6 Tips for Finding Powerful Stock Visuals During a Crisis

 In iStock Solutions

1214595977, Onfokus

You’ve probably heard phrases like “unprecedented times” everywhere lately—we’ve said it, too. While, in many ways, your business hasn’t seen anything like the COVID-19 pandemic before, this isn’t the first crisis we’ve had to tackle, and it won’t be the last.

Whether you’re sending emails during a global human rights moment or you’re producing an ad spot in the middle of a natural disaster, finding powerful imagery that isn’t tone-deaf to the current situation and still fits in your budget is crucial to making your creative work ring true with your audience. To help, we sat down with iStock Senior Content Editor Emilie McKittrick to get her thoughts on how to search iStock for imagery during a crisis.

Start Broad, Then Home In

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Many crises have a global impact—especially if social media has amplified a movement or situation. As a result, any image or video that depicts that crisis will often have a specific person’s likeness or a well-known landmark. These types of images are often editorial, and can’t be used in commercial projects. So how do you find royalty-free, creative images, videos, or illustrations that capture the message of the moment? “I’d recommend starting broad, entering searches for the more abstract concept you’re trying to portray such as ‘relief’ or ‘rescue’ in the case of a natural disaster,” says McKittrick. “Your results will yield a lot of images that aren’t quite right, but it will give you some options that might work. From there you can select the images you do like and add keywords to refine the search.”

Use Related Keywords to Further Refine

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To refine even further, McKittrick recommends using the right images in your results to explore new keywords you haven’t thought of. “Once you find the handful of images that do work for you, you can actually click the keywords associated with those images to find new representations you wouldn’t have otherwise searched for,” she says. In the case of our “relief” example, you might end up discovering that you’d actually prefer seeing imagery of relief shelters or relief supplies. In those cases, “supplies” and “shelters” can be helpful as qualifying search terms.

Be Clear About What You’re Looking For

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You might think that you have to use a search engine in ultra-simplistic ways, typing in succinct words rather than phrases. However, this can lead to results you didn’t intend. For example, if you’re looking for an image with a diverse group of people, simply typing “diversity” will be too broad. Instead, try being more specific, searching “multi-ethnic group”. The iStock search is an intelligent, AI-supported tool that will work best if you’re clear and descriptive.

Think Like a Local

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One of the most difficult aspects of referencing world events is to do so through the lens of local markets. “During the current Black Lives Matter movement, there’s a lot more need for authentic portrayal of Black subjects in imagery,” says McKittrick. “While many of us in the US market are primed to type ‘African American’ as the search term, this won’t reflect accurately for other markets around the world. In this case, searching people of ‘African descent’ or of ‘African ethnicity” are subtle differences, but they’re effective ways to yield more global search results.”

Stay on Top of the Ever-Changing Search Terms That Are Unique to Each Crisis

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One of the most important factors when searching imagery during a crisis is to understand how fluid and unprecedented these crises can be. “Just in the case of COVID-19, we’re seeing so many phrases and keywords you would never have even understood two months ago,” says McKittrick. Think about it: would you have ever considered searching phrases like “social distancing” or “anti-quarantine” before the current pandemic? Now these are topics and issues that have immense meaning and relevance for people.

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But, even if you’re searching what you think are modern, topical phrases, it’s important to remember how quickly a crisis can change. The COVID-19 pandemic went from panic buying and hand washing to social distancing and sneeze guards in the course of just a few weeks. “I think it’s important that our customers come back regularly to explore new search terms or revisit searches that may have changed,” says McKittrick. “We’re getting new keywords at a fast pace, our search team is refining these new terms every day, and we’re even briefing our contributors to actively produce new content around these emerging topics. Check back and you might find the perfect visual, even if it wasn’t on the site just last week.”

Ready to put these tips to use? Dive into a search at iStock.com now to bring relevance and resonance to your work.

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