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.
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
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:
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.
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.”
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.
“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.
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.
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:
- “Blur” – Unfocused backgrounds are fantastic mood builders
- “Streak” – Full of great long exposure options that show movement
- “Reflection” – Images near water provide extra depth
- “Low-light” – Another fantastic mood builder
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.