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4 Ways to Elevate Your Designs With Authentic Photos

Using the wrong images can prevent even the best designers from doing truly standout, career-defining work, so it’s important for those designers to demand more from the photos they incorporate as they strive to meet the demands of stakeholders.

Unfortunately, subpar images are the status quo for most of today’s stock marketplace, so it often comes down to a choice between visual assets that are underwhelming, overused, or both. Nonetheless, it is, in fact, still possible to get your hands on images that inspire incredible work and stoke creativity.

Here are four ways designers can push themselves when deciding which photos to place in their projects, presentations, and pitches.

Thanks to our friends at Stills for sponsoring this blog post!

Lauren Withrow, License at

1. Go Beyond the Stock Status Quo

You know the type of stock photos that just scream stock? The ones that seem like the low-effort result of a checklist assignment? They’re so omnipresent that even people who will go their entire lives without needing stock photos can identify them instantly from the memes alone.

Because stock photography has transformed into a quantity-over-quality game, searching through page after page of look-alike images can be daunting, making it easy to just go with the first image that pops up since everything is, you know, the same. Designers might think they don’t have options, but good photos—the kind that inspire amazing design—are out there (if you know where to look).

2. Incredible Photographers Are Now Accessible

Stock photo sites aren’t known for highlighting their talent pools, because, traditionally, stock isn’t about the person taking the photo. Most sites will accept just about anything from anyone (which has to explain how you end up with 500 pages of the sun positioned between two skyscrapers in the search results for “urban living” or “NYC aerials” or even simply “sunrise”).

Again, it comes back to quantity over quality, as many of the established corporate stock farms long ago turned their efforts toward claiming the title of the “biggest” versus the “best”, with little attention paid to the value of showcasing the kinds of world-class photographers one might follow on Instagram.

Licensing photos from respected photographers can bring a level of credibility to your designs, but until now, their work simply wasn’t widely available for commercial licensing. Now, you’d be surprised by the number of them making their work available for licensing on platforms like Stills, which even lets you search by photographer so you can rest assured you’re getting the quality of images you need from photographers you want to work with.

Mazarine Eggerick, License at

3. Pitch With Stunning Images You Can Actually License

It’s hard enough to pitch your vision to your clients. It’s even more difficult when the type of photos you’d dream of pitching with aren’t actually available for licensing. Low-quality, generic stock photos have been the standard for far too long. These types of images can hurt the higher-level concept you’re trying to prove and distract from the big idea you’re valiantly trying to get across to people who aren’t always geared toward creative thinking.

Sub-par stock images are too often responsible for the dreaded “I’m not really seeing it” response from a stakeholder. These types of photos certainly don’t illicit excitement, and if we’ve been honest if you’ve seen one stock photo, it can feel like you’ve seen them all.

That’s why you should pitch with better, more artistic images from a site (like this one) that offers exclusive photos from in-demand photographers. High-quality photos that aren’t available to just anyone are like a secret weapon when it’s time to sell your vision and inspire excitement. Best of all, when the pitch is approved, you can license the images from your mood board and presentation to match client expectations. Level up your pitches with photos that can carry an entire campaign instead of settling for the status quo.

4. Skip the Shoot, Go Production-Free

When you book a custom shoot, you might end up with awesome photos—but both your budget and schedule are going to take a serious hit. Save that money and time by licensing design-ready photos that match the quality of a bespoke shoot. Sometimes it makes more sense to skip the custom shoot and license photos that match your vision. On Stills, you can find footage from the same location and shoot using the same talent, making it look like you designed an entire shoot for your specific campaign.

Roman Fox, License at


Elevate your designs with artistic, authentic photos from Stills, the invitation-only photo licensing platform featuring the best work of today’s most in-demand photographers. Request your invite, create your account, activate your free 7-day trial membership, and start creating the best work of your career.

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