A well-placed photo captures all the attention of the audience in a single moment, typically more often than the text or typeface in your graphic design work. Many designers overlook how important high-quality photos are for crafting the perfect design.
If you’ve worked with stock photos long enough, they all begin to look the same, and you’ve probably seen them a hundred times before.
Designers must stay vigilant about the photos they select for their projects. If you underrate the value of a great photo, you’ll wind up with another stock photo that makes your finished design look just like every other graphic using the same photo.
Why Designers Need Great Photography in Graphic Design
No matter your design skills, photos are important to set the mood of your design work. A low-quality stock photo that’s been used 100 times before in the same niche isn’t going to help you capture the attention of your audience.
Remember to always mood check your design and see if it’s evoking the kind of response you expect your audience to have.
Guide to Picking the Best Photos for Graphic Design
Here are a few other tips for working with photography in graphic design.
1. Choose High-Quality Photography for Design
Your design is only as good as the elements within it. Picking the right photo for your design should be considered an art form in itself. A poor-quality stock photo can throw your entire design off from the very beginning.
To avoid this, you need to have one of two things:
- A professional photographer
- Access to a high-quality, versatile stock photo service (that’s updated frequently)
If you are working on a design and need a high-quality photo, you either have access to someone with photography skills or a site with stock photography.
Between the two, your best choice will always be to have your own photographer who can accurately capture exactly what you want. However, many startup studios and agencies simply don’t have access to a high-quality professional photographer for every project.
Client’s budgets permitting, you should try to get the best photos for the design that you can. In some cases, timeliness is also important. If you have budget and time constraints, designers should use online resources, but you won’t be able to pull down any photo from Google search due to copyright.
So where can you find great photos on the fly?
Enter stock photography. It’s inevitably where designers end up when working on a project for a client that doesn’t allow for original photography from a professional.
This is also one of the most nerve-racking steps of the design process for any designer. What if you pick the wrong photo and the client hates it?
Our designers give you some tips to find stock photos below.
2. Find Stock Photos That Don’t Look Like Stock Photos
While stock images can be a good resource for a design, it’s better to work with services that have thousands of photographers, updates daily, and lets you access all kinds of unique photos. Not all stock photography sites have high-quality photos from all over the world.
Many reuse photos from 10 years ago, which has allowed many stock photos and their infamous models to become too recognizable.
Understandably, some of the best stock photo services are expensive. In this case, you may want to try some of our suggestions below or look into working with a photographer. The truth is that it may be more affordable than you think.
Top Stock Photography Sites for Unique Photos
- Adobe Stock
- Getty Images
Several of these sites provide extremely high-quality images, either for free or a premium.
In addition, just do a quick search within your niche or design genre to see if the same stock photos have been used before. This is most important if you are using photos with people or popular travel locations as subjects. Your design will feel more authentic if it’s not recognizable as stock.
3. Alternatively, Use A Creative Marketing Agency
Depending on the niche of your products or services, you may have a hard time finding stock imagery that works well. In that instance, it may make more sense to hire a marketing agency to help you out.
While having your own photography on staff will be a costly addition, and outsourcing work to individuals may feel too risky, working with a trusted creative agency can be an excellent middle ground.
Not only will you receive high-quality photography work, but you’ll also get work that’s much closer to matching the service or product you/your client has.
4. Look for Relevant Imagery
Every designer’s process is different. Many head straight to Pinterest, Tumblr, Flickr, Instagram and other photo-based social sites to get inspiration for their designs.
However, many designers get caught in the trap of analyzing their own thoughts about the topic or project brief, leading them to pick images that don’t provide great visual communication of the emotion or response you want your audience to have.
Here are a few considerations when picking out the right imagery for your design piece:
- The audience’s response: What emotions and feelings do you want to evoke with your piece?
- The client’s response (if working on a freelance brand design project or advertising project): What is the client asking for and why.
This is why it’s so important to have a meeting with the designer and client present. The designer can ask questions to understand the tone and limits of the piece. While many clients will say, “We trust your creative judgment,” designers must dig deeper with the right questions.
Here are some questions to ask the client if you’re in this situation:
- What’s the inspiration behind this project?
- Who is your target audience? What age group do they fall under? What lifestyles do they lead?
- What kinds of brands do their audiences like and follow on social media?
- Who are your top competitors?
- What designs do you like within this niche? What designs don’t you like within this niche?
- What are some must-have elements in your design?
- Where will this design be used?
While some of these questions can be put forth by the account manager if you’re working within a team or agency, you may want to interface with clients yourself. That way, you get the best idea of what you’re working on and how the photos should complete this picture for the client while also staying relevant to the audience and niche.
5. Pick Versatile Photos for Editing and Design Elements
Most designs need the right subject matter first, but what about composition, color balance, white space and copy space for text? The best subject may be in a photo that doesn’t have the right dimensions or quality for an easy fit in your design.
This is when you’ll likely have to make edits to ensure that the photo matches what will work for the design.
In some cases, you also have to consider a photo may be used over and over again if part of a larger marketing campaign. That’s why photos must be versatile when working on designs for specific campaigns, especially if there are multiple sizes for different advertisement mediums. Some photos need to work for print rather than web design as well.
Designers can quickly find versatile photos using these tricks:
- Always conduct a quick search on Pinterest or Instagram to see what’s currently out there.
- Now think of an idea that would stand out while fitting the project needs.
- Look for photos that don’t require too much retouching: larger sizes, high definition, easy to cut out subjects or simple negligible edits to color.
- Match the color and tone of the photograph to what the audience likes utilizing color theory.
- Make sure typography and messaging will fit.
- Check that it makes sense when zoomed out, especially if using for print campaigns.
- Always make sure to check the rule of thirds in photos as well.
Ideally, you choose a versatile photo that has the right dimensions and can easily be manipulated in graphic design or photo-editing software like Photoshop, InDesign or Sketch.
Should Designers Also Be Photographers?
Some designers choose to do both because working in design requires such high-quality, unique photography. Digital photography especially can be a useful skill in a designer’s arsenal.
If you are thinking about adding photography to your skills, these tips will help:
- Choose a camera with a digital sensor of 1-inch and 20mp.
- Look for cameras with high-resolution EVF, the right size, mirrorless or DSLR, lowlight settings, photo quality and video quality control, high zoom power, WiFi/wireless options and interchangeable lenses.
- Compact cameras are budget-friendly and best for beginners, but DSLR cameras and medium format cameras are high-end (and high budget).
Some excellent digital cameras for graphic designers include:
While you may want to spend a lot on your first camera, it’s better to look at lower-cost options and see if you like photography first. It may be easier and faster to learn by partnering up with a local photographer or following a photographer on YouTube who provides tips and tutorials.
Even if you never want to pick up a camera, it’s important to have this technological know-how in mind. In the event that you decide to go with a photographer for your imagery, it’s important that you vet them out and make sure they know what they’re talking about.
Photography Is Crucial To Graphic Design
No matter your skillset as a graphic designer, it’s crucial that you realize how important it is to have great imagery in your designs. Photography sets the mood for an image, and when paired with great graphic design work can create amazing images that appear to your target audience.
For those that would like more information and help with attaining the right photography, work with a trusted creative marketing agency, where we have a creative director on staff to help you with all your needs.