6 simple tips on how to select timeless stock imagery

Published:  September 17, 2014

The pictures on your website are speaking thousands of words to your customers (and potential customers), and you might not always like what they’re saying. Even if you’ve spent hours choosing just the right look, you’ll want to revisit those images if it’s been a couple of years (or more) since you selected them. Istock have provided some tips on how you can save yourself the worry by learning how to choose timeless stock art.

First, there are six things that lock an image into a particular time period:

Clothing, hairstyles and makeup: Pillbox hats are twee, flannel shirts scream lumberjack or grunge, and a girl with a bun loosely gathered on top of her head is already a tired image. Even something as timeless as a suit can look dated if the cut is awkward, the shirt is dull or the tie is too wide.

While clothing and hairstyle trends do come around again, it doesn’t happen quickly. Timeless images use subtle and natural styling. So when you are choosing an image, remember that a pencil skirt will last decades whereas a bubble skirt is a fading fad. Look for neutral colours and classic clothing. Plain jeans—not too skinny, not too loose—and a ponytail, on a woman, will always be stylish. A soul patch is not.

Colours: Colours tell us a lot about something’s age without us even having to pause and contemplate. To be on the safe side, thoroughly investigate Pantone’s 40 Years of Colour. We are not suggesting that colour should be avoided or removed, but if you find yourself choosing turquoise imagery, know that you are miring yourself in the 2010 colour of the year. For a look that lasts forever, remember that subtle blues and greys have withstood the test of time.

Technology: Technology changes so fast it’s impossible to stay one step ahead. Your best bet, unless you are a tech blogger, is to steer clear of pictures that have gadgets like mobile phones and MP3 players in them, as they’ll be out of date within weeks. The best photographers will update their stock images with the latest gadget.

Skylines: Once iconic, enduring, everlasting and strong as a timeless image, skylines are outdated as soon as a new signature building goes up or a national disaster happens. If you want to include an image of a building, showcase your own storefront. That way it’s natural and easy to post a new picture when you make changes to the exterior.

Lighting: Even subtle clues like lighting tell a viewer whether a picture is current or out of date. A backlit flare is generally joyful and looks fantastic but if you want a picture that’s going to last a long time, look for one that is High Key — bright images with not very much contrast and few shadows.

The latest visual effect: It can be really tempting to take advantage of trends in photography. For example, tilt-shift images became popular again a few years ago and they still look really fresh — but it won’t be long before they begin to look mundane. The same can be said for effects like HDR (High Dynamic Range). Just remember when you are choosing a visual effect that looks eye-catching, it will someday (probably sooner than you’d like) pinpoint itself in time.

When looking for an image that’s truly timeless, search for something that transcends eras, in one of two ways:


Emotional connection: This image of an old man may break several rules outlined above, yet it’s timeless because it engages the reader with his humanity. With a fascinating and open face poised as if he’s ready to start a conversation with you, triggers a strong emotional connection. Long after the shirt he’s wearing is out of style and a different level of focus is trending, this man’s eyes will still be engaging.

Metaphor: Another way to trick viewers into getting past that bias of style is to use an image that is metaphorical or conceptual rather than a direct depiction. For example, illustrating a post about accumulating wealth with a stack of money is a direct idea whereas an image of a squirrel gathering nuts for the winter adds a new depth to the story being told. When developing the unique aesthetic of your blog or website, make certain you take time to think carefully about the images you’ll be including, what you want them to say and how long they can exist online before they’ll become a window to the past.


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