Finding images for outdoor advertising

Person searching for imagery

When it comes to finding images for outdoor advertising, it can be tricky to know where to source them from. Are there images that you can use for free? Do you need to site which source you got them from? Is it better to create your own images, or should you just invest in professional stock images?

We’ve put together a quick guide to finding the best images for your outdoor advertising campaign.

The right visuals are key to a successful campaign

Outdoor advertising is about making a big impact and cutting through the busy urban environment to reach your audience.

It’s an incredibly visual medium given that you can only really use a handful of words.

We process images 60,000 times quicker than we process text, so it’s a totally crucial element of your campaign that has a profound psychological impact on your audiences.

Think of striking images you’ve seen in outdoor ads that have lingered for a long time in your memory. That’s the kind of effect you’re looking to drive.

So given that images are so important, lets take a look at some of the best ways to source them.

Sourcing images on a budget

The first option is finding free images. These will be stock images from an archive. The upside is obvious; they’re free. The downside is that you won’t have exclusive access to them. However, given the range and number of free images available on the internet, the chances a rival advertiser is going to use the exact image as you are relatively small.

There are a range of sites available for sourcing free images. You’ll want to search for something like “free stock images for commercial use” to ensure you get images with the right licensing agreements.

What’s free for personal use may well not be free for commercial use.

Creative commons

Look out for images registered with a universal creative commons license, otherwise known as “creative commons zero licenses”, which are completely copyright free, even for commercial use.

Sites can be deceptive, often charging for images they advertised as free. So make sure you read the small print before using their images. Make sure you do your own research.

Also, don’t confuse “free” with “royalty free”. Royalty free just means that there is only one initial payment required to authorise use.

Here are the top 3 free image sites which all have creative commons zero licenses:

1. Unsplash

All their images are free and have “do whatever you want” creative commons zero licenses. Not only are they free, you don’t need to credit the photographer or Unsplash when you use them.

10 new pics are added to the site each day and they are organised by category for easy browsing.

2. Pixabay

With over 320,000 images to explore there’s plenty of choice and you can search for vector images and illustrations too. You can even search for images by camera type for all the photo geeks out there.

3. Gratisography

A collection of photos by Ryan McGuire broken down into categories such as “nature”, “people”, and “urban”. He even has a selection of “whimsical” photos which can be great for adding extra interest to your campaigns and avoiding the “stock photo” effect.

For more options check out this list of 20 free image sites.

Royalty free images

Royalty free images have a fee to acquire them but never expire.

Adobe’s Fotolia project have well over 28 million stock photos for you to explore. It has a free to register “pay as you go” option, giving you access to all its royalty free photos which have worldwide licences that never expire. A range of on-demand and monthly plans are available.

Of course the problem with stock photos is that everyone has access to the same pics. You’ll have to make a judgement call as to how original your ad will look featuring stock photos. You may be able to repurpose the images in a way that creates an original concept (check the license gives you permission to do this).

DIY images

photographer taking photos for outdoor advertising

If you have the budget and resources, using your own photos is the way to go. If you don’t have an in-house photographer or illustrator, and are on a tight budget, sites like Fiverr and People Per Hour are great ways to source images in an affordable way with plenty of designers and photographers on hand, many of whom are just starting out and looking to build their corporate portfolio.

Hiring an in-house team to create your outdoor images is costly but it does give you total control of the design process.

Alternatively, you can outsource image creation to a design agency (again, Google is your friend.)

Platforms like Bubble can also create your artwork for you.

How to choose images for outdoor advertising

Knowing where to source images is just one stage in the process.

The tricky bit is choosing the right images for your campaign. Here are a few tips:

  • Billboards are probably the most image-centric of all outdoor ads. They are about making an immediate impact with images which rapidly communicate a strong message that’s easily digestible to passing traffic and readable if being viewed from a long way off.
  • Stick to one powerful image that grabs attention and creates a sense of unity with your message.
  • Ads like bus stop ads can replay repeated viewings as audiences have some dwell time to look at your creative in more detail. If they get a regular bus they will have repeated exposure to your ad. Ads that take advantage of extended dwell time can afford to be a bit more intricate, but you need to make sure it doesn’t just become a visual mess.
  • With digital display ads, your ad may only be on screen for a few seconds as a variety of creatives are displayed. So you need an image that grabs attention right away and lingers in the mind.


Tone of image

Make sure you a choose an image that conforms to the tone of your campaign. If it’s a humorous tone, then a quirky image can be great. If you’re advertising luxury products you may need elegant imagery, or imagery that suggests high quality and luxury.

The image should support the ad copy and not overwhelm it. This can be a tricky balance to get right but it’s essential that you do.

Think about the story your ad is telling and how your image helps tell that story. Don’t get too attached to a great image if it doesn’t add a new element to your creative.

In the design process make sure you use the biggest, highest quality images you can find. If blurring is visible it will take the viewer out of the moment and imply sloppiness. Your designer may need to enlarge the artwork or zoom in to a particular bit to make it fit with your design. If it’s already at the limits of its size it will start to pixelate and look ugly.

At the end of the day, give yourself plenty of time to search for images and make sure you mock up design prototypes that take into account the size of the format of your outdoor ads, the location at which they will be placed, and the impact you wish to have on your audience.

If you get it right, you’ll end up with a campaign that has maximum visual impact, harnesses the power of easily sourced design talent and communicates your brand message to your audiences.

Bubble can handle your artwork for you as well as providing an easy way to book outdoor ads. Get in touch to find out more.


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