Content Marketing
How to Find Authentic Photos for Content Marketing

How to Find Authentic Photos for Content Marketing

February 16, 2024
9 min read

What is visual content marketing? As you promote your brand online, it’s important to recognize how visual our world has become.

Gifs, influencer photos, Youtube clips, TikToks …. the Internet is flooded with images. In fact, that’s what digital aficionados have come to expect. The heyday of expecting consumers to sift through 100-page manuals is over.

That’s where authentic images play a role. We’ve all heard the saying: a picture is worth a thousand words? It may be cliched, but it’s true.

Using authentic photos in your content marketing communicates who you are to your target audience. Marketing is about helping buyers visualize how their lives would be improved.

As a result, the goal of visual marketing is to help people place themselves in your photos. However, the wrong photo can send the wrong message, which influences buyers away from your products and impacts sales.

Making An Impression

Visual content marketing can include infographics, influencer photos, stock photos in blog posts, gifs, and more. If you can make the most out of a visual impression, always go that route.

It’s respectful of your audience’s time, their taste in digital media and may do your brand some good.

Finding the right photos is hard, though. This brings us to an important question: how can you find authentic photos for content marketing? But first let’s talk about why authentic photos are so important.

Why Authentic Photos for Content Marketing are Important

The word ‘relatable’ is thrown around a lot these days. As live streams and instant communication dominate more of our lives, consumers demand a look at reality.

Whether you want to know what your favorite celebrity really eats for breakfast or whether a brand supports sustainability, consumers are looking for truths they can identify with.

After decades of glamor and Photoshop, many of us are pushing back. We demand authenticity, real people doing real people things.

Building Trust Through Authenticity

In the business world, relatability has a close cousin: honesty. If consumers feel like they’re being lied to—for instance, finding out that heart-warming puppy adoption video your brand posted was all staged—they feel betrayed.

Betrayal corrodes trust, which you need for consumers to give your their money and believe you’ll take care of them in return. To buy, consumers need to believe you’re on their side.

If they know that they were lied to or misled, even unintentionally, they may never buy from your site again. Even if they forget the specifics, that nagging feeling of distrust will always remain.

There are other ways that you can connect to your audience through authentic content marketing, too. It’s also important that your photos reflect activities that your audience actually does.

So what makes an authentic photo?

  • Technical execution
  • Tell a human story
  • Relatable

Technical execution

Choosing images that are of a high quality is a vital first step in creating and finding authentic photography. The main components of technical composition include:

  • Exposure: The amount of light that enters the camera through the lens (ie: too dark or too light).
  • Focus: The sharpness or blurriness of the subject you’re photographing.
  • Composition: Where in the frame you place your subject.

Tell a human story

While technical execution is important, just because a photo nails technical components doesn’t necessarily mean it’s effective. For example, take a look at the two photos below:

The photo on the left is technically sound, but instinctually, you’re drawn to the photo on the right.

The photo on the right, however, is technically imperfect. His face is overexposed, the focus is a bit soft and the composition is a bit off. Emotionally though, it feels authentic, like looking over at a friend sitting in a coffee shop.

Be relevant

Above all, no matter how authentic your photos may be, they must be relevant and relatable to your audience. Put yourself in your audience’s world. Where do they live? What is around them? What products are familiar to them? What is the weather like there?

Playing a modified game of whodunit is the best way to learn the nuances of your customers’ media consumption habits so that you can fit right in.

Using real-world photos in marketing is the best way for brands to relate to their audiences. One way to find these types of images is to licensed user-generated content from real-world photographers.

If you can’t afford licensing, take photos of employees and activities around your office. I guarantee showing your surroundings will come off far more authentic to your audience than any stock photo.

Where and How to Find Authentic Photos

To find photos online, search terms are everything. One approach is to use generic terms and be willing to go a little abstract. For instance, if you’re talking about hacking practices, type in ‘technology.’

This may bring up some images that show cool, aspirational technology with a coder standing in front of it. This can help break your brand out of a boring stock photo box, too.

You can start with an easy introduction: use photos in your blog posts. This will help add a visual clickbait element and allow users to be drawn in by your blog page’s overall look.

Now that we know what characteristics to look for in authentic photos, the next step is to actually find that perfect authentic photo to complement your content. Easy right? Not so much. Because the web is filled with terrible photography, it can take seemingly forever to sift through countless images to find the right one. Fortunately, there are a few tricks you can use to make this process less painful and quickly sift out the bad photos, leaving you with the cream of the crop to choose from.

1. Use actual photography terms

Searching for photos by using real photography terms is a surefire way to weed out amateur imagery. Think about it. If someone is a seasoned photographer, they’ll likely tag or describe their photos with the techniques they’re using. These techniques may include:

  • Low angle
  • Defocused
  • Silhouette
  • Depth of field
  • Front view
  • Head and shoulders
  • Motion blur
  • Long exposure
  • Wide angle
  • Selective focus

On the other hand, if someone is an amateur photographer or shooting very stocky images, they’re very unlikely to be aware, let alone tag, their photo with those technique keywords. Then, put an authentic photo at the top of the post after they click on it. This is standard practice and will make your posts look more finished.

2. Think of the emotion you’re trying to evoke

Another thing to consider when searching for imagery is the emotion you want someone to feel when they see it. Colors have a significant impact on our emotions and can attract or deter your audience with a quick glance.

Below we can see how the following colors impact our emotions in significantly different ways:

RED: Red is the warmest and most intense of the colors. It is often associated with passion and love as well as anger and danger. It can increase a person’s heart rate and make them excited.

ORANGE: Orange enhances a feeling of vigor and happiness. Similarly to red, it grabs attention but is not as overpowering. It is aggressive but balanced — it portrays energy but at the same time can be inviting and friendly.

YELLOW:  Yellow is the most energetic of the warm colors. It is used to represent laughter and hope. It is best used to grab attention in an energetic and comforting way.

PURPLE: Purple is associated with creativity, royalty and wealth. Purple is often used to soothe or calm a viewer, which is why it is often used in beauty products. Incorporating purple can make something feel more luxurious and wealthy, while a lighter purple can be used to feel romance and mystery.

BLUE: Blue evokes feelings of calmness as well as security and trust. Seeing the color blue actually causes the body to create chemicals that are calming. Because of this, it is no surprise that it’s the most favored of the colors.

GREEN: Green symbolizes health, new beginnings and wealth. It is a great color to depict growth, security or inspire possibility.

Keeping these guideline in mind, let’s look at an example:

For the article titled, “7 Essential Roles for a Successful Content Marketing Strategy” we want to evoke a calm feeling. We want the reader to think, “If I read this article, I’ll have all the answers I need to form my content marketing team.” A typical stock photo choice for this article might look something like this:

You may think that a photo showing hands working together for something like a trust fall camp activity may be a great option to represent this article. “Look how great they’re working together!” In reality, however, no one works together like this and thus the hand web image comes off as inauthentic and staged… The stark white background also almost may make the reader fear for falling through the circle of trust into a blank abyss! Now let’s look at a better option:

This image is a better option for a few reasons. First, the blue water is calming. Second, the ripples and waves add depth to background, but aren’t too distracting from the photo’s subject. Finally, the rowers are a perfect representation of a team successfully working together in sync.

After you’ve accomplished this, it’s time to take a hard look at your brand. Consider the erstwhile Buzzfeed, for instance. Their articles are often chock full of on-point gifs that add a light, humorous tone.

3. Be specific

Being as specific as possible in your search is the best way to find exactly what you’re looking for. Images that are tagged with more descriptive words are likely highlighting detail and will return more specific results.

For example, if you’re searching for food images, such as soup, simply searching for “soup” may return the usual images such as bland, mystery soup in your grandmother’s kitchen bowl. On the other hand, if we search from something like “clam chowder sourdough,” our results will likely return something like this:

Creamy New England goodness. As we can see in this example, searching for non-descriptive and bland keywords will return non-descriptive and bland results. Simply including basic detailed descriptions, however, can return drastically different results.

If your posts are more serious and informative, limit the number of gifs and TikTok-style images. Focus on utilizing images to illustrate a point and provide visual relief in large chunks of text.

You can also use authentic photos in a rotating carousel on the home page of your site. This can define your brand and answer many of your customer’s questions within the first five seconds of visiting your site.

Who is the audience, what is the product, what is the value, who does this product help me become? Images can implicitly answer all of these questions and more.

4. Give proper credits

If you’re wondering how to credit photos, pay attention to where you’re finding them. There are both free and paid options. But you’ll need to make sure the photos you use are rights-cleared, which means you won’t get sued for using images for your own profit.

Make sure photos are licensed, whether they’re free or paid for. Good resources include Pexels, Pixabay, Twenty20, and so forth.

However, you might feel like you can’t afford to pay for licensing. If this is the case, consider brushing off your own photography skills. With all the technology available today, you’re sure to come up with something usable.

This will help your brand come across as even more authentic, especially if you’re able to talk about how these photos come from your own employees and your own office.

These are just a few simple tricks to keep in mind the next time you’re searching for images to complement your content. If you’re really struggling to find the perfect photo that is authentic and also complements your article, air on the side of authenticity. An image that is beautiful but doesn’t completely represent your content will still keep your credibility and visual identity intact. Choosing a stock photo, however, will throw your visual branding off and appear inconsistent.

Examples of Great Visual Content Marketing

Now if you are reading this article and thinking: wait the photos on this website do not feel very authentic?

So here’s the truth. I used to work really hard trying to find great photos. Here’s an example:

But then I started my own business and while I continue to schedule time to keep up on my writing, some of these smaller tasks, like finding really great authentic photos, have fallen by the wayside.

So let’s look at some great example of authentic photos from other brands.

One example of great visual content marketing from a consumer company is activewear brand, Popflex Active. As a fitness-focused company, their photos exude emotion: empowerment, health, and good vibes

They also focuses on highlighting diverse body types. This helps make their brand more relatable and also hints at a commitment to inclusion.

My favorite example of awesome visual content marketing is DivvyHQ.

So I reached out to their co-founder, Brody Dorland and asked him how he does it. Here’s how he described his approach:

Step 1: Read the post – Could you find a photo with just the title as your inspiration? Sure. But if the post is well written, there are probably all sorts of visuals that will swim around your head as you read. Especially if any anecdotes, alliteration, or analogies have been used, turn those visuals into search phrases for Step 2.

Step 2 – You need a good photo library (or a subscription to one): We use and it typically has anything we could want. Taking inspiration from the post, experiment with keyword searches that are delivering photo results that not only match, but are getting your amygdala going. This is the part of your brain that controls emotions and desire. A few tips and tricks here…

  • In some cases, I know that I want the photo to have one or more people in it. I might also have an idea of what kind of emotion those people should be portraying in the photo. To hone my results, I use istock’s built-in filters (photos with people in them) and I might even add an additional keyword qualifier to my keyword search (ex: “frustrated”).
  • In other cases, the post may dictate a more abstract visual that acts as a less literal compliment to the content. I find that by adding the word “concept” to searches (ex: “blogging concept”), I typically get more abstract results that work well as a full-screen, dramatic backdrop for our blog headlines.
Step 3 – This is more of a rule than a step… Don’t settle for a mediocre photo. This rule is probably the hardest to follow, especially when you’re strapped for time. When searching istock, it’s not uncommon that I spend upwards of 30 minutes looking for just the right photo. I might end up with 7 browser tabs of “ok” options, but I keep looking, and looking, and looking, and adjusting my filters, and looking… Until… I find…the one. There it is.

He’s a busy guy too. But he doesn’t settle for anything less than authentic photos, even using a stock photo site. I guess I should take a cue from Brody!

Leveraging Authentic Photos for Content Marketing

Visual content marketing is a huge playground, and finding authentic photos for content marketing is a great step in the right direction.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, no worries! Our team can pick photos for you. So if you are ready to get more traffic to your site with authentic, personalized content published consistently, check out our Content Builder Service.

Set up a quick consultation, and I’ll send you a free PDF version of my books. Get started today–and generate more traffic and leads for your business.

Get a Free Consultation
for Content Marketing

Michael Brenner

Michael Brenner is an international keynote speaker, author of "Mean People Suck" and "The Content Formula", and Founder of Marketing Insider Group. Recognized as a Top Content Marketing expert and Digital Marketing Leader, Michael leverages his experience from roles in sales and marketing for global brands like SAP and Nielsen, as well as his leadership in leading teams and driving growth for thriving startups. Today, Michael delivers empowering keynotes on marketing and leadership, and facilitates actionable workshops on content marketing strategy. Connect with Michael today.