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Elena Fernández Collins on How to Choose Great Stock Photos
Drawing of Ely by Charles Donovann
When choosing a stock photo, you have two main options.
Take a bland choose-the-first-thing-that-catches-your-eye way approach that adds to the never-ending wasteland of terrible images.
Or you can take a more thoughtful approach that involves choosing unique, artful images that are delightful to look at.
Elena Fernández Collins has perfected this second approach and was kind enough to share their expertise.
Ely is both a podcast critic and podcaster (Valence and Radio Drama Revival), and has a tremendous creative output in this space. In addition to her tremendous knowledge of audio fiction, I am always impressed by Ely's knack for finding the perfect image to include with articles.
Like this one:
And this one:
These definitely caught my eye while scrolling. In my opinion, this is much better than what is cluttering most of the internet.
Ok, now on to Ely's secret sauce.
What paid or free sites do you like to use for searching?
I only use free sites because I am a broke freelancer. My favorite sites are Pixabay, Unsplash, and Flickr. I also regularly search through this list of stock/creative commons photo databases that focuses on representation.
What is your thought process for finding the right image for an article?
The first thing I do is determine what vibe or atmosphere the article in question has. Is it informative in a serious way, or a chatty casual way? Is it an in-depth profile of someone or a lengthy review? Is it a themed list of some kind? Once I determine the vibe, I narrow in on theme and topic. If it's a profile, I'll usually try to use a photo of the person I'm profiling; that's easy. But if it's a review of a show and the show art isn't great for a header image for whatever reason, I'll start thinking about the themes that I'm focusing on in the article. Am I talking about loneliness, or companionship? Compassion and empathy, or found family, or queerness or racial justice? What's the core of the article?
At that point, I start picking out keywords from all this brainstorming I've done and setting important representational boundaries. If it's a podcast about racial equity, I want a photo with people of color in it; if it's about climate change, I want nature and industrial garbage; if it's a fantasy, I'll pick relevant fantastical items that show up. One of the most difficult headers I've selected is this one, for this review of Janus Descending.
For this one, I wanted a combination of any of the following: icy planet, two people, darkness or purple hues, ruined architecture, and space. These are core concepts and setting design elements to the story of Janus Descending, and I wanted to see that reflected in the header.
I spend a lot of time making sure that I am not highlighting white, skinny bodies more than I am other marginalized bodies. Once I have some options, I sort for quality and size and spend a while staring at them, getting a feel for how they set up against the mood and/or theme of my piece. I usually put it in with my draft and read it with the headline, the image, and the first paragraph visible.
Any other tips?
Think outside the box! One of the harder things is writing a how-to article for anything in audio and not using a photo that involves a mic, or headphones, or a computer. Try something else -- try looking for drawings instead of photography, people instead of objects, and any larger concepts of what you are writing about.
Also, if you know someone who's good at Photoshop who works with you or who you like, hire them to lightly edit some stock photos if those photos have that permission. Shout-out here to my companion in crime Jarred Worley who created the image for my review of Passenger List. I couldn't get the image of a cut-out hole of plane from a sky out of my head. Jarred made it happen.