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Choosing the Right Stock Photos for Your Project

Written By Amber Breeden

April 5, 2023

The key to effective marketing is relevance. You want your prospects to recognize themselves, their needs, and their pain points in your marketing, and you can use data, copy, and images to accomplish this. In this blog post, we’ll focus on the latter and explore how to choose the right stock photos for your marketing. 

Finding the right stock images can make a huge difference in the success of your direct mail campaigns. The images you select can grab the attention of potential customers, help communicate your brand message, and ultimately drive conversions. The abundance of stock image options can be overwhelming, so keep the following things in mind during your search to find the right images for your project.

Don’t all colleagues perform basket tosses in full suits as part of their team-building experience?

Things to Consider

Authenticity
There’s a reason #badstockphotos exists. Not all images are created equal—and some are really, truly, astonishingly bad. Avoid cringe-worthy stock images by choosing ones that feel real and genuine—nothing too staged or overly edited. Look for images with natural lighting and realistic poses, expressions, and settings. Authentic images are more relatable and can help build trust and credibility for your brand. 

Diversity
It’s important to select images that represent a range of cultures, races, ages, and abilities. This not only ensures that your brand is inclusive and welcoming, but it also helps your audience relate to your message on a more personal level. When selecting images, look for models of different ages, ethnicities, and body types. If you’re portraying families, consider that there are all different types of families, from multigenerational households and same-sex parents to blended families and large age gaps. Don’t worry about checking every box every time, but instead strive for genuine representation.

Relevance
The images you choose should be relevant to your brand and marketing goals, as well as the surrounding content. Consider the message you want to convey and choose images that support that message. For example, if you’re promoting a fitness brand, choose images of people exercising or being active. If you’re selling a product or service targeting retirees, avoid images of college students on campus.

Two self-mailers, one with a relevant image of an older couple and one with an irrelevant image of a young girl.

Quality
Low-quality images can make your marketing look unprofessional and may even deter potential customers. Look for images with high resolution and good composition. For printing, you ideally want your images to be at least 300dpi. Be wary of sourcing photos from Google Images. Not only is it not a legitimate source for downloading licensed images, but the images are usually small and low resolution. 

Image Rights
Image rights are a critical factor to consider when choosing stock photos. Ensure that the photo you select is licensed for commercial use and does not infringe on any copyright or trademark laws. It’s also important to note that some stock photos may require attribution, meaning you must give credit to the photographer or source in your content.

Where to Look

Stock photos can be expensive, but there are ways to save money without sacrificing quality. Most paid sites offer both monthly subscriptions and one-off image credit packs. Paying annually rather than month-to-month is a good way to save on a subscription. In addition, there are several options for downloading free stock photos. Here are some of our go-to sites for choosing the right stock photos for every budget.

Expensive

Getty Images
Gettyimages.com
Cost: $150 – $500 per image, depending on pricing plan
The largest selection of high-quality images for both editorial and commercial use.

Moderate

Adobe Stock
Adobestock.com
Cost: $30 – $250 per month, depending on pricing plan
Fresh, authentic images; highest quality in the moderate category.

iStock
iStock.com
Cost: $29 – $400 per month, depending on pricing plan
Middle-of-the-road option in the moderate category; better quality than Shutterstock but not quite to the level of Adobe Stock.

Shutterstock
Shutterstock.com
Cost: $29 – $249 per month, depending on pricing plan
The largest image library in its category, but a bit lower quality than the other two.

Free

Pixabay
Pixabay.com
Cost: Free
Offers images, vector graphics, and illustrations that can be used commercially free of charge. Selection is more limited than a paid site.

Pexels
Pexels.com
Cost: Free
Images are similar in quality and selection to Pixabay; both sites offer a different selection to what you’ll find on a traditional stock site.

Unsplash
Unsplash.com
Cost: Free
Creator-led image selection; fewer options if you’re looking for something specific but still a good option for free photos.

Wikimedia Commons
Commons.wikimedia.org
Cost: Free
Great option if you’re looking for historical imagery. Just pay attention to the licensing section on each image page because usage rights and attribution vary.

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