5 ways to create stunning brand imagery using stock

It takes more than just a strong logo to stand out these days – all of your visuals need to work toward building connections with your audience. That’s why it’s important to choose the right brand imagery that communicates exactly what your brand stands for.

In fact, there are brands with such strong assets that they don’t even need a logo for instant recognition. Brand imagery is a vital part of how people around the world perceive a brand, so it’s crucial to get it right. 

That said, you’re going to want to avoid clichés when choosing imagery – and thankfully, you’ve got a lot of options that won’t break the bank. Here, we've identified five types of brand imagery that could help you achieve a stylish look using premium stock in place of a commissioned photoshoot.

01. A gritty urban sports brand

Woman running through urban environment

Ideal for an urban sports brand campaign, this image exudes passion and determination

Not everyone has the global marketing clout to match Nike, Adidas, or Puma – after all, if it was that easy to pull in exclusive celebrity endorsements, or create exhilarating, viral videos with famous athletes, everyone would do it.

That doesn't mean stylish, aspirational imagery isn't an option – you just need to be more creative about how you find it. To avoid clichés and stay true to the core brand values you're representing, you need stay authentic and consistent.

Take the example above, found on iStock by Getty Images. It gets across the passion, determination, and relentless drive it takes to succeed as an athlete. But if your brand is more about making running accessible to everyday people, it could be inappropriate for that purpose – so make sure that you’re using search best practices to find the imagery that suits your needs.

02. An artisan cafe or bakery

Woman kneading dough

This image of a woman kneading dough could make an evocative background image for an artisan bakery

Unlike a big sports brand, an artisan eatery probably won’t have a hefty marketing budget to throw around. However, thanks to the Instagram generation, there’s a definite aesthetic you can reference – think soft-focus flat whites at jaunty angles – and use to your advantage.

 Of course, small-scale local outlets target customers differently than bigger chains –to stand out in local markets, they could embrace a familiar look and feel to attract the right clientele.

Again, pick your search parameters carefully. The image above was found on iStock by Getty Images using the phrase "rustic food", and could make an evocative background image.

And here’s a tip for food-related imagery: use stock images to set a general mood, rather than to illustrate specific products – you don't want to disappoint hungry customers looking for a specific treat that's not available.

03. An innovative tech brand

Papercraft creative brainstorm

Topics such as 'innovation' and are hard to convey literally, but abstract, stylised illustrations like this can be effective

It’s difficult to convey technological innovation using brand imagery. While a hardware brand like Apple can lead with seductive, artful product shots, this won't cut it for something more abstract, like cloud services or network solutions.

Clichés abound in this sector if your search is too literal: don't get lazy and end up with a shot of a big server rack covered in wires, or a laboured illustrated metaphor that doesn't do your brand justice. For a task like this, it pays to do the creative brainstorming first and then search for something more conceptual from the outset.

The above image, for instance, was found using the term "innovation concept". Even if AI is not the actual nature of the business in question, the topic pulls up some visually exciting, abstract imagery that could help give a tech brand a feeling of innovation and purpose, without depicting an actual product.

04. A rugged outdoors brand

Rock climber on sheer cliff

Striking, adrenaline-packed images such as this are hugely challenging to capture – so premium stock is ideal

Much like the urban sports brand dilemma, if you don't have the budgets commanded by the likes of The North Face or Patagonia to send a photographer and art director out to a wild, rugged mountain range, don't despair – beautiful photography of inaccessible places is one of the things stock imagery is great for.

Again, conduct your image search according to the authentic needs of your brand. For instance, the image above was sourced through iStock by Getty Images using the search term “sheer cliff climb.” It’s a stunning image that would appeal to experienced athletes – it may not, however, be quite so suitable for attracting beginners to the sport.

05. A playful candy brand

Repeat lollipop pattern

Playful, quirky and colourful patterns – such as these rows of pink lollipops – make ideal background images

As the above examples demonstrate, when it comes to sourcing brand imagery, premium stock assets can be great for setting the tone of a campaign – whether that's gritty, wholesome, innovative, or pioneering. They can also be great for dynamic, playful brands that rely on bright, saturated colours and patterns, such as those aimed at kids – the example above would be ideal for a candy brand.

Just bear in mind the brand values you want to reflect, and don’t be afraid to be more edgy or surreal if it feels right – so go out, be bold, and find the perfect image that works for your project.

If you're working on a client brief that requires some tone-setting brand imagery such as these examples, you're in luck: iStock by Getty Images is offering new customers 12% off all credits by using code 12CBLOQNEW at checkout. Good luck with the search!

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Nick Carson

Nick is a content strategist and copywriter. He has worked with world-class agencies including Superunion, Wolff Olins and Vault49 on brand storytelling, tone of voice and verbal strategy for global brands such as Virgin, Pepsi and TikTok. Nick launched the Brand Impact Awards in 2013 while editor of Computer Arts, and remains chair of judges. He's written for Creative Bloq on design and branding matters since the site's launch.