Boost your visual marketing results: 15 epic tips to choose images that sell

How to Choose Images That Sell

The right kind of imagery is the difference between social media graphics and ads that convert, and others that make little or no impact.

In fact, a business consideration. Instagram and Twitter accounts can make just as many sales as a standard web page. They can also turn customers away if the images aren’t handled just the right way. We’ve all seen it. Blank, glossy eyes, stretched smiles, forced, friendly interactions. The tell tale signs of a stock photo. Over the years, people have become professional stock spotters, and they typically don’t like them.

The thing is, there are times when stock photography is absolutely necessary, and with a few tips and tricks you can disassociate your photos from the generic smiling business woman standing in front of a conference table (you know what one I’m talking about).

If you’ve used Canva before, you’ll know that our image library is filled with over 1 million amazing stock images. For successful visual marketing, it’s important to have the skills to know how to choose images that will sell and convert.

To help you out, we put together this handy guide with 15 epic tips that will help train your eye and transform you into a visual marketing pro.


01. Never compromise on quality. Stock photography is a valuable investment – and even better when it’s free.

Low quality, pixelated images are a no no. Many viewers will click off of a web page if the images are grainy. Make sure your images are clean, crisp, in focus, and have a good resolution (images online should be no less that 72 dpi). As well as our own selection of free high quality stock photography to choose from, there’s plenty of great options out there that won’t require you to spend a cent. 

A high quality photo taken for education in war torn countries
A high quality photo taken for education in war torn countries

In this ad by Save the Children you can see just how clean and crisp the image is. The quality helps to drive the message home of the power of education, and gives it a strong voice.

Examples of high quality images
From Canva's stock library. Tip: Look out for high quality images that evoke emotions.

Here are some stock images from Canva. The quality of the photos is clear. Everything is sharp where it should be, and you can get a feel of the textures in all of the images.

02. Your images should be powerful enough to express the message of your ad, even if your audience doesn’t read the text.

The images you choose should lend well to your message. Make sure they support what you’re trying to say, whether that’s visually representing your message, or acting as an accent.

McDonald’s represents a bad mood visually
McDonald’s represents a bad mood visually

Here’s an advertisement that personifies a message. They acknowledge the fact that many people aren’t very happy in the mornings, and they show a visual representation of that.

Examples of portraying moods visually
From Canva's stock library. Tip: Look out for images that portray moods people can relate to.

In these photos you can see other ways to represent moods visually, whether it be angry, sad, pouty, etc.

03. Picture the people you want your advertisement to reach. They should see themselves in your design.

If you’re targeting millennials, don’t show images of middle-aged people. Show the people you’re wanting to have as customers. Put them in situations that your viewers can relate to, and try to make them feel as real as possible.

An example of a business raising awareness of transport safety to millennials
An example of a business raising awareness of transport safety to millennials

You can see here that Centennial College put exactly who they were targeting in their imagery. They are trying to appeal to young adults about to enter post secondary education. They show a young man in a unique light, which makes the viewer feel as though this college doesn’t view everyone the same.

Examples of young adults to feature in ads targeting young adults
From Canva's stock library. Examples of young adults which would be ideal to feature in ads targeting young adults.

If you were to target young adults in another way you would use other imagery. You could show them interacting with each other and with items they use often, like cell phones.

04. People connect best to ads that evoke strong emotions. Play to this truth.

Humans are emotional creatures. A great way to connect people to your brand is through striking an emotional chord. The emotion you portray should be the one you want your brand to make people feel. If they feel something towards your brand they’ll build a stronger connection.

An ad drawing attention to the poverty other countries face
An ad drawing attention to the poverty other countries face

This image plays on irony and empathy. You’re curious why a man in the middle of a desert would be holding a glass of beer, and when you read the text you make the connection. You feel empathy for him, and even a little guilt about drinking your beer while he has little fresh water.

Examples of emotive photography
From Canva's stock library. Examples of emotive photography people can relate to.

Here you can feel different emotions within each image. It’s important to know you don’t need to show a human face to create an emotional connection.

05. Optimize your images for search. Think of hashtags and popular search terms.

This is one of the most important things you can do with your images. If you optimize your images, you can create more traffic to your website through search engines (like Google Images). It’s almost like a hashtag in a sense and can be done rather easily.

An image you could optimize a number of ways
#health #tips #cheese #clever #advertising #lookafteryourself. Clever ads have the greatest appeal.

This image could be optimized a number of ways. You can tag the product, the subject matter, the brand, and the message. That’s four different search phrase someone could use online, and your image could be a result for it. Not bad.

Examples of imagery that is commonly searched online
From Canva's stock library. Tip: Research popular search terms that people are likely to search.

Here are some photos of some commonly searched subjects, love, parties, babies, and exercise. Try to think about what search terms you frequently use online, and how that could apply to your image optimization.

06. Instagram can be your marketing campaign’s best friend. If you haven’t already, experiment with snapshots.

Instagram can be your best friend. Snap a quick photo with your phone (the quality is often as good as some digital cameras) and post it online. Take a few more seconds to create an interesting composition, slap a filter on it, and use a few hashtags and you’re on your way to tons of likes.

Topshop’s Instagram page showing lots of snapshots
Topshop’s Instagram page showing lots of snapshots.

There are a lot of brands that are heavily active on platforms like Instagram, and they have a huge following, like Topshop. Not everything they post is necessarily a product they sell or related to the company, but it still fits in with the overall theme they have going on.

Examples of snapshot like imagery
From Canva's stock library. Tip: Search hashtags on Instagram to find popular snaps people like to take.

The Instagram aesthetic is incredibly popular and can be found in a lot of images taken with professional grade cameras. They’re very easy to construct and edit, and you can see some good examples in the imagery above.

07. Never use an image just for the sake of it. Your visual content should always have a purpose.

People can smell a generic photo from a mile away. Make sure you’re not just using an image for the sake of using an image. Sometimes you’re strapped for time and can’t shoot your own specific image, but if you have to use a generic one put it into context.

An example of a successful ad for prescription medicine
An example of an image used to a specific purpose in an advertisement.

Here’s a good example of what could have been a really generic ad for prescription medicine. A blank staring pose and empty frame, yet it was customized just enough to pull it out of that generic, medicine feel.

Generic photos of happy, smiling people
From Canva's stock library. Ask yourself: How could you give these images meaning?

Here are some photos that need to be handled carefully. They definitely seem quite generic with the happy, smiling faces, and business and party-like environments. But if used with the right messaging and adjustment, you can find use for them.

08. If you want to sell to your users, engage them. Get them to generate their own photos with your product.

Another instance where Instagram can be your best friend (along with other social media platforms). You can encourage people to snap their own photos and post them online. Give them a unique hashtag to use and you’ll have people from all over stockpiling images for your brand.

An example of a brand that posts user generated photos on Instagram
An example of a brand that posts user generated photos on Instagram

Benefit Cosmetics often features people who use their products on their Instagram page, and that’s a great way to get people to build a relationship with your brand. Essentially they’re doing the work for you, you just have to sift through the images and decide what ones you want to feature yourself (but always be sure to mention the original owner).

09. Jazz up your best images with some basic edits.

Don’t feel constrained to the image you have. You can do whatever you want with it. Try cropping it, adding text and filers, and adjusting the colors. Feel free to utilize the image in whatever way works best for you.

An example of a manipulated image
An example of a manipulated image

This is a good example of photo manipulation. This is a little more advanced, but a lot can still be learned from it. Odds are, they had the picture of the goldfish sans helmet. They added in a separate image of the helmet to create one entire image. Feel free to put multiple photos together if it suits your needs.

Examples of ways to adjust images
For more inspiration, check out Canva's social stream on Instagram.

Here are some examples of adding filters and text, cropping, and changing colors on existing photos to give them a new feel.

10. Don’t limit yourself to photographs. Get smart with your visual assets.

While people are highly visual, this doesn’t limit them to photographs. If applicable to your business use charts, graphs, infographics, illustrations, and typographic images to supplement your brand.

An example of an infographic celebrating a company milestone
An example of an infographic celebrating a company milestone

Here you can see that Airbnb created an infographic for a company milestone of 1,000,000 nights booked. There is very little imagery, but the way it was designed and handled typographically makes it feel like an image.

Examples of different icons and imagery
Examples of different icons and imagery available in Canva's library.

Here are different examples of things you can use beyond photography. You could use chalk or paint to create images, or even unusual objects to create interest.

11. Look for stiking colors in photographs that really pop.

Color appeals to your senses. Try to keep your images bright and vivid unless you have a specific purpose for dulling them down. Bright pops of color excite the eye and help keep them moving, which keeps the viewer interested.

Imagery using a punch of color to attract attention
Imagery using a punch of color to attract attention

The bright color in this image lends to the freshness of the product as well as the season. It looks pleasant and appetizing, and encourages you to visit the market and purchase what you’re seeing.

Images with bright pops of color
From Canva's stock library. Images with bright pops of color that would make for great ads.

You can see the color in all of these images is exciting and reverberates off of each other. If these images were dulled down or in black and white they wouldn’t have as successful of an effect.

12. Create a persona. Are you funny, or a social activist? Choose images that relate to your cause.

The things you post personally on social media won’t always be the same as what you post on your business’ social media. It’s important to know where that difference lies in order to avoid issues.

A brand that relies on humor
A brand that relies on humor. And it works.

Taco Bell is very humorous and carefree. They can get away with posting a lot more radical stuff because that is who they are as a brand. Make sure you know what your brand stands for, and reflect that in your social media and imagery.

Examples of most likely undesirable images
From Canva's stock library. Tip: Once you decide what kind of images your brand will use, also decide which ones they will avoid.

Here are some things that are good to avoid (unless you’re someone like Taco Bell). If you’re not a liquor brand, you probably don’t want to be posting drinks and parties. Keep it professional and keep ‘rants’ on your personal accounts.

13. Find creative ways to prioritize images over text.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so save your breath when you could use an image. If you don’t need to spell something out for someone, don’t. Choose to do it visually.

An ad relying on imagery
The images in this ad don't need further explaining!

Here’s a good example of communicating a message visually. You know exactly what Nikon is trying to showcase: facial recognition. The ad shows different faces being highlighted in a humorous fashion.

Photos that provide a feeling without needing explained
From Canva's stock library. Tip: Choose photos that provide a feeling without needing to be explained.

In these images you get the message without seeing words. If you see a blazing red chili pepper, you know it’s hot (the same with flames). You see the images and understand the feeling they’re giving off without it being spelled out for you.

14. Use actionable photos to create a sense of energy.

Show action in your photos, it excites the viewer. It doesn’t matter what the people in the photos are doing as long as it relates to your brand or message, it could be talking, eating, dressing, shopping, etc.

An ad using a still image that still has movement
An ad using a still image that still has movement

You can feel the movement in this image even though it’s still. The energy creates an emotion and fuels the message underneath. It is so much more powerful due to the action, and wouldn’t have the same effect if they chose to show the impact of two vehicles another way.

Examples of actionable images
From Canva's library. Tip: Get your viewers excited by choosing images that show action.

All of these images contain action, yet they all show it in a different way. Some of it is fun and lighthearted, some is intense and adrenaline filled, while some is relaxed and playful. Action can help enforce the mood and emotion you’re hoping to create in your imagery.

15. Choose images that feature people to build a visual narrative.

We are all people, so there’s nothing we relate to better. Show real people doing real things, it helps make your brand seem more attainable and down to earth.

An ad telling a story with people
An ad telling a story with people – which makes it easier to relate to.

Here the story may be a bit exaggerated, but idea of two people in love running away together is a very real thing that many people relate to or hope to do.

Images containing people
From Canva's stock library. Tip: Almost every ad should feature people. If it doesn't, you need to have a specific reason why not.

Here are more images of people interacting and doing regular, everyday things. You could have someone on their couch reading a book or watching TV, browsing on their computer, or even relaxing in a bubble bath.

If you implement these tips while choosing your images you’re sure to help build your brand. Just be sure to keep it real. Use people in context, relate to your target, and try to connect with them emotionally. Don’t force an image if it’s not working, and make adjustments where they’re needed.

Inspired? Test your skills!

Over time it will be easier to choose images that will work best, and who knows, you may even start shooting all of your images yourself.

If your a DIY marketer or a social media pro, these skills will be invaluable for your next marketing campaign.

Got 5 minutes? Give it a crack for yourself! Head over to Canva and see if your can choose just the right image to create an awesome revenue-driving visual today.

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