Creating a strong visual brand: Working with stock photography

There is no denying the importance of your visual brand. The images and photography you use, in your marketing material and online, say as much about you as any words you employ.

We’re exploring a number of aspects of visual branding as we count down to our next course on ‘Photo and video for the web’ course. This post offers guidance on getting the most out of stock photography.

At a base level, using stock photography (from free or paid sources such as Pixabay, Shutterstock or Getty Images) is undoubtedly a quick way to bring your content to life. But it is also risky as images are likely to have been used elsewhere – and how and where they were used may impact negatively on your brand. This can be especially damaging if you are claiming to be creative or innovative.

If you do have to rely on stock images because of budget, time or resource, then consider these tricks to help you at least do something more interesting with them.

Tip: PC and Mac computers come out of the box with photo editing software (whether it’s Photo Editor or Preview) that enables most of these to be done quickly and easily.

1. Shot selection

Decide on a theme or type of image that best presents your brand. Do try and stay away from faux high-fiving staged ‘business professionals’ or those faceless animated characters. Use uniformly so a consistency is built over time that becomes part of your brand.

2. Zoom in or go abstract

A quick example of tailoring a stock image is to crop a it in a way to make it a little bit more unique or interesting to you, by focusing in a particular element turning it landscape if it was originally portrait or cutting a bit straight out and zooming into it.

3. Apply a colour filter

Manipulating the colour settings may help create a unique look for you. Often you can play with brightness, saturation, warmth and more to change the composition of an image.

4. Apply a transparency filter

This technique impacts how clear the image is, especially if you are adding a colour overlay or adding text (see below). This is an approach that is used often and means the image is used more to provide background context rather than standing proud in its own right. Again, a clever way to introduce an image without it taking up too much prominence.

5. Drop copy or a quote over your image

This is one of the main reasons for adopting techniques 3 and 4 above and starts to really use the image in a more creative way. There are numerous ways to create your own image and copy hybrids from simple meme generators, through to Canva and then professional suites like Abode Creative Cloud. You’ll see lots of this on sites like Linkedin and Instagram where celebrities and business people post ‘motivational’ images.

6. Add your logo

This is true personalisation and gives you the best visual branding you can achieve, whilst also building an association with a particular image or concept. Do consider that you are linking with the right type of image and one that best represents you or the positioning you are taking.


Our advice is always to look at creating your own or indeed briefing a professional, because these images could be used on your brochures, website, email, social media, exhibition stands, packaging and in accompanying press material.

But with these six ways to make a stock shot less of a stock shot, you’re on the right path to achieving ‘brand stand out’.

In upcoming posts, we’ll review creating your own images with available technology and using professionals.

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