Find images for your brand

1. Review your brand guidelines for either specific image examples and recommendations, or emotions and color palette.

Most brand guidelines created by your internal branding experts and design team outline: Images: The types of images that align with your brand values. For example, Urban Outfitters’ brand guidelines say they want to encapsulate a sense of community and friendship in our images and prefer images that are culturally diverse and in urban environments. Colors: The types of colors that support your brand. For example, Alienware’s brand guidelines request that photography has neutral tones, never feature true black, and include lots of off-whites and grays with gold tones…desired. Sizing: The different ways images should or should not be edited or resized. For example, Apple is notoriously stringent about how its products are featured and always likes its products displayed on a stark, clean background. Its brand guidelines explicitly state instructions such as, Do not place Apple product photos on a busy, multicolored, or cluttered background.

2. Have a clear idea of the general type of image you're needing to find and what that image needs to include.

Ask yourself key questions: What is the main type of person, animal, object, or setting that needs to be in this image? What is the main emotion you need in this image? What is the main color that you’d like to see in this image? What is the orientation of the image, landscape or portrait? For example, perhaps it’s an editorial image for a blog post about raising a healthy dog. You might end up with a list of criteria: Focus: Person playing with a dog. Emotion: Happy or playful. Color and tone: Warm and natural. Orientation: Portrait. Or maybe you’re seeking an abstract image for your online store, such as an empty shelf upon which you overlay an image of one of your products. You might end up with: Focus: Blank shelf. Emotion: Minimalism. Color and tone: White and clean. Orientation: Landscape.

3. Search both paid and free stock photography websites, and bookmark five or more potential images that may meet your needs.

Using the criteria you identified, search popular stock photography websites including Pexels (free), Pixabay (free), Shutterstock, Getty Images (paid), and iStock (paid). Generally, paid stock photos offer more variety to free stock photo sites. With thousands of specific stock photo options covering nearly every topic, setting, mood, color and tone, most stock websites will allow you to: Search the site for the main term or phrase that describes your image, for example, happy senior citizen playing with a puppy. Use menus or filters to sort for specific colors, backgrounds, and moods. Toggle between landscape and portrait mode to find the ideal orientation you want.

4. Eliminate images that appear unnatural or inauthentic in their staging.

The best images connect with your audience. Avoid images that look: Cliche or generic: For example, the standard businessperson in a suit shaking hands in a generic board room. Inauthentic: For example, people with exaggerated facial expressions or in settings that are clearly not your everyday life. Outdated: Ensure the potential stock photos you’ve sourced don’t have dated elements, such as out of fashion wardrobe or technology from another era.

5. Review the images against your brand guidelines to ensure they're in alignment.

For example, natural cosmetics and skincare brand Burt’s Bees uses images on its Instagram account that feature natural elements, like someone in a field or grass, which fits the brand’s natural wellness persona. The images also pop with natural toned colors. Every photo in their feed feels connected to what came before and after. Likewise, GoPro’s Instagram account features vibrant, over-saturated colors, and each action filled image depicts someone in the middle of an outdoor adventure. Check your collection of images and ask: Does this feel natural to my brand? Does this mirror the expectations, emotions, and values that people associate with my brand? Does it appear engaging and trigger the energy and emotions I want my audience to feel? Is it consistent with past images we’ve used?

6. Use filters or photo editing software to fine-tune the image if necessary.

Even after hours of searching, the perfect stock photo might still be off-brand. Some minor editing with apps or photo editing software, such as Adobe Spark, Canva, Stencil or Adobe Photoshop, can help you achieve consistency by: Tweaking the warmth or hue of the image to align it with your brand palette. Employing the same basic photo filter on all of your stock photos to give them all a similar look. Cropping or removing small elements that detract from the rest of an otherwise acceptable stock photo.