for us for years. Most photos are just $5 for a high resolution image and the quality will rival the high-priced stock photo sites. You’ll pay for “credits” to use as needed. They do not have a subscription service, but your credits are good for 12 months.
Stock.adobe.com For a subscription service, Adobe offers high quality pictures (and videos) for less than $3 per image. If you expect to use 10 or more stock images a month, it’s a great option. Because it’s Adobe, you can use it seamlessly with your Creative Cloud subscription as well.
The Big Guys
iStockPhotos.com Created by Getty Images, the top name in stock photos, iStock offers a wider selection of photos and videos with more abilty to sort through to find exactly the look you’re after. We suggest this site as option when you can’t find what you need elsewhere or when you are looking for super high-quality for a print or long running campaign. Pricing varies depending on your subscription and whether you want their “essentials” collection or all the available photos.
Shutterstock.com We’ve used Shutterstock especially for really specific images we’re having trouble finding else where. Pricing runs from $29 for just two images, to less than a dollar an image for yearly subscriptions of 350 or more images. This site also offers an enhanced license for larger projects.
ThinkStock.com Find the images you need with a reasonable subscription service starting at $49 for five images a month. That’s a little higher than Adobe but not as high as some of the other guys. We’ve use their service through a client and have been impressed with the quality of video and ability to filter to find exactly what we want.
Gettyimages.com The leader of them all, Getty Image, must be mentioned. Their iStockPhotos site offers a slightly watered down version of their work. When you need a custom solution, trending editorial photos, unique stock options and a little more legal coverage, it’s time to consider Getty Images.
Whether you use photos you’ve taken yourself, the services of a local professional photographer or a stock image, ask yourself what the image brings to your article, your social media or your ad. If it doesn’t add some value, dig a little deeper. You know what they say about a picture.