“A picture is a poem without words.”


Brands rely on powerful images to convey meaning and emotion.

That’s why composing and sourcing images are important skills for brand builders. Images are both the taste and the crunch of your brand.

In this chapter, we’ll explore how to wield their power and how to source them cheaply.

In this chapter I will:

  • Tell you when to use which type of image.
  • Lay out some general rules for composing images.
  • Show you how to source images.

When to use photos, illustrations and 3D renders

Images come in three formats: photos, illustrations, and 3D renders.

  • 3D renders make a 3D model look realistic by adding textures and
  • Illustrations are drawings, often done
  • Photos are whatever is left of your great-grandmother. My

When you should use photos:

  • For Your audience will trust a photo to depict a place or product honestly. That’s why they are the best choice for selling physical things.
  • To provoke visceral Photos grab the attention quicker than an illustration does. They are best at delivering emotion.
  • To look Since photos depict reality the most accurately, they are important for companies that want seriousness in their brand, like investment bankers and lawyers.

When you should use illustrations

  • To simplify things (like software). Most software businesses use illustrations to dumb down their They allow you to remove any clutter, presenting your (complex) product as something simple and intuitive.
  • For charts, graphs, infographics, or typographic They can be used as an overlay for photos and 3D renders as well.
  • For fantasy Photos can destroy much of the magic because they allow little room for the imagination. So whatever leans on illusions must use illustrations.
  • To distinguish your brand. Illustrations can be a great way to do something different in a crowded When everybody is taking the same photographs, illustrations can bring a whole style and perspective.
  • For Icons are simple abstractions. They allow your audience to absorb much information without reading.
  • For a vintage For much of the last century, advertising was done with illustrations of products and characters. You can mimic their look with your own.

When you should use 3D renders

  • For taking an advance on 3D renders can be used to depict a product when there is none yet.
  • For products in web You can cheaply and easily render a product in multiple colors, in the perfect composition.

Step 1: Compose powerful images

Powerful images convey the brand promise on their own, without the need for long explanations or catchy slogans.

But what is the powerful image? That’s a hard question.

As Supreme Court justice Potter Stewart answered when asked to define pornography: “I know it when I see it.”

Likewise, it is hard to define what makes images great. They just stick in our minds and inspire us to commit to a brand. It is hard to define the formula for one, but as the wise justice said: you’ll know it when you’ll see it.

You need to imagine which composition conveys the brand promise.

Which people are in the image? Where are they? What are they doing? What are they wearing? What emotions are they experiencing? Are they looking into the camera or away from it? What humor, drama or romance can you depict?

You can also study your competitor’s photos. Are they showing what you would show? What are they doing wrong? What are they doing right?

Let’s list the rules for composing a powerful image:

A. Avoid ‘stocky’ photos.

We’ve all seen the polished people with blank eyes and fake smiles. Yuck. Even Disney has the common courtesy to add villains. Cheesy stock does nothing for your audience. Worse, they can create aversion to your brand.

B. Never compromise on quality.

Avoid low-quality images. They will do more harm than good. So make sure your object is well-lit, in focus and has good resolution. (At least 72 dpi for online, preferably 300 dpi for print).

C. Don’t bore or freak out your audience.

People are bored by large crowds (there’s no one to focus on) and historical subjects (no clear relevance to their life). Then, close-ups of faces are experienced as slightly grotesque. (Especially yours.)

Also, try to stay away from violence.

D. Use depth-of-field.

Depth-of-field is your magic bullet. By making sure your object is in focus and the background isn’t, you quickly evoke a professional feeling. Many consumer-grade camera’s offers this function, so use it whenever possible.

E. Use emotion.

People react strongly to people. This is just how the brain fires. So the emotion evoked by your image is immediately felt by your audience. This helps to grab their attention.

Make sure it’s the emotion your brand needs to convey. If you’re selling designer handbags, arouse a haughty sense of style. If you’re running a charity, you’ll want to inspire a crippling sense of sadness.

F. Picture your audience.

If your audience consists of baby-boomers, don’t show millennials. Make sure you depict people, situations, and emotions your customers can relate to, and make it feel real.

If you are mixing audiences, be sure the group composition doesn’t raise any questions.

G. Create dead space for text.

Text in an image is always read by your audience. Text beside, above, underneath or behind an image isn’t.

Therefore, try to achieve some ‘dead space’ in the composition of your image. This is an area where nothing is happening so I can insert text without a noisy background distracting from it.

You can move elements and extend photos by cloning entire parts of it. (Using Photoshop) This is the easiest way to make room for your message.

H. Add action.

If there is some visceral motion going on in the picture, people know there is a story being told. Movement means energy and energy means attention.

Step 2: Source your compositions

You have composed your images in your mind or on paper. You now know what you want. Let’s go get it!

Sourcing photos

Option I. Browse the stock databases ($0 – $50 per photo)

The internet is littered with free and paid images that you can use for your brand. These stock photos are cheap and instantly ready for use.

However, they are very generic because they have to be widely applicable and non-offensive. You will never find the exact composition you have in mind as a stock photo. But perhaps something close to it.

Search the (free) stock photo sites . Use keywords from your composition to see how close you can get, like “female pool book” or “friends drinking phone”.

Search and save many of them. That way you have something to choose.

After settling on one, use Photoshop to add elements from your brand in the picture. This can be a logo on a window or your mascot in a background photo. If people recognize your Brand Identity in the photo, they are more easily persuaded it’s your own creation.

Option II: download a mockup ($0 – $50 per photo)

If your composition involves the use of a digital product or service, like an app or a webshop, you can download screen mockups . These show a screen in the desired environment, easily replaced with your interface.

Search for “iPad mockup grass” or “desktop mockup senior” to get close to your composition. The screens are smart objects in Photoshop, replaced within a minute.

Option III: shoot them yourself ($100 – $10,000 per photoshoot)

If you want the ideal composition, you’ll have to start from scratch. This means recruiting the people, finding the props and scouting the location yourself.

You’ll also need a real camera and – if you are not shooting in bright daylight – a set of lights. Hiring a photographer who provides these can be a safe choice. Make sure (1) she has the experience (does she have similar compositions in his portfolio?) and (2) is willing to transfer all the photos, rights-free, after the shoot.

However, photographers often have only rudimentary Photoshop skills. They can enhance brightness and colors, but cannot add props, 3D renders or other composition elements.

That’s why post-production is best done by yourself or another party. You are then free to be very selective and demanding.

Then, since you are spending some serious time and money to set the stage right, why don’t you shoot some video? You can make a proper commercial or recycle the material into GIFs.

Option IV: ask an agency to produce them ($2,500 and up)

The biggest brands with the biggest budgets ask the best agencies to produce their images. The entire production, shoot, and editing are outsourced to a (hopefully) competent party who will produce the exact series of images you need for your brand.

Yet, just as with photographers, be sure to brief them thoroughly. Verify if they can produce the quality and scope you have in mind by checking their portfolio. And join them on the shoot to make sure they stick to your vision.

Also, acquire all the material for the shoot for your digital archive. You never know when you need more content.

Sourcing illustrations

As for photos, start with the composition. What elements will convey your brand promise?

Option I: Draw them yourself.

Yeah, right. This requires a lot of time and talent. It’s unlikely you have both.

Option II: Download multiple illustrations and combine them ($0 – $200)

Illustrations are free or available for purchase through sites for stock photos and graphic assets . But unlike photos, images can be easily taken apart, their elements combined into your composition.

This you can source each element of your composition separately, and combine them to create perfection. You need to be skilled in Adobe Illustrator or other vector-based software to do this.

Then, style each element according to your Brand Identity. Harmonize line size and colors. Add or strip gradients and shadows. Make sure each element feels a part of your brand.

Option III: Pay someone ($0 – $1,000)

There are some highly skilled illustrators on the internet. Since their line of work is saturated with hopefuls, they come cheap.

Make sure their portfolio contains the quality and style you are looking for. Or even better, ask the illustrator of your favorite stock illustrations to draw yours. They aren’t expensive.

Then deliver a comprehensive briefing. The more creative freedom you allow, the more likely the result will stray from your vision.

Sourcing 3D renders

For the 3D rendering of your product, you need a 3D model of it. For now, I’ll assume you have one.

As before, proceed to imagine the perfect composition for your 3D renders to express your brand promise.

I recommend including your render in a photo or 3D environment for added realism. This creates the illusion of a product available and in use.

You can source environments from 3D asset sites  or stockphoto sites .

Needless to say, the product has to look realistic within your composition.
So pay extra attention by adding shadows, reflections, and other effects so your 3D render ‘interacts’ with the environment.

Option I: Render it yourself.

If you can both do 3D renders and Photoshop, try doing it yourself.

Option II: Get a freelancer. ($200 – $1,000)

Adding your product to a 3D environment or photo requires some expertise, which freelancers  offer online.

For including your product in a 3D environment, find a freelancer who does architectural visualizations.

For including your product in a photo, you need a freelancer with both 3D rendering skills and advanced Photoshop skills.

Don’t settle for work that doesn’t fool your family.

Step 3: Buy and save your licenses

Can you use (stock) images without buying them? Yes. But it can get you in big trouble.

Stock image sellers like Getty Images use reverse images search.

They continuously scan the internet for clandestine use of their images. When they suspect wrongdoing, their legal team will viciously strongarm you until you fork over a heft bribe.

Don’t ask me how I know.

For other websites with widely used photos, this practice is less common.

I’ve never heard of a case where copying illustrations was punished.


Make sure you buy and save a license of every image you use.

Step 4: Enhance your images in post-production

There’s a girl in the movie Gia complaining about unrealistic beauty standards: “Magazines don’t come with a label saying, ‘Caution: This is a lie. Nobody looks like this.’” Then she turns to Angelina Jolie, saying: “Not even you.”

That statement testifies to Photoshop’s ability to optimize images and inspire depression. Of course, like a sharp blade, it can be used for good or for evil. And lucky for the world, we’re the good guys.

To master the basics of Photoshop is to wield the same power. You can:

  • Combine the best parts of multiple attempts at a (Select and cut)
  • Add elements from other (Select and cut)
  • Remove blemishes from the actors and the (Clone stamp)
  • Suck that gut in and broaden those (Warp)
  • Extend the photo to generate dead space for (Clone stamp)
  • Increase brightness, vibrancy, and (Add layer)
  • Add photo effects to convert elements into sketch, smoke or (Search for “Photoshop Actions”)

Go easy on the filters. They are inappropriate unless you’re posting to a millennial wine bar’s Instagram.

Step 5: Optimize your images for online use

Search engines prefer high-resolution images. The JPEG file format provides the best quality and the smallest file size. PNGs can be a good alternative, but try using PNG-8 over PNG-24.

You also want to compress your images to increase load speed. There are tools to help you out.

When uploading them, you can add a concise caption. These, like URLs, can be crawled by search engines and are read 3x more often than the body copy itself.

Summary and steps for choosing images for your brand

Brands rely on powerful images to convey meaning and emotion. They come in three formats: photos, illustrations, and 3D renders. Powerful compositions convey the brand promise on their own, without the need for long explanations or catchy slogans.

Step 1: Compose powerful images

Step 2: Source your compositions

  1. Sourcing photos:
  2. I. Browse the stock databases ($0 – $50 per photo)
  3. II. Download a mockup ($0 – $50 per photo)
  4. III. Shoot them yourself ($100 – $10,000 per photoshoot)
  5. IV. Ask an agency to produce them ($2,500 and up)
  1. Sourcing illustrations:
  2. I. Draw them yourself.
  3. II. Download multiple illustrations and combine them ($0 – $200)
  4. III. Pay someone ($0 – $1,000)
  1. Sourcing 3D renders:
  2. I. Render it yourself.
  3. II. Get a ($200 – $1,000)

Step 3: Buy and save a license for every image you use.

Step 4: Enhance your images in post-production

Step 5: Optimize your images for online use

Save your work materials like stock photos and Photoshop work files (.PSD & .JPEG) in a folder called: “/brandname/images/source”

Download and save your licenses in a folder called: “/brandname/images/ source/licenses”

Save your images to be used in a folder called: “/brandname/images/”

Go pro. Get the book.

These guides are awesome. But great brands are build on solid foundations. That’s why the book includes:

  • All Guides & Tools

  • The Brand Building Process

  • Brand Psychology

  • Brand Strategy

  • Research & User Testing

Get the Brand Building Playbook™ for only $9.99

Don’t cheat your project out of greatness. Get the book.

Go pro. Get the book.

These guides are awesome. But great brands are build on solid foundations. That’s why the book includes:

  • All Guides & Tools

  • The Brand Building Process

  • Brand Psychology

  • Brand Strategy

  • Research & User Testing

Get the Brand Building Playbook™ for only $9.99

Don’t cheat your project out of greatness. Get the book.

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