HOW TO BUILD A COLLECTION OF STOCK IMAGES FOR YOUR BUSINESS
Hands up all the visual people in the room? I imagine our numbers are vast in the online creative world. I think the evolution of imagery in blogging was one of the first elements I noted that seemed to move forward the quickest - great photography was what made some blogs stand out above the rest. Now blogging can be a business and if you have a business, you probably have a blog. In either case, imagery becomes a crucial storytelling factor.
Speaking from a blogging perspective, back in the day we would use images found on the web (right-click, save to hard drive, upload to Blogger - job done!), to illustrate the point we were aiming to get across through our new found writing freedom. Then along came the style blogger with her (or his) tripod and self-timer camera, first in the safe confines of home and then later on, venturing out on the street with a brave face and steadfastly ignoring the curious stares of passers by.
Over the course of time, as the industry evolved and the upper echelons began to move into the realms of super bloggers creating shots that wouldn’t look amiss in a glossy magazine, we began to cotton on to the power of the almighty image. Along came Instagram and with it, the birth of the Instagram Husband willing to give their best photography skills a go. And let's not forget the friend or co-blogger who gets coerced into an impromptu shoot when the occasion presents itself.
Add travel, food, parent and general lifestyle blogs into the mix and before you know it, the visuals bar had been raised so high that getting noticed in the blogging world might seem like a bit of a tall order. It's easy to feel that if your visuals don't come up to viral Pinterest standard, what’s the point?
Firstly I would say, like anything that's worth waiting for, it takes time. It takes time to get to know the kind of visuals that you want to create and that you feel will tell your story in the right way. For me that only came with years of practice and it continues to evolve all the time and I found that having a brand guide is a great jumping off point to finding your visual style. Personally I prefer relatable over super glossy mag standard but I still set a high standard for any images I publish. At Online Stylist, a lot of my old content was eventually archived but for those that have been around since the early days, you'll know just how much my imagery has evolved… i.e. how bad it was in the beginning!
I would that it isn’t good practice to use and publish images you find on Pinterest and on the web in general. Whilst copyright law sometimes struggles to keep up with technology, it's definitely getting there. The upshot being that if you've "borrowed" an image and you don't have a license to use it, you could find yourself in a lot of trouble and vastly out of pocket at some point. My advice would be to stop doing this now. After all, every photo you see there is the work of and belongs to someone who made it. It's a bit like taking a cashmere sweater out of the store without paying.
So where does that leave you with creating the visuals that you feel represent you and your brand?
Maximum Use For Minimum Investment
By planning out the majority of your content ahead of time, you can figure out what you can shoot yourself and slot in some time to get the job done. For me, self-shot includes flat lays, beauty product shoots, interiors features and the odd mirror outfit selfie. All you need is a decent iPhone, patience, willingness to practice and some good editing Apps - I've generally narrowed mine down to Adobe LightRoom for mobile and a Priime filter these days.
A word on the resurgence of the mirror selfie. Once frowned upon, I think we've come full circle and I feel they’re a relatable and practical way to share style inspiration, particularly on Instagram Stories. There are some who I think pull off the mirror selfie or a derivative of really well - Alex at The Frugality, Jacey Duprie and Erica Davies to name a few. One thing I’m not a fan of though is the trend for “Come Shopping With Me” videos or going into changing rooms and taking photos of stuff you don’t even own - that makes me uncomfortable for all manner of reasons.
When it comes to a good self-timed shot you have to practice and play around with camera, mirror positioning and lighting too. Some of my own efforts are hilarious and only a few make the cut. SarahLou Francis who took the photos in this post uses blu tack to attach her phone to various surfaces and there's the mini tripod and Bluetooth remote control combo too. All good for taking decent shots when you're by yourself.
I've also found that when I'm by myself, trying out poses and movement that works in front of the camera (and those that really don't) is an invaluable process. The dog doesn't care that I look like a loon and so I get no judgement from her!
Hire (Or Beg For) Help
Invest time in shoot days and if you have the funds to spare, hire a photographer - ending up with a collection of professional images that you can re-purpose often is invaluable. I was years down the line into blogging before I even considered working with a photographer but I've never looked back since doing this occasionally.
Whether you’re shooting with a professional or with a friend who's willing to help to maybe gain some experience, be sure to organise your day around themes, locations and storylines so that you can maximise your time. For instance, this last shoot I completed with SarahLou wasn't for any brand specific project but instead, a way to top up my own image bank for future content. When I booked our day, I had at least two or three content ideas in my head that I would be able to use the images for and the rest evolved as the shoot day progressed. Since then I've had lots more ideas for the photos and used them many more times.
A good photographer will give you as many images as they can for you to use - obviously once they've edited out all the complete duffer shots. Of which I produce many! If you’ve not worked with them before, ask up front what their policy is on this. If you're hiring a photographer on a day rate for any sponsored work, think about best use of time. i.e. once you've got all the images you need from your shot list for your sponsored post (because you made a shot list right?), is there time to get a few more for your own stock? I'm not suggesting you in any way compromise the time needed to get the agreed imagery for your brand work but some posts take longer to capture than others so always check to see if you have spare time.
Stock imagery has come a long way both in terms of being beautifully creative and a lot more affordable. Many sites such as Death To Stock offer monthly freebies and Unsplash has a plethora of beautiful images gifted by photographers for you to use with credit.
For styled stock images I love SC Stockshop and it's spin off subscription site, Social Squares. Shay Cochrane has nailed the art of creating gorgeous photos that can be purchased and used to stunning effect to promote your brand, blog or business website. Sign up to the SC Stockshop newsletter and you'll receive gorgeous monthly freebies too. If you’re inventive - cropping, adding graphics, various social platforms etc - you’ll get more styled stock usage for your sterling.
Sandra at Her Creative Studio offers a monthly free image when you sign up to her newsletter and I recently discovered Jana Bishop whose images I purchased in a comprehensive set and then used a few in this post.
Storage + Use
When I first built up a small stock of images though working with Marlene and SarahLou, I didn't really think enough about to how to get the most out of them. I would select some for a particular post, maybe use one or two for Instagram and then forget about the rest. What a dork! Now I've set up an image bank (I go from dork to geek), on my iCloud drive and have categorised all the images I have from styled stock, those I shoot myself and professional shoots into the relevant content categories I cover on the blog. Beautiful images should be re-used when appropriate and you never know how many fresh eyes you'll have on them second time around.
This means if I'm ever stuck for imagery to use in a blog post or on any social platform, I have my own supply to look through. With a little creative cropping the image bank usually delivers.
When executed well, imagery can look effortless, sublime and tell the exact story we hope to convey. What goes on behind the scenes in order to get to the end product of those images though is the end result of hours or days of work in terms of shooting, styling and editing. Let alone factoring in child and dog care and now and again, even roping the husband in to take time off work and actually be in the images... Patrick has been known to be a semi-willing participant.
As a bit of an insight and for fun, I thought I'd take you along on the recent shoot day I had with SarahLou Francis via the magic of video. The irony being that we were so busy getting the stills, dodging rain clouds and running here there and everywhere that I didn't capture as much footage as I'd planned to. Turns out I can only multitask to a degree…
The best part of all of it is that whenever I upload any image that's been produced as a result of shoot day with a photographer, I can always remember what we did to get that exact shot and the fun we had too. Think climbing on chairs in cafes, standing perilously close to cliff edges, changing in a really small restaurant bathroom or walking up and down in front of a monochrome house at least thirty times to name but a few.
Every picture tells a story but sometimes, it's the one behind it that only I and my photographer know about that's the best one!