These days, writing the article is only half the battle—you also need great photos to make your writing stand out. But with millions of images to choose from, finding the perfect stock photo can be tougher than you think.

The key to great stock photos is, well…keywords.

Become-A-Search-Ninja

By using a running word list, iconic symbols, powerful keyword combinations, and photography keywords, you can master the search for stunning stock photos and find truly next-level images for any article.

1. Word Lists: Find Your Tone

Kids Jumping Off Boat Stock Photo keyword
Golden sunset silhouettes of children diving from the bow of a boat in the northeast Nordeste coast of Brazil by lazyllama

What do you want your article to do? Is it meant to be inspirational? Informative? Funny? Stock photos amplify the tone of an article, so it’s worth taking a few minutes to discover the emotions you want to highlight. Word lists are a great tool to aid in this discovery.

Set a timer for 1-2 minutes and begin brainstorming, not stopping to cross things out. After these few minutes, you’ll see a pattern emerge. For example, an article about quitting your job to travel the world might generate a word list like this:

  • Job
  • Work
  • Quit
  • Tourist
  • Adventure
  • Thailand
  • Vacation
  • Travel
  • Freedom
  • Sunset

This list doesn’t start out very positive—it focuses on quitting—but after a few iterations, it grows into a rich rundown that’s full of inspiring ideas that could go on and on. Now it’s time to hone in on the target keyword.

2. Finding Your Icon: The Power of Symbols

In this example, “travel” is a massive concept that means something different to everyone. “Travel” can be a safari to one person and an afternoon coffee in a Parisian cafe to someone else; it’s all about how you frame the narrative.

To avoid these semantic pitfalls, find one single icon that communicates your idea. It’s easier than you think. We do this all the time without noticing it: A heart = love, a lightbulb = idea.

edison light bulbs stock photo keyword
Decorative antique edison style light bulbs against brick wall background by Beast_999

Symbols are how we interpret the world. So take a minute and identify what single icon works as a stand-in for your main concept—in this case, “travel.”

A packed suitcase is an almost universal way to highlight travel. It communicates movement and purpose, and it’s instantly recognizable. A map or globe will also work.

Suitcase Stock Photo
Vintage suitcase by MorganStudio

No single image will please every reader, so don’t lose sleep over it. Choose a specific object that resonates with you, and run with it to the next step—telling a story.

3. Icon + Emotion = Story

Images don’t just enhance the tone of an article—they also enhance the message. This is why your chosen images should tell a story too. A globe communicates travel, but what kind of travel? In our word list the mood is freedom and escape, so it’s time to combine keyword search terms to include these concepts.

Backpack + wanderlust” yields authentic travel images loaded with additional symbols like binoculars, camera equipment, and hiking gear. By combining an icon with an abstract concept, like wanderlust, you get pictures with distinct subjects that tell a dynamic story.

hiker woman sits on tree wanderlust photo keyword
Hiker girl with backpack sitting on juniper tree and enjoying view of nature in the mountains by Poprotskiy Alexey

“Waterfall + adventure” (one of the word list terms) still focuses on travel, but strikes an inspirational tone as well. “Silhouette” is also a great keyword to add to your repertoire for any inspirational piece.

woman bikini waterfalls tock photo keyword
Bikini girl sitting next to idyllic tropical waterfall in Thailand by Sam Spicer

Tie your search term to an emotion to expand on the power of your symbol. You’ll quickly discover new images you might have missed at the start of your search. Different emotional or abstract keywords will produce very different results: Try “waterfall + happiness” or “waterfall + dangerous” to see the range of possibilities.

Searching “Thailand” (another word list term) brought up stunning images of the floating lantern festival—a poetic image of freedom and travel.

Thailand Lantern Festival Stock Photo keyword
Thailand festival by treesuda lamyai

Don’t get too committed to one single icon or idea. Stay flexible and revise your search as you go, but don’t forget your mission.

4. Think Like a Photographer

At the end of the day, you’re looking for a great photo, so it pays to think of how the photo was shot, framed, and presented. Here are a few photography-specific keyword search terms to find captivating images:

yacht tied to dock stock photo keyword
Retro Filtered Photo Of A Luxury Yacht Tied To Pier by Mr Doomits
  • “Streak” – Full of great long exposure options that show movement
Highway Streak Stock Photo keyword
Long exposure photo of traffic on the move at dusk on the M40 motorway in England by AdamEdwards
Trees Reflection Dusk Stock Photo keyword
Line of trees reflected on lake at dusk by yahiyat
houses on mountain in afternoon sun stock photo keyword
Wooden houses in late afternoon light, Sisimiut, Greenland by Yongyut Kumsri

Stunning stock photos will enhance your story in ways you never imagined. Take the time to create a word list, combine symbols, create a mood, and think like a photographer for a successful stock photo search.

Top image: Traveler young woman with backpack walking on island in the sea in summer, rear view by Poprotskiy Alexey