Creating Powerful Visual Content, The Final Episode

We laughed. We cried. We made jokes about Pam’s sunburn. Ok, we didn’t do one of those things… but in the last weeks we definitely went on an adventure through some of the most important basic steps to creating powerful visual content. Time to wrap it up!

You’ve read the first installments in our blog series Creating Powerful Visual Content, and you know how to #Forge and #Smith your photos. Unfortunately, sometimes the odds just aren’t ever in your favour. You have a well-crafted blog, but not a single piece of imagery on hand.

It’s time to turn to stock photography.

Yes, stock photography sucks. But worse than using unoriginal images is committing copyright infringement by using someone else’s image you found online without permission – don’t go down that path. Here are my tips on image selection, branding, and resources.

Seek Out The Diamond In The Rough

Sometimes you just have to go with a stock photo; that doesn’t make you a bad person. The most important thing is to choose a quality image that does justice to your content and doesn’t scream “I’m a stock photo!” at your audience.

1. Get creative with your search

Stock photo-hunting can take some creative search wizardry. Throw some curve-ball terms into the search and see what comes up – you never know! I often preview images that come up in search but aren’t quite what I’m looking for to see they’re part of a more relevant series. Another great place to check is “similar images” (in Shutterstock).

2. Work with a concept

Coming up with a concept for how the image relates to your text content will make the search easier. For example, searching for “people working” will generally result in a pool of bland images; instead try “creative agency” to yield more interesting results.

3. Avoid photographs with faces

Faces are highly relatable and will draw a viewers eyes, but can also be a quick giveaway that you’re using stock photography. Humans are programmed to remember and recognize faces, and those models tend to show up again and again in different stock situations. By selecting photos that don’t show the models face you can avoid this.

We used the below image for the FEV Tutor site and our related case study.


My search for generic terms like “school students” turned up seriously uninspiring photos. I decided to get creative using a concept and search for “teenagers with backpacks”. This photo also followed the rule of avoiding faces. It ticked all the boxes and worked out great in the design! Definitely not immediately identifiable as stock.

Brand It

When using stock photos or custom images alike, you want to give each image a unique touch to really make it sing with your branding. Let’s go through the steps we took in creating one of the Forge and Smith images.

We’ll start with this image from our Senior Developer position posting. It looks pretty Forge and Smith-branded: custom, unique, and has a concept behind it (our Developers love foosball!). But the secret is out! This is a stock image hiding behind custom branding.

Colour change

I swapped the colours to Forge and Smith’s branding. This can be done to any photo using an overlay.



This is more of an advanced step. I added a branded background photograph of a blacksmith for some texture, and an extra branded touch. I also tweaked the players’ arrangement to illustrate the concept that one of the “team” was missing.


Adding text

The final extra touch was to layer in some text. This is an additional step we always add to our blog images, and one that’s ideal for sharing your posts on social media. Just remember, text in the image must not replace the blog title (or it won’t be searchable!).


All of this took about 20 minutes, resulting in a custom branded image for the blog.

Free Stock Resources

If you’re on a budget, you might have to resort to free stock images with no branding.  Here are five sources that I’ve found to be reasonable:


Free for you to do whatever you want with this a growing collection of “non-stocky” (read: non-sucky) photographs.

IM Free

Some of their photos are a bit “stocky”, but who can argue with free? And they have a collection of

New Old Stock

Vintage photos from the archives for your projects, all without (known) copyright restrictions. Even if this one doesn’t suit your brand, take a browse through – intriguing captures of history!


Unique photos and graphics.

Death to Stock

While I agree with the name, DTS emails out a free batch of stock photos each month, based around a theme. Previous themes have been “above” (photos taken from above), “hands-free communication”, “free on the farm”, and other fun stuff. The photos have a distinctly Gastown-start-up feel.

If you’re in doubt that stock photography can be done right, or if you need inspiration for your project, check out our case study about FEV Tutor.

Combine your powers of #Forge and #Smith with your newfound mastery of branding stock photos to create the ultimate in powerful visual content. We hope you enjoyed our blog series. Now check out our tips on creating a voice and tone guide to make sure your text content lives up to those images!