This post is part of the Branded Blogging Series, which features tips on how to learn from the successes of some of the most innovative and successful brand blogs.
If you’re a blogger — especially one who’s working within the confines of a tight budget, and still has to turn around great content quickly — you know that finding the perfect images for a post can be a challenge.
When you’re in that position, you just don’t have the budget or lead time to hire a professional photographer, so you turn to stock photos. While that might not be the ideal solution, you can make it work by following a few basic guidelines.
Here are our best practices for rocking beautiful stock photos on your blog.
Give Credit Where Credit Is Due
If you’re blogging, you should already know that you can’t just pull a Google image and plop it into your post.
Before you use an image, make sure you understand the licensing agreement and attribute accordingly.
Here at The Content Strategist, we’re fans of Creative Commons licenses, a set of easy-to-understand licenses that come in six forms.
Creative Commons licenses easily detail if any limitations — some are for editorial use only, or cannot be manipulated, for example. You can search Creative Commons images across a variety of sites by using Creative Commons Search.
If you’re using other sites to find stock photos, photos are generally royalty-free, and each will specify how you’re allowed to use them, so read the fine print. And always give credit where it’s due.
Don’t Use Cliché Photos
How many times have you seen the handshake, the shot featuring a bunch of young executives in suits in a huddle, a closeup of hands holding a globe, the perfectly multicultural business meeting?
If you can help it, refrain from subjecting your readers to these stock photo cliches on your blog. “The fact that it is stock photography, it can often come across as contrived or staged,” says Jessica Carlson, social media manager at Phoenix-based ad agency Off Madison Ave. “And not to mention the fact that a variety of companies and users (and maybe even your competitors) could be utilizing the exact same photo elsewhere.”
In other words, think about how images can set your blog apart, instead of making it look like everyone else’s.
Scroll through Search Results
Often a stock image website will show you the most popular images first, says Raj Ramdya, director of software solution provider ROI Software Solutions.
So, don’t stop on the first page of search results when looking for a stock photo. Do a little digging. “Ideally, you’ll want to find an image that isn’t used by a lot of people,” Ramdya says.
Change It Up
“In general when using stock photography, you should try to use it in a way that helps to make it your own,” suggests Stephanie Stafford, creative director of Off Madison Ave. “Cropping it, making it black and white, a filter — anything of that sort will at least help, so that it isn’t the same one that everyone else is using.”
If you plan to alter an image, though, make sure the owner allows alterations through his or her license.
Watch Out for Photos That Disconnect From the Content
Is your photo helping you tell your story? If it doesn’t seem like it belongs or adds value in some way, it’s probably not the best choice.
You want your readers to stay engaged. Causing them to scratch their heads and wonder what your image has to do with your topic may lose them.
Think Beyond the Headshot
Stock photo sites are notorious for turning up pages and pages of the same model in slightly different poses. Portraits and staged scenarios, however, ooze with cheesiness.
As an alternative, your post may be better served by incorporating a chart, graph, or illustration. Think about scouring for images from sources beyond stock sites when possible.
If you’re interviewing an expert, for example, you could ask him or her to share a photo, for instance. But try to discourage cheesy headshot photos — ask for photos of your interviewee in natural settings, such as at his or her desk.
Consider Your Brand’s Image
Think about the buzzwords that surround your brand. Is it hip and modern, professional and academic? Once you consider the overall corporate culture, you should include photos that will resonate accordingly.
“For example, if your brand wants to be positioned as irreverent, using stock imagery with avant-garde subjects, unique angles or vintage filters could help you convey that,” says Carlson.
Stock photos can be a time saver and enhance your work, or they could detract from the message you want to get across. In other words, a picture is worth 1,000 words, so watch what you’re saying when you use stock photos for your blog.