We all use images — photos and illustrations — in our daily design work. Lots of them. And while the best way to make sure your images are unique is to have custom photography or illustration done for you every time, this is not very realistic. Often, due to time and/or budget constraints, we have to use royalty-free images. And, royalty-free images, by definition, are available to anyone who pays their fee (very reasonable, compared to the fees for rights-managed images that grant you exclusivity).
The first time it happens to you, will forever be etched into your memory: seeing the same photo which had been carefully chosen for a particular client’s project (when they did not have the time or the budget to set up a photo shoot), used in an advertisement by another company. If you are lucky, it will at least be in a different industry. But what happens when it is a direct competitor? This is a rather unsettling thought.
Here are some tips, tricks and examples of what you can do to make sure your images are slightly more unique than what everyone else is using — even if you do purchase them from a royalty-free site.
Don’t Go With the Most Obvious Choice
Before you choose the image, keep in mind that often search results on the royalty-free sites are sorted by popularity — meaning that the images that have been downloaded the most times will show up first. This, of course, increases the risk of someone else using the same image. Sometimes simply browsing a little longer can help you find something relevant, yet not quite as popular.
Also, before you even start searching, think of less obvious ways to illustrate your point. You don’t have to always use computer and code images to illustrate a website or a brochure for an information technology company. Maybe something completely unexpected can work just as well? How about using pie or toast to illustrate the ease of use, or dogs to illustrate friendliness and loyalty? You get the idea; there are many ways to make a point with a picture, and they don’t always have to be the same images everyone else uses to convey the same kinds of ideas.
Choose a Detail
Once you have chosen your images, there are any number of ways that you can alter them to make it more unique. Sometimes just focusing in on one part of the image can make it very different from the original. Crop and zoom in on a detail that is very relevant to your message, and the let the rest fall by the wayside.
Or you could even go one step further and actually extract an element from the image that works well for your project purposes (clipping paths in Photoshop will be very helpful with this).
Sometimes in order to put a more unique slant on your images simply playing around with the colors can produce striking effects, and even enhance the message you are intending the images to communicate.
For example, creating a black and white version of an image, with just one element remaining in color will place a strong focus on that element. So instead of cropping to make a certain element stand out you can use the colors to highlight any one aspect that really speaks to or with your message.
Try Different Effects
Depending on the style that you are looking for, sometimes enhancing the image can be as easy as running a filter. This is not necessarily recommended just because they look pretty, but when you have a project that calls for a particular style, they can be handy for getting the image to the place you need.
For example, using a poster-like effect for an art gallery brochure can be very impactful on its viewers, and compliment its theme and message in ways the image unfiltered could not.
Another example would be to use a filter to add a hand-drawn look to the imagery included in a project for a family-run bakery. This effect can really add to the home-made feel and ideas the bakery wants to convey to their customer base.
When taking this route, the possibilities are virtually endless. With the right amount of work and retouching you can almost guarantee that the images you use for your client will be unique, even on a more limited budget.
Don’t Settle for the Same Old Image
There are numerous tutorials and techniques available to designers these days to really take our images to the next level. What we often forget, is that this can serve much more of a purpose than just demonstrating our skills. It can allow us to deliver much more unique imaging to our clients.
Below are a few useful posts and resources for helping you put the advice offered here into action when your next client comes calling.
- 80+ Time Saving and Free Photoshop Action Sets To Enhance your Photos
- Analyzing Photoshop Vibrance and Saturation
- The Best Technique to Enhance Saturation
- An Explanation of Photoshop Blend Modes
In addition to Italian, Russian and Dutch, Lisa speaks fluent Advertising and Design, and is happy to translate any concepts and terms into plain English. Lisa is on a mission to reduce the amount of ordinary, mediocre communication and marketing materials. And -- why not? -- to make the world a happier place. One beautiful communication piece at a time. Lisa has 10+ years of design and advertising experience, both in Europe and the US. In her free time, she rescues puppies, grows her own tomatoes, dances, and hangs out on Twitter.