Whether you’re trying to amp up an existing project or perfecting something new, imagery is an area of concern for us all. 65% percent of people are visual learners, and that translates to the importance of having strong visuals to make your messaging and brand stand out. Sometimes though, the best option available is stock photography. 

While it can sometimes get a bad rap, stock images can look fantastic in most scenarios. The trick is to have the proper tools and mindset when you begin your hunt. If you’ve never looked for stock photos before this can be tricky, so we’ve put together our top tips to help you get beautiful images on a budget. 

Before you start, figure out what you need.

There are several aspects to take into account when you’re figuring out your stock photo needs. Colors, contrast, subject and messaging are just some of the traits you might want to take into consideration when figuring out what you need. Your needs will also be affected by the purpose of the photo. An image that will be the focal point of an Instagram post will likely need to be different from one that will be part of a photo collage on a brochure, so take that into account before you begin. 

Make sure you’re looking in the right place.

There are so many stock photography websites out there, it can be hard to tell which ones will get you what you need, but the wrong choice can be a major waste of time. Unsplash, Pexels and Nappy.co are some of our favorites on the less expensive end, but Getty is also fantastic if you have the budget that allows this incredible option. 

Understand your dimensions.

Sometimes, you’re just looking for a photo that features a specific subject or evokes a certain feeling. Sometimes, you need to make sure that you’re not only capturing what you want, but there are specifications to fill. A photo for a blog post likely needs to have a particular resolution, or there might only be room for an ad photo that has precise dimensions. It is so important to keep this in mind so you don’t end up with a crop that ruins the quality of your photo. (Note: If you find the perfect photo but it has the wrong dimensions or resolution, you may be able to find something similar via a photo search on the site.)

Don’t pass up on something you can tweak.

Taking into account the previous tip, if you find a photo that is very close to what you want but there is perhaps too much happening in the background or the coloring is a little off, that photo may still be worth your time with a little editing in your favorite app. Not to mention, customizing stock photography can help it get from good to great and look less like it was pulled straight from a stock site. It’s also a great way to infuse your brand into the photo.

Test before you purchase if you can.

While there are many photos on the sites we mentioned above that are free, sometimes they cost a dollar or two to use. However, many times in these cases it is possible to download a watermarked image to test it in the context of your project. Testing a watermarked image can not only save you money, but help you more fully visualize something like a mock up before your design is finalized. This process helps you hone in on what you do and don’t like as well so if you need to go back and look for something different, you have more direction.

If at first you don’t succeed, search, search again.

As we mentioned, sometimes you don’t find what you’re looking for on your first search. This can provide direction for any changes you might want to make, or it might tell you that you need to edit your search terms. Using verbs when necessary, making specifications, or even cracking open thesaurus.com and trying related terms can get you closer to finding your perfect picture. While the process may at times feel tedious, getting it just right is so worth it.

And of course, be sure to attribute your sources when necessary!