Cheesy stock image of two professional men with thumbs up and down. Taking Stock: How to Choose Stock Photos that Feel Authentic and New

Taking stock: how to choose stock photos that feel authentic and new

Because we’ve all seen “group of employees laughing around water cooler” one too many times. Here’s how to slyly avoid that “stock” feeling in your next deck.

Sep 9 · 5 min read

At Projector, we are big believers that stock photography can be an additive boost to any visual asset — if it’s done well, of course. However, with so many images to choose from, how does one find a photo that feels authentic and native to their content? With expansive photo libraries like Unsplash and Shutterstock accessible directly in Projector, we’re no strangers to the strategies necessary to finding “the one.”

Here are some tips and tricks for finding images that will get you closer to the real deal and away from that icky stock feeling (You know the one you get when you look up Man Eating Salad).

Two different stock photos showing employees together. One is in motion, and one is posed.
Do: Look for candid photos. | Don’t: Use posed, unnatural photos.

1. Choose subjects that are in motion, not posed.

When picking a photo, opt for ones that show people doing something 💃 rather than standing there🧍. It’s just like when you take photos you take on your phone — candid motion always feels more realistic and just looks better. A simple rule of thumb is to avoid photos in which the person is looking directly at the camera.

Two stock photos of a laptop on a desk. One is shot head on and feels staged, the other is at an angle and looks more natural.
Do: Look for realistic, interesting angles | Don’t: Choose photos with obvious compositions.

2. Look for vignettes that celebrate diverse angles.

Did you know that even a stock photo of inanimate objects can be interesting? When you’re looking for a scene that features images or objects, keep your eyes peeled for complex and dynamic angles that add dimension (figuratively + literally). A composition that is too “straightforward” or “obvious” risks falling flat.

Two side by side stock photos of a beach. One is grainer and shot on film, the other is a glossy digital shot.
Do: Find grainier photos shot on film | Don’t: Opt for glossy digital images

3. Search “film photography” in Unsplash.

Anything shot on film tends to have a nice, natural filter to it. The images can be a tad grainier, giving them a vintage look that doesn’t require any manipulation. By searching “film photography” in Unsplash, you can find expertly lit settings that give off a cool Indie film vibe.

Two side by side stock photos of a tent and campsite. One is on a cliff and only shows a part of the tent, the other is shot head on with a family peeking out from inside.
Do: Look for photos that capture an essence | Don’t: Use photos that convey your message too literally

4. Use images to support a specific feeling.

The best part of storytelling is that you get to decide how it’s done. Rather than looking for photos or images that directly translate the message you’re trying to convey, come at it from a different angle by focusing more on the feeling you’re trying to evoke. Supporting an overall ethos and essence will provide more universality for those on the receiving end.

Two versions of the same photo of a skateboarder. One version is cropped to just his feet on the board in the street, the other is a wide shot showing the entire photo.
Do: Crop images to make them feel more interesting | Don’t: Always feel you need to show the whole image

5. Scour images for details that work even if the entire photo doesn’t.

Never forget that the crop tool can be your best friend! Oftentimes stock photos — especially subject-less settings — offer a collection of components within them, so don’t be afraid to crop in on one thing you like. You might even discover that a funky crop leads to a more abstract feel (in a good way!)

In Projector, you can apply tints to your photos to make them look cohesive together.

6. Build cohesion in black and white (or apply a tint!).

One of the challenges that can arise while sourcing imagery from multiple sources is that it creates inconsistencies in the overarching design. Fret not! We have a solve! Rather than narrowing your sourcing, simply make all of the images black and white or add a uniform tint. No one will know the difference, we promise!

Learn how to apply tints and texture to your photos in Projector with this tutorial.

A video of a sunset and a photograph of a sunset.
Videos can bring much more visual interest to your design

7. When in doubt, ask yourself, “Could a stock video work?”

Depending on your project, a stock video might do what a stock photo can’t. In Projector you can search thousands of mesmerizing videos to find one that fits the exact tone you’re looking for.

8. Can’t find the words to describe what you need? Try freewriting first.

Finding the right search term is critical to finding the right stock photo. If you can’t quite put into words what you need (or, if those words aren’t yielding good results), try writing a couple sentences describing the feeling you’re looking to capture. Then, pluck words from that paragraph and try searching for them. Sometimes the best search terms are just a few degrees removed.

9. Stick to Shutterstock and Unsplash (both available for free in Projector).

Pulling from Google Images or Instagram can go awry. Crediting photos is a tricky, dangerous, and litigious jungle. Especially for turnkey projects (that you’re using stock photos for anyway), stick to the (unlimited) free libraries and stay clear of any misattribution.

Get unlimited free access to content libraries from Shutterstock, Unsplash, Noun Project, and Giphy — all in Projector.

Projector makes it super easy for creative and marketing teams to translate their big ideas into real, tangible executions — all in real time. Find the perfect way to illustrate your ideas and bring your next deck from “standard” to “unforgettable”. Sign up for free here, and give it a try with your team.


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