Finding the perfect image from literally millions of stock images is pretty much like finding a needle in a haystack – even if you have a really big magnet. There are just too many and a lot just look, well, too ‘stocky’ to my way of thinking. Then again, my way of thinking doesn’t always match up with the hard cold reality of looming deadlines and the will of the wayward souls who are too weary to care and are charged with making the final decision. And as much as I don’t like to settle, it happens.
But before we begin our search, we have to identify the key things we want in our images – and by that I don’t mean people, or scenic vistas, or golf courses, or cityscapes, or beaches. Nothing that broad. We should already have that 35,000 foot view scoped.
We’re talking about colors, composition and the orientation of images that will fit our layouts and set the right mood. No sense finding the perfect image with a portrait orientation when we’re trying to fit it into a landscape space. (See also: Murphy’s Immutable Law of Proportions). Of course, colors matter too. Maybe we’re all about bright and splashy. Maybe we’re about earth tones. Maybe we’re monochromatic. As far as composition – do we want to be edgy? Or corporate? Or corporately edgy? Or whatever. It’s not always possible to nail all these criteria down, but we’ll do the best we can. Especially the proportions thing. And always leave room for a little flexibility too – we don’t want to completely stifle creativity.
So with dedication, diligence and a little dumb luck, we might the perfect image for 80% of our layout. The other 20%, maybe we just resign ourselves to near perfection, or just plain settling, which, you may remember, doesn’t quite suit me.
On to another option – and one of my personal favorites – editing or compositing images to make them perfect. I’ve been working with Photoshop since late 1989 and while I’m no whiz when it comes to the breadth and depth of it, I’m pretty fair at making it do what I want in the context of web projects. And I don’t believe for a New York minute that some iPhone app that sells you on the idea that you can erase people you no longer like and have a beautiful background magically appear actually works. There may be instances where that could happen – as in the samples they show you – but generally speaking we can’t create something out of nothing. Or maybe we exercise the option to just swap a few heads here and there.
(me jumping off soapbox)
But back to Photoshop. I know it too has limitations, but we can accomplish a fair amount of magic with it. Some shots are simple, others, not so much. As a quick reference, all of the images on this site looked a whole lot different than when we downloaded them and I can tell you in no uncertain terms it took way less time to fix them than it did to find them. And fixing them is way more fun, at least for me.
With all that being said, on most sites these days, images are important – whether they’re stock images or your own – and they deserve our attention. And I can’t stress enough that you shouldn’t give up on an image because it’s not quite perfect. There are things we can do that will keep you from just settling.