When was the last time you used a photo in a design project? I bet it wasn’t too long ago. Designers use photos in all sorts of projects, to create posters, magazines, websites, and much, much more. When photos become part of your everyday design process, you want to make sure those photos work hard and prove to be great value.
Here, I’ll show you the seven types of photo I come back to again and again for creating multi-layered designs. These images make a great foundation for any project, and you’ll find that investing in a particular type of photo will prove to be endlessly rewarding for future projects.
From background textures to mockup shots and everything in-between, these are the most versatile, best-value photos you can get hold of...
1. Background Textures
To kick off our list of seven essential photos, we start with what’s perhaps the most useful yet most underrated image type of the bunch.
Background textures might lack a subject, but that’s what makes them so versatile and useful. Whether you’re designing a poster and want to add depth and texture, or simply want a more interesting backdrop to striking typography, background textures are fantastic foundations for building professional-standard designs. Here’s my pick of some of the best, along with some suggestions for how you can use them.
A white or grey painted wall texture, like this concrete wall background, can sit behind other images or type and add an instant grungy, urban look to your designs.
Stick to the pale end of the color spectrum to make them suitable for layering under other images (apply a Multiply transparency effect to the top image to bring through the details of the texture below). If your designs are looking too crisp and clean, a grungy texture will add an instant cool-factor, which makes it great for adding millennial appeal to retail advertising and website backgrounds.
Looking to create an authentic-looking vintage design? A papery background texture with tones of cream or yellow will add an instant ageing effect to digitally generated graphics.
These tutorials show how you can use a paper texture to add authentic detail to these vintage poster designs:
Wooden textures make great backdrops for product shots, logos, or signage designs. Look for a pale wood with not too many knots or coloration, to allow your images to sit seamlessly over the top.
2. Panoramic Landscapes & Cityscapes
Sometimes you need a photo that doesn’t have a human subject, and sometimes you just need a photo that looks jaw-droppingly incredible.
Cue the panoramic photo. Wide-lens shots of landscapes add drama and magnitude to designs. They work fantastically well across two-page magazine spreads, teamed with crisp typography, for travel and lifestyle features. They also make great placeholders for website designs and for those scenarios when you just need an image to fill a space and look contemporary and beautiful. Panoramas are great value in part because they cover so much space, which makes them a great partner for landscape or exhibition-sized layouts.
Panoramic shots of natural landscapes add depth, serenity and a hip, crafts-oriented edge to your designs.
Wide shots of cityscapes make great fillers for business reports and corporate websites that need something more absorbing and creative to add interest.
Look for aerial shots which focus on the view from above, to really bring an on-trend edge to your designs. These look amazing with strong headline type layered over the top.
Panoramas are also fantastic layering tools for advanced image effects. Check out how Yulia Sokolova created a double exposure effect in Photoshop using a landscape shot:
In this tutorial I show you how to create a 3D type and photo collage using a panoramic shot of Melbourne:
3. Subjects on White Backgrounds
If you’re looking for images of a particular subject, such as food, objects, animals, or people, don’t be tempted to purchase anything with a colored or dark background. Designers in the know will always opt for a photo with a white background, a clear silhouette, and minimal floor shadowing.
This means you can get much more use from the image, allowing you to more easily select and either edit the color or remove the background completely in Photoshop. You can swap in a different background texture to suit different purposes, or simply have a handy background-free image (save as a transparent background PNG) which can be layered over the top of type or other images.
The rule of thumb goes that the lighter the background and darker the main subject, the easier it will be for Photoshop’s Refine Edge function to find the true edge of the subject, meaning your final edited result will appear more natural, with less feathering around the edges of the image. A lot of photographers will shoot subjects with both a solid background and a white background, to give designers a wide range of options. Make sure to search for ‘subject + white background’ to track down images with light backdrops quickly.
4. Overhead Shots
When customising and layering photos, it can be difficult to make the end result look completely natural and realistic. Often this is due to the loss of accurate perspective when images are blended together, creating a result that looks somehow a little ‘off’ to the viewer. This is where our next versatile image comes in handy. Overhead (sometimes called ‘aerial’) shots are taken from directly above the subject. They’ve become increasingly fashionable and are a great way of presenting lifestyle, situation, or cookery images. Because they lack the depth of perspective that many head-on photos have, they’re much easier to edit and layer.
Look for overhead shots which have plenty of space, allowing you to add images or text to create an attention-grabbing advert, magazine layout, or flyer design. You could add an iPad or laptop to this shot to demonstrate an online retail concept...
... or drop in plates of food or books to this overhead shot to create a lifestyle concept.
This is a great example of when you can use images with white backgrounds, once edited, to layer over other shots to create a more detailed image.
Overhead shots give the viewer a sense of complete immersion in the activity pictured, without the need for showing individuals’ faces, which makes them completely versatile for a range of purposes.
5. Light Textures & Other Overlay Textures
When layering images, you need to think as much about the top layer as you do about the background. Think of an overlay image as the cherry on the top of the cake. While a background image provides texture and depth, you can use an overlay to manipulate the light in the design.
Sometimes the light effects you can apply in Photoshop lack the realism of real light, and this is where light texture images really step up to the challenge. Light manifests itself in lots of different ways in real life—think about the prism effect you sometimes see as light reflects off a windowed surface, or how rays of light peek out from behind clouds on a stormy day. You can add a specific light effect to your design by adding a versatile light texture over the top. Here are some examples of light textures that have the power to transform your designs in an instant.
Bokeh light textures show the blur produced in the out-of-focus parts of an image produced by a camera lens. Layering this over your designs adds a sense of naturalism to an image, making the image look as if it was produced on a film camera. It’s also a great technique for softening an image and making it appear dreamy and ethereal.
This image adds both texture and light rays to your design, which makes it a great value two-in-one image.
Rays of light have a dramatic, almost supernatural quality that draws the eye to a design. Warm, golden light is also flattering and softening, making images appear more attractive.
You can also use overlay textures to reduce the amount of light in an image. Grungy, concrete-like textures have a dulling effect, which can make designs appear cooler and more contemporary.
Use it sparingly (apply a small opacity percentage in the transparency effect) to avoid draining the image of too much color. Overlaying grunge textures also has an instant ageing effect, which makes it a great quick fix for making designs appear vintage or dystopian.
6. Generic Human Portraits
Sometimes you need to use people in your designs, and in this situation you’d normally search for a particular person, pose and scenario and download the image that best fits your specific requirements. In many cases, however, you just need a basic photo of a person.
For photo manipulations especially, it’s great to have lots of generic pictures of people to hand. This is where the multi-portrait shot comes in handy, and it’s fantastic value. Whether you’re creating a photo effect or simply need friendly faces to fill up space on a website or poster design, this stock image really does sing for its supper. Search for ‘people portraits’ to find a range of similar images, with different faces, expressions, and poses.
Standing shots of people silhouetted against a white background are also incredibly useful. Use them as stand-ins to demonstrate the scale of exhibition designs, or isolate them individually to use in photo manipulations. Look for poses that are simple and clothes that are generic, so you can use them in as many projects as possible.
When you’ve chosen your perfect set of human portraits, you can start to have fun with photo manipulation techniques. Here are a couple of tutorials which use portraits of people to create really cool effects:
7. Mockup Shots & Product Templates
To round up our list of seven versatile images to own, we arrive at the mockup shot. This is hands down the most used type of image in my stock collection.
Mockup shots are indispensable for brand design projects, allowing you to project logo designs and color palettes onto products. These are not only perfect for showing to clients, who will love seeing your designs as they might appear in real life, but are also a great way for you to get your head around whether your design will work on a real 3D product.
Website and app designers will love being able to mock up their designs on tablet, mobile and computer screens...
... and print designers will be blown away by how cool their branding designs look mocked up on stationery.
If your budget is tight, look for mockup images that can work for a large range of projects. A simple tablet mockup makes websites, social media, eBooks and apps come to life. A cool picture frame mockup is a great choice if you frequently take on poster design, photo manipulation or illustration projects.
It’s easy to drop your designs onto a mockup image using the flat image alone in Photoshop, but you can also find layered PSD images that help you to integrate your designs more seamlessly into mockup images using actions or smart objects. You can find a huge range of easy-to-edit product mockups that look the business on Envato Elements.
Conclusion: Your Essential Collection of Versatile Images
There’s nothing quite as satisfying as a bargain, and you can really make sure your hard-earned pennies stretch further by investing in versatile images that you can use across a range of projects. Whether you’re creating photo manipulations that require lots of layers, texture and subjects, mocking up brand designs, or simply looking for filler images that you can use again and again, this list of image types will put you in really good stead.
You can browse a full range of photos on Envato Market, or click the links below to view a selection of images in each category.
- Background textures
- Panoramic landscapes and cityscapes
- Subjects on white backgrounds
- Overhead shots
- Light textures and other overlay textures
- Generic human portraits
- Mockup shots and product templates
Do you have any photos you turn to time and again in your design work? Leave your stock photo tips in the comments below!