I love photos. You love photos. Statistically speaking, a whole majority of the world loves photos. In fact, it’s estimated that by the end of 2015 we will have taken over one trillion photos in the past twelve months alone.

The simple fact of the matter is that imagery helps us communicate ideas in an instant, and since design is all about communication, it’s natural that imagery is a big part of branding.

But, using images for your brand isn’t as easy as pointing the camera at something cool and posting it, there are so many ins and outs to imagery, and a lot of things to consider. So, let’s discuss.

01. Make a Moodboard

Choosing a style of imagery to use isn’t always easy. How do you know what your stylistic niche is? How should you go about taking photos? What should you even be taking photos of? A great way to find the answers to those burning questions is by creating a moodboard.

Here’s an example moodboard. See how by compiling images that you feel reflect your brand onto one page you’re able to get a much stronger sense of what aesthetic you’re chasing?

Have a go at creating your own moodboard, and then write down words that describe all the images. This should become a makeshift checklist of sorts that you can check future images by. Is it minimal enough? Does it have cool tones?

02. Establish What You Don’t Want

Providing yourself with options for what you should be doing is great, but providing yourself with a guideline of images that show what you should not might be even better.

This exercise is fantastic for both referring back to later, but also the act of collecting images that don’t work with your brand and deciding why they won’t work is a great way for you to mentally understand your brand’s aesthetic.

Here’s an example of what you could do to create a guideline for what not to do:

While collecting incorrect images might seem like a backwards step at first, trust me when I say that it will help you flesh out your brand’s visual aesthetic in a big way.

03. Use Stock Images

Let’s face it: we don’t always have the means to photograph our ideal image. This is where stock photography saves the day.

Before you recoil at the phrase ‘stock images’, let me first tell you that stock photos have evolved and become quite beautiful, and cheap (even sometimes free). Check out this image below, it’s not only a stock image, but it’s completely free for use.

Unspash - Olenka Kotyk

For a great list of the top sites to find stunning stock photos, check out these 74 sites, or check out Canva’s huge library of stunning images.

04. Use Your Imagery To Highlight Your Brand Colors

Wherever you choose to source your photographs, try to find a way to highlight your brand’s signature tones. Not only will this reinforce your branding to viewers, but it will give your brand a link to something more tangible.

For instance, have a look at this example below. Here we’re designing for a fictional restaurant ‘The Atlantic Trading Co’. As you can see, their signature color is red, so the images chosen for this brand all emphasize that color in some way while still maintaining a consistent aesthetic of clean, minimal photos.

Have a hunt around some stock image websites, (or your own albums) and try to piece together a collection of photographs that highlight your brand color, just as has been done above.

05. Find a Filter That Suits You

There’s a reason filters are so popular: they provide one-click solutions to making our photos look a specific way. However, they can also easily make your photos look a bit hodge-podge if used incorrectly.

When using filters, try to always use similar (if not the exact same) filters. Using mismatched filters can make your photos look a little disjointed. Check out the images below, for example. Each have been colored with the cool, low contrast filter ‘Nordic’ except for one. Sticks out like a sore thumb, doesn’t it?

If filter’s aren’t your forte, you can always manually adjust your images if you’re confident with tinkering with things like brightness, contrast, tints, etc.

So, for now, using the photos that we found in the previous step, have a play with a few filters and see which ones work for you.

Quick tip: try to choose a filter that enhances what your image already has. If you find yourself using filters that drastically recolor or change your photos, you might need new photos.

06. Set Up Rules

It’s important to establish rules about how your imagery is used. Should your images be cropped in any way? Should there be a border? Get really specific and set up rules in a transparent, easy to follow way.

Here’s two examples. First, we have a rule from our earlier brand ‘The Atlantic Trading Co.’, remember them? In this example they establish a super simple rule that notes where on images type should be placed.

See how this clarifies things in a simple, visual way for future designs? This is a great tool for collaborating with designers in the future, it will give them a visual guide to the best practises for your brand.

This is a great exercise to undertake, and one I highly recommend. All it takes is you creating a layout that works, and then adjusting it slightly until it doesn’t work, and then specifying why.

Actionable Task

  1. Set up a distinct and defined style of imagery for your brand to use
  2. Establish rules for how your brand should and should not use that imagery in designs