8 Killer Traits in High Converting Stock Images

Landing pages, social media graphics, high-visibility ads – for any medium you want to use to convert users or passers-by into subscribers or customers, you’ll need images. High-converting stock images.

And there is just no way around it: images convert more, faster, and better than any other content type. Don’t believe us? Just see the stats:  

  • The human brain processes images 60,000 faster than text.
  • People take less than a millisecond –yes, a millisecond– to judge what they see
  • Images push our emotional buttons and make us react
www.shutterstock.com predict

You can turn a stranger into a website visitor by using the perfect social media picture, and that visitor into a potential customer by selecting a great hero image for your homepage, for example. 

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The Science of High-Converting Images: 8 Essential Cues

The fact images help convert doesn’t mean all images can convert in all cases. There are factors at play that make some pictures more appealing than others, according to where you use them. 

Picking the perfect image to increase conversions can be a science in itself, one that marketers know all too well, and we are now going to lay out the 8 essential cues to identify and select the most high-converting stock images for your business. 

By the way, did you know? Shutterstock is now helping you automate this task through their newly launched Shutterstock.AI platform, where they offer AI-based services to identify and select the best-performing pictures for your specific goals.
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#1 – Just Someone Like Me

Human faces are the best converting visual, but even just the human presence in an image –say, with a hand or arm– is enough to make it more appealing.

Experts explain this is due to us connecting better with our species, which means we relate more to seeing people “like us” in images. 

The “like us” is the most operative term: the best-performing photos portray real people from multiple backgrounds, ethnicities, and lifestyles. You absolutely must use images of people that could be your next-door neighbor or yourself. 

Imagine a company that sells insurance policies for small businesses. They could kill it with an Instagram ad by using an image that shows their prototype client –which is likely a millennial who is on Instagram– doing their thing. An independent fashion designer working on their sewing machine, for example:
photocase photo id 3189730 landscape > 8 Killer Traits in High Converting Stock Images
Copyright: Addictive Stock/Photocase.com, all rights reserved

Diversity and inclusion are at an all-time high demand right now and are especially relevant for businesses with a niche-like target audience: if you sell a product aimed at women, you want pictures of real women; if you run a company catering to retired citizens, you need photos of baby boomers; if, on the contrary, your company gears towards teens, you need pictures that appeal to Generation Z. The right image varies according to whom you’re talking to. 

Pro Tip: How to Find Stock Images of People – Most agencies have a feature in their advanced search options that lets you select images of people and even the number of people you want to be included!

#2 – That’s How I Feel

Images that display emotions realistically are the most sought-after in digital marketing. There’s just something about seeing people experience a feeling that triggers a similar emotional response in viewers. 

High-converting landing pages are all about showing emotions. If you want to project positivity and happiness, choose photos of people smiling -a staple in marketing strategies!–if you want them to see how awful the problem your product solves is, go for pictures of people looking genuinely frustrated or annoyed. 

Say you're advertising a solution for claims on delayed flights. A winner image would be one that accurately portrays the annoyance, frustration, and boredom of those whose flight got delayed, accompanied by straight-forward text like
Got delayed again? We file a claim for you!”.
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Copyright: IngImage/Stockphotos.com, all rights reserved

Notice how we said “genuinely”? That’s not just out of assertiveness: you want photos that look authentic. No soap-opera-style setups. Authentic stock photography is all the rage today, so you won’t have trouble finding them. They’ve also always been within the main photography trends for years. 

Pro Tip: How to Find Stock Images of Emotions – Stock photo agencies’ search engines are very sophisticated today, capable of bringing up images to match very specific keywords such as joyful, excitement, frustration, anger, doubt, etc. So make sure to add these emotion-related keywords to your search to find the perfect images! 

#3 – The Color of My Thoughts 

Color isn’t just an artistic component of marketing. Using the psychology of color –which tells which color connects with which feelings and concepts– you can strategically make viewers feel and do what you want them to do. Clever color combinations apply to both graphic elements like fonts and buttons and photography. 

Bright, cheerful colors like red, yellow, and orange are great for call-to-action on landing pages and newsletters because they transmit a sense of energy, urgency, and joy, while cool colors like blue and purpose are perfect to project reliability and authority in things like company logos or social media posts. 

If you want to create hype around an e-commerce platform for craft makers and artists, you could do so with a Facebook ad using this image below that has it all: a clear topic, human presence, authenticity, and a popping red concept! Imagine it along with a short text saying something like:
“No more crafting for nothing. Sell your art on Facebook!”
ING 33849 18303 > 8 Killer Traits in High Converting Stock Images
Copyright: IngImage/Stockphotos.com, all rights reserved

Pro Tip: How to Find Stock Images of a Certain Color – Many stock photo sites help you with this by adding a color search option to their search tool. This lets you select one main color –sometimes you can even pick it from a wide-range color wheel– to be present in the images you look for!

#4 – Look Over Here

Directional cues are a well-known trick in visual marketing because they work. Images where the subject is looking or pointing to where important design elements are –like a CTA on a landing page or relevant info on a newsletter –, convert a lot more.

Looking at this image, it's perfect for an urban fashion brand's website and to direct the view to the right side of the screen:
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Copyright: IngImage/Stockphotos.com, all rights reserved

Keep in mind that the directional cue doesn’t have to be obvious, a subtle like this one where the model is looking in general, desired direction can sometimes work better. 

#5 – Love That Pro Style

Image quality cannot be overlooked. A professional-looking design requires high-resolution photos with optimal technical quality. But the content and composition matter a lot, too. 

We can’t stress enough how important it is to use photos –and illustrations– that are current, relatable, believable, and in a beautiful way. 

See the latest Photography Trends 2021; you’ll see what we mean. 

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Copyright: IngImage/Stockphotos.com, all rights reserved

#6 – Size Does Matter

When it comes to high-converting images, bigger is (usually) better. As long as the image resolution is high and allows keeping sharpness, large-sized photos are preferable: they catch more attention, and their details are appreciated better. 

This is especially true for websites’ hero images, for example. 

Curly young woman smiling head on camera in pink setting
Copyright 2021 VK Studio / Photocase, all rights reserved.

Learn all the standard photo sizes for marketing materials!

#7 – Enjoy the View

The most converting images also have a carefully selected composition that considers the screens the design will be seen on. As a rule of thumb, overly “busy” images aren’t a good fit for marketing, but it’s especially true for graphics that will be seen on mobile screens: as they are smaller, photos that are too cramped tend to be unpleasant and disregarded, whereas cleaner, minimalistic-like images perform better.

Hands in disposable gloves holding cell phone against pink background
Copyright 2021 Eva Blanco Fotografia / Photocase, all rights reserved.

#8 – Everything in its Place

Speaking of composition, images in which copy is strategically aligned are the ones that do better with viewers, too. Having the double benefit of being eye-pleasant and driving attention to the written content is what makes them such a hit. 

photocase photo id 1316748 landscape > 8 Killer Traits in High Converting Stock Images
Copyright: David-W-/Photocase.com, all rights reserved

So when you’re selecting stock photos to use in a social media poster, a header graphic for your blog post, or any other image where you’re going to overlay text, make sure all the elements in the picture allow for your copy to shine. 

Stock Photos and High Conversion Rates

Stock photos are the perfect resource to solve your visual needs in marketing and e-commerce because they are immediately available, high-quality images, affordable, and legally safe. Add to that, that most stock photo sites put millions of pictures literally at your fingertips, as you can select, pay, download, and use them in designs with just a few clicks. 

At any of our recommended, best stock photo sites, you’ll find millions of high-converting stock photos waiting to be used. Want a quick roundup?

  • iStock – The perfect mix between commercial and artistic, with both budget and high-end images all in one place. More in our iStock review, and don't miss our iStock promo!

Work Smarter, Not Harder, with High-Converting Stock Images

High-converting images have multiple applications:

And many more.

Get the 102 pro tips to create your marketing visuals!

By considering these 8 crucial aspects when picking stock photos for your designs, you’ll be able to increase the conversion rate potential of your visuals from the get-go without adding too much stress to your workflow. 

Do you have other tips for finding high-converting images? We’d love to hear them!



Header image: Copyright by Bastografie/Photocase.com, all rights reserved

Ivanna Attié
Ivanna Attié

I am Content Manager, Researcher, and Author in StockPhotoSecrets.com and Stock Photo Press and its many stock media-oriented publications. I am a passionate communicator with a love for visual imagery and an inexhaustible thirst for knowledge. Lucky enough to enter the wonderful world of stock photography working side-by-side with experienced experts, I am happy to share my research, insights, and advice about image licensing, stock photography offers, and the stock media industry with everyone in the creative community. My background is in Communication and Journalism, and I also love literature and performing arts.

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