As a graphic designer working on many association projects my job is to create visuals to communicate information to the desired audience. These can be a variety of forms and media including website, poster, brochure, chart etc. One thing that all these media generally have in common, is a photo.

Why Stock Images

A wall of text is not inviting, no matter how well it’s written. Images are one of the easiest ways to add interest to content, but where do you get them? If you have original photos, great. Your association may have a library of relevant, high quality photos from a photo-shoot, or from a previous event. Unfortunately this is rarely the case.

If your association doesn’t have any original images where do you go? Stock photos often get a bad reputation of being “stock photos” – the overly happy person looking directly at the camera giving a thumbs up. This isn’t the case anymore as stock photos have come a long way. Check out some samples below.


Tips to Finding Stock Photos for Your Association

You need to be flexible: If you are looking for two five year old kids, a boy and a girl playing soccer in a tree filled park with their parents watching, while drinking coffee, you’ll be searching for a while. However if you are looking for kids playing outside, you will find something great.

Find similar: Often you’ll find an image that’s close to what you’re looking for but something isn’t what you want. For example, someone is looking at the camera or there are too many people in the shot. Most stock photos sites have a “find similar” feature that shows you similar photos, which will help you narrow down your search.

More by this artist: I often find a photo where I really like the style, however the content is totally wrong. It’s someone on a porch swing, when I want a couple having a picnic. If you click on the artists name it will show you all of the pieces they have submitted. Often photographers have a specific style so you can find drastically different photos with a similar style.

More Than Just Photos

Illustrations: Illustrations can be a unique way to make your project stand out.

Icons: with one download you can get dozens, even thousands of icons that you can use and customize to add some uniqueness to a project.

Layouts: There are some pre-made designs on most stock photos sites. They are usually filled with dummy text, you will need a program like Adobe Illustrator to edit them. If you are in a rush it can be a good way to make a golf tournament poster, or get a head start on a brochure.

Charts & Infographics: Graphic design is all about delivering information; charts and infographics are a great way to display a lot of data. They can be extremely time consuming to create, so stock images come to the rescue again. They give you a great starting point.

Make the Most of Your Association’s Stock Photo Subscription

Stock photo sites have a variety of pricing models, from individual photos to monthly subscriptions with unlimited downloads. Chances are you’ll be somewhere in the middle.

What I have done in the past for some of the associations that we manage is make a list of all the images I’ll think they will need for the near future and get a one month membership that allows you to download between 50-300 photos. I will download everything I can think of, and usually find a few other good images in the process. This works well for associations, as they will often use images repeatedly.

Other Tips

Stick with one style; if you are using soft light photos with a shallow depth of field for your main image, you will want to use a similar style for the rest of your photos. This will also give a style to your association/event pieces.

Having a library of images that suits your association is always a good thing. You can always find a place to include an image or two to add some interest to a wall of text.

When planning a conference, if you need photos of a specific city or venue, look at contacting that venue directly. Their destination marketing organization will often have a photo library of high quality photos they will share, usually for no charge.

Nothing will beat professional, commissioned photos, and illustrations. However the budget isn’t always there to make that a reality, so stock images can be a great way to create great looking visuals for your association while sticking to a budget.

Note: All the examples for this blog from are from, other notable sites are,