6 hints for choosing vibrant stock photos

It's a natural human reaction in our content-packed world to recoil at the sight of a giant block of text. Great visuals help catch and guide the eye, breaking up streams of words whether it's a recreational read or your marketing pitch to customers.

But while the value of good images may be obvious, the process of finding them isn't always as clear. Sure, if your business is flush with cash you can hire a photographer you trust to do the job for you, but that isn't an option for everyone. Employees can whip out their phones and start snapping pictures themselves, but that won't always have the level of quality you need. That leads many companies to sift through stock photos, which seems simple in itself at first glance. Noelle Federico, CFO of Dreamstime, said there are a few things to look out for even when using a free stock photo site.

"Look for a stock photography site that gives slick and fast access, a flexible scheme of image ownership and usage rights, options of images on demand and mandatory release clauses from models," she suggested. "If you follow this route, the chances are you easily find high quality images that will correctly reflect your business in a professional manner."

Before you dive in, Federico shared six quick tips to knowing the best images for your business when you see them.

1) Know who's looking at them. As always, good marketing decisions begin with insight into your audience. The goal is to grab their attention and then draw them into some kind of action, so be sure you've gone over your demographic data to confirm the photo's you're considering work for the age and income range of your audience.

2) Know what's relevant. No one knows your brand better than you do, so trust your own gauge of what works and what doesn't. Yes, the photographers are the pros, but they're taking pictures to fit certain templates so not everything will work for the tone or image you want to project. "The photos you use on your site, and indeed in your collateral, must relate to your product or service offerings," Federico warned. "An image you have found and like because it is funny or colorful is not a good enough reason to use it."

3) Mix it up. It's important to find balanced images that are lively and attractive, as well as match your branding. Viewers will be drawn to visuals with action and excitement, and "subconsciously, by choosing the right mix of photos, you are telling the viewer that you care about your brand, a feeling that can promote positive views of your product and services," Federico explained.

4) Kick the clichés. Don't take the easy road when it comes to choosing images. While the immediate impact may not be obvious, using obvious or hackneyed visuals can suggest laziness to your customers, so put some real thought in and choose directions others might not think about. The same goes for low-quality photos—low-res photos can come across as unprofessional, so use high-quality, high-res images every time. No exceptions.

5) Know the law. If you're using images without the proper rights, chances are you'll get caught eventually, so stick to legally downloaded fare. You don't want to run the risk of a costly lawsuit. And just because you're using stock imagery doesn't mean you can't work out an exclusivity deal. "If you have the perfect image that you don't want the competition to get its hands on, some sites have flexible purchase schemes whereby you can either buy the rights over the image for a specific period of time or for life," Federico advised.

6) Be patient. Make sure you leave yourself time for the process, because there are a lot of options out there and you want to make sure you aren't settling. Take it slow and be deliberate; it will be worth it in the end. 

For more:
4 times your customer needs to hear your voice
6 ways to get your email noticed during the holidays
3 secret weapons for selecting your visual content
Google study asks what makes an ad viewable, reveals 5 viewability findings
Tumblr partners with Ditto Labs to provide advertisers with more photo analytics