The fact is, we humans are primed for compelling visual stimulation from the get go – so much so there’s a whole subset of scientists that study infant psychology and attention based on where they’re looking when. For website designers, using stock photography sites can be a cost-effective and creative way to engage users via this innate bias for visual stimulation. But there are many pitfalls to using stock photography, too. Here’s how you can use stock photography to its fullest potential.
DON’T get stuck with cliché or generic imagery. The purpose of using stock photography is to pique a user’s interest long enough so that they’ll navigate deeper into the site and engage more directly with the brand. Using cliché imagery, like business people shaking hands, a call center girl smiling into the camera, women laughing while eating salad, and so forth, will just make a site look lazy, sanitized or boring – certainly not any better than its competitors. Here’s a rule of thumb: if you’ve seen a photo or something like it on a million sites, keep on browsing.
DO know your target audience. Users are less likely to engage when they don’t see themselves or someone they care about reflected on the site. Appeal to your users directly by choosing models that reflect their demographic (though be subtle about it, avoiding those “one of every ethnicity” photos). Better yet, get a good understanding of the audience’s psychology. What do they like? What do they consume? What do they need and want? Let this knowledge guide you towards photos that evoke an immediate emotional response while communicating a strong message about what a company can do to fill a hole.
DON’T take the first interesting image you see. Most stock photos sort searched photos by popularity. While that interesting photo you’ve found on the first page may not be a cliché yet, it’s fast on its way there. Browse to the bottom of the page or to the next one to find something more unique.
DO understand the ways in which the visual elements of a site can engage a user. Your goal is not to overstuff a site with imagery in every conceivable slot. Choose wisely, and don’t just stick with images. Stock footage, for instance, will instantly draw a user’s eye with a giant play button, and they’ll be far more likely to click on it than on a photo, and is a great way to encourage curiosity.
DON’T use staged photos. If it looks like a photo shoot, users will be thinking about how inauthentic the photo feels, not about the strong message a site is trying to convey. Cheesy photos remind a visitor that they’re on a site that’s gunning for a transaction, rather than in a place where they’re understood.
DO experiment with what the medium can do. Get creative by experimenting with different angles, photoshopping an image into different scenes, playing with focus, zoom, filters and sizing. Don’t feel like you have to stay pure to what the image has given you, or even to stick with human subjects. Objects and abstract photos can be just as if not more compelling, close in form to art that can communicate a universal message in a single glance.
Just make sure any abstractions you choose connect on some level to what you’re trying to do.
DON’T lose the thread. Visitors will be scratching their heads if they’ve searched for a car website and found one…that features a Barbie on the front page. The mission here is to express a site’s central message, voice, or tone; don’t lose that as you play.
With a little thought, stock photography is a much more cost-effective way to create visually strong websites than going directly to the professionals. Use it as a base for creativity and inspiration.