Does the picture tell the story?
I'd like to continue that theme with the thought that caution and good judgement is also needed in their use for external communication.
Stock pictures can sometimes look a bit 'hammy' and this can be particularly true in the case of people shots. The subjects in these can look the opposite of natural, which is not great if authenticity your goal. It's not always easy to find models who satisfactorily represent your target audience or story. And they can serve to exclude or alienate groups you would wish to attract.
Pictures are deceptively difficult to get right. You may have put a huge amount of effort into perfecting the words only to find you are stuck in terms of finding that elusive picture that finishes it off. And those with restricted budgets have fewer options, without going into ingenuity overdrive.
To avoid tired pictures, I often go down the lateral thinking route. I consider less literal representations of the message, employing metaphors, symbols and icons. These can attract the attention more and get a point across with greater impact. They can also be more striking in terms of colour and design.
It's a good idea to take your own pictures of topics you know you are going to communicate about. I admit it's not always easy. I remember once sidling out of my seat at a training course to take a photo of the delegates engrossed in the words of the trainer. I thought I had made little or no noise, but seven pairs of eyes slowly turned towards me and the chance of a completely natural shot was gone. Resigning yourself to creating a library of pictures over time will mean you end up with some good pictures, even if a lot end up on the digital equivalent of the cutting room floor.
A sea of faces or heads in less than ideal lighting at a conference is not going to inspire. A detail from a presentation, a mindmap, a close up of the materials on a table during a practical session, a quote presented well, delegates outside chatting during a break could all be more interesting. (Remember to get permission from those featured to use pictures, where appropriate).
Some sources of photos, illustrations and clipart
Those who use a lot of pictures in their work will build up their tried and trusted sources. Here are a few of mine. Some of the clipart offerings are a little basic but they can be useful in the right circumstances.
Canstock – a large selection of very inexpensive photos and images
Canva – a brilliant tool for developing arresting images. A lot of free functionality as well as inexpensive, paid-for options
Pixabay – lots of high-quality, free images
Creative Commons licenses provide a simple, standardised way to allow the public to use creative work at no cost under conditions of the owner's/creator's choice. Images covered by these licenses can be sourced via search engines or services such as flickr.
If you search for a particular type of picture in Google Images, for example a skyscraper, you can then click on ‘search tools’ followed by ‘usage rights’ on the menu. Images that have been labelled for reuse will then come up (there are several different categories, for example those that can be reused and modified, those that are available for non-commercial reuse). Remember to read the small print associated with images by all services to check any conditions although I have not usually found this to be an issue.
There are lots of good picture opportunities, including stock photos, but taking time, being creative, and giving thought to what will truly do justice to your brand and resonate with your audience will reap the best results.