Should you use stock photography and illustration for web design projects when you’re on a budget?

When your web design project has a tight budget, the line item associated with imagery can be the first one cut, or drastically trimmed. When chosen carefully, compelling illustration and photography paired with great copy are the key to successful content. If a man from Mars can’t figure out what your website is about in five seconds, you’re failing. Great, non-generic imagery can help you communicate your brand and goals faster, which is why it’s important to invest in your website’s imagery and choose it wisely.

Shannon shared tips before for how to enhance stock photography. It’s a great guide if you’ve already made the decision to use stock imagery, but what if you aren’t sure which way to go with your web design project? Here are some questions to ask yourself when deciding whether to use stock:

How long will it take you to find the perfect image?

“90% of the time I opt for a more expensive stockhouse over iStockphoto,” says Chicago-area art director Sharlene King. “It’s the sloppiness of keyword loading. Time equals money.”

Because users submit their own tags, inexpensive stock photography websites are notoriously awful when it comes to tagging. If you’re looking for a straight-forward image, like a red ball, you should find relatively accurate results; however, if you search for something even slightly subjective, get ready to spend some time digging through ridiculous results.

“Average woman”

Why does a search for an “average woman” display
a lady posing with a huge gun?
(Screengrab courtesy of Sharlene King)

“Vegetarian food”

Why does a search for “vegetarian food” include a photo
of meat fondue? (Screengrab courtesy of Sharlene King)

How long will it take you to make a not-quite-right image work?

Ask yourself: If you made the budgetary decision to save money by paying for an inexpensive stock image but ended up spending a few hours in Photoshop to make it work, was it really worth the initial savings?

How many other people might be using this image?

Is the stock image you’re thinking about using popular? If it’s been downloaded many times, does the risk that other websites—including your competition—make a difference to you?

Is this a prominent image or a tiny spot?

Is the stock image front and center as a key communicator of your brand? How important is authenticity in your project?