Here are some tips that might help you use stock photos to reach your learners’ hearts as well as their minds.
Aim for the evocative
In a previous life as a marketer, I learned the difference between functional and evocative company names. For example, compare the names of two computer companies:
- Digital Equipment (functional–it simply describes the product)
- Apple (evocative–involves our senses, suggests simplicity)
The same concepts apply to images.
For example, more courses than I ever want to see use sterile images of bland business people because the courses are about business, and “everyone knows” that business involves people in suits talking at meetings or shaking hands. That’s the functional mindset, and it has spawned thousands of lifeless photos.
But our activities aren’t really about stiff, overdressed people whose souls have already departed. They’re about problems that need to be fixed or changes that will improve our lives. To communicate that, we need emotionally evocative images.
Quick guide to finding evocative images
Let’s say your material discusses the importance of building trust in others. How can you quickly find good images about such an abstract concept?
1. Choose your stock site carefully
If you Google “microstock” or “stock photos,” you’ll find plenty of sites. The trick is to find a site that actually delivers useful photos when you search for them.
I usually use iStock, because it seems to have the most useful search engine and accurate keywords. If you want to shop around, pick an abstract keyword like “trust” and see what you get at each site. Also check the collection for diversity.
Once you find a site you like, stick to it. Limiting your options will both save time and make you more creative.
As you use the site, you’ll see images you like but that don’t answer an immediate need. Put them in the site’s online lightbox and give them a useful tag so you can quickly find them later.
2. Search the site for the concept.
Here are a few results for “trust” at iStock. How do they affect you emotionally?
A functionally-minded person might argue, “But our course isn’t about children or mountain climbing or transplanting tomatoes! Our course is about business!” They’ll want to use an image like this:
But where’s the emotional appeal? And apparently those two guys agree a lot, because most of the bajillion handshaking photos show two male hands emerging from dark suits.
I’m not saying that if a suit appears, the photo is automatically literal and boring. Some photographers are getting creative with workplace images. But there’s still an unfortunately good chance that a “business” photo will seem sterile, staged, and stereotyped.
3. Think of opposing similes
If you don’t like any of the results you got from searching on the concept, brainstorm some similes. Start with “[the concept] is like…” and include some opposites in your ideas, because they’ll lead you to new ideas. You’ll end up with a lot more keywords to search for.
Trust is like…
- being in a cozy house vs. being outside in a storm
- walking on a wide path vs. walking a tightrope
- having a big net under a tightrope
- swimming with water wings
- cooperating vs. competing
- listening vs. yelling
- walking together vs. walking away from each other
- parallel lines vs. diverging lines
Here are a couple of results from “tightrope” that might be useful for “trust”:
4. Avoid culturally specific images
Another iStock result for “trust” was this:
Will all our learners recognize this as a baton being handed off in a relay race (apparently the Relay Race of the Gods)? Will it have as much emotional meaning for them as other images might?
5. Manage your images locally
When you buy a stock image, give it a meaningful name and tag it with useful keywords, if your operating system allows that. I also put images in folders that make sense to me. For example, one of my image folders is “emotions.”
If you establish a naming and tagging system from the start, you’ll quickly build an on-site collection that’s easy to search.