The right kind of imagery can make or break an entire piece of content. No matter how well written, perfectly edited, or emotionally engaging, it will be nothing without the right image at the forefront. Audiences judge books (eBooks, white papers, blog posts, etc.) by their cover all of the time, so make sure your cover does the content it contains justice.

Lately, the buzz on stock photography is that it has become completely laughable. When you use stock photos, you run the risk of giving the impression that you are a nameless, faceless corporation. At worst, you might be using the same photos as your competitors.

This is tough. Not everyone has the resources to commission perfectly positioned original photography. We would all be content superstars if we did. But don’t worry! Stock photography can be an extremely useful and impactful tool if used properly. The following five tips will help you identify the best of the best stock photography to capture your audience and put your best foot forward.

1. Quality First

You don’t have to be a Photoshop expert to recognize a photo of poor quality. In fact, poor quality is far more easily recognized than a high quality, attractive photo. Think about it. How many times have you clicked away from a website because an image was pixelated and it just looked unprofessional? Imagery should be a major focus of your marketingn strategy because your audience will notice your imagery long before they read any of your copy. Don’t ever compromise on quality. Your images should always be clear, crisp, in focus and of the proper resolution for your application.

Images on the web should never be less than 72 dpi (dots per inch), but don’t overcompensate either. Images with a resolution higher than this can result in poor load times. On the flip side, images in print should never be less than 300 dpi.

2. The Image Should Speak For Itself

The images you choose should express your message without a lengthy description. Yes, that is a tall order, but if anything it should reinforce the importance of the right image in the right place. Make sure your image supports what you are trying to say, and has the ability to say it for you. You don’t want to miss out on connecting with your audience because what you are actually trying to get at is buried deep within a paragraph of copy.

3. Be Emotional

Your audience will inherently connect, so choose a memorable image. If you strike an emotional chord, your audience will react. Think about how you want your audience to feel. Is it empathy, happiness, anger? If they can connect to your image emotionally, they’ll want to learn more. Let your image be the hook that reels them into your copy.

4. Have A Concept

Don’t be generic, it’s way too obvious. This is where stock photography gets it’s bad rap. All too often, we feel the need to use images to “fill in” white space. Don’t use an image just for the sake of using an image. Make sure it can be put into a specific context that enhances your content.

5. Give Credit

Always make sure you have the appropriate rights for any photo you use. When using Creative Commons, or even purchasing from a stock photography site, be sure to read the fine print. Photographers have to make a living too, and using an image without proper credit is stealing. And whatever you do, never, ever use an image found on Google Images without understanding the implications.

Keep It Real

Make sure that your images are in context, they relate to your audience and they connect with them on an emotional level. If you have the slightest inkling that an image isn’t working, scrap it because it probably isn’t. If you think it looks like a cheesy, generic photo then it probably is. Put yourself in your audience’s shoes. How would you react upon seeing an image at first glance?

How do you choose photos for your audience? Let me know your tips and tricks in the comments!