Adobe Creative Cloud

The Creative Approach to Stock Photos

Imagery is an essential part of brand content. It visually communicates the stories that draw audiences in and thereby build a business base. For most organizations, access to quality visuals like photographs comes in the form of stock images — a source that often gets a bad rap.

The stereotypical stock image is an overly-posed, emotionless picture. However, a new generation of stock photographers is contributing more authentic and eye-catching photos than ever before. They are creating powerful imagery that captivates audiences and shares distinct messages.

When it comes time for businesses to use these images creatively, who better to give advice than the people who first brought the photo to life? We interviewed three of the most innovative stock photographers in the business. Here are their tips for creating stand-out projects from ready-made photographs.

Balance ideas across messaging and images.

Ryan Longnecker, an outdoor landscape and travel photographer from Los Angeles, suggests designers select abstract images to accompany literal messages in the copy and vice versa.

“When you have an obvious image and pair it with a strong and clear point, the two aspects either don’t match and conflict, or they match too well and compete,” he says.

A fine balance exists between a project’s imagery and its messaging. Try pairing more abstract images with literal messages and literal images with abstract messages. ADOBE STOCK / RYAN LONGNECKER

The opposite is also true. Abstract messaging points partner well with more obvious images. “When an image is really literal and it’s paired with messaging that’s a bit more abstract or emotional, it allows the viewer to anchor themselves in something,” Ryan says.

Experiment with cropping and extension.

“While not a new or exciting concept, cropping is an unbelievably simple yet effective tool,” Jacob Lund, a stock photographer based in Copenhagen, says. “You can really change the look and feel of an image by experimenting with different crops.”

While not a new idea, cropping an image creatively can change the entire focus and feel of the photo. ADOBE STOCK / JACOB LUND

Designers are used to cropping images down to get the size and focus they need for their layouts, but extending an image can be just as effective.

Instead of cropping an image tighter, designers can extend it wider or higher and digitally create the missing part of the image. “With tools like Photoshop’s Content Aware Crop, you no longer need to be a Photoshop wizard to extend photos creatively,” Jacob says. “If the job is more advanced, we usually do a mixture of cloning and stretching existing parts of the image.”

Make stock images your own.

Stock images are most powerful when used as a foundation for a design project. Instead of downloading, dragging, and dropping, photographers suggest designers combine multiple stock assets to create new art.

“I really recommend working with classic methods like cutting the photos in pieces, merging different photos and structures, and playing around with colors, graphics, and typography to find new, beautiful ways to present the image,” Felix Rachor, a Berlin-based fashion, beauty, and celebrity photographer, says.

When designers take a stock image and modify it into something new, they give businesses the opportunity to share their unique perspective with others, align stock images more effectively with their brand, and ensure they’ll never have the same imagery as a competitor.

Don’t lose sight of visual trends during the editing process. For example, raw, natural images are trending. Cropping this photo emphasizes its natural look and feel. ADOBE STOCK / FELIX RACHOR

Stock photographers take photos with the latest visual trends in mind. Don’t lose sight of those trends as you edit their images. Here are a few our photography experts suggest remembering:

  • Low-fi is the new high-fi. Look for raw qualities in your images.
  • Be careful how much you retouch skin. The plastic look is out. Natural is in, and less is more.
  • Use collage style layouts to feature multiple images. Juxtaposing images at a variety of angles can create a more interesting viewing experience than scrolling through slides.
  • Color is making a comeback. Vintage filters have been popular over the last several years, but now there is a call for vibrant color. Try enhancing the colors in your photos and creating powerful color contrast.

The power of stock.

Gone are the days when stock images were boring and standard. With photographers creating more and more unique photographs each day, stock provides an opportunity for designers to have easy access to a wealth of dramatic imagery. With the right tools and creative touch, designers can make those assets their own. A stock image can be the basis for impactful and effective business designs. Learn how your team can use work from world-class photographers on the Adobe Stock page.

Adobe Stock, Creative Cloud, Teams