Using images with impact

Communicators often have many options when choosing an image for a publication: in-house photographers, stock image websites, illustrations, or taking a picture yourself. But it can be a real challenge to find an image that both attracts attention and enhances your message rather than just filling a space in a template. Here are some points to consider when selecting images for your press releases, newsletters, emails, or other communications.

The more specific, the better.

The best choice is an original image that directly relates to your subject. If a faculty member or researcher is involved, ask them first. If nothing is available, the next place to look is a pool of stock images by photographers from your department or institution. Stock image web providers like Getty should be a last resort, but they may still have something that’s eye-catching and a good fit for your message.

Don't overthink it.

In most cases, time and availability will limit your range of choices. While a stunning image will certainly draw attention to your news, for academic news It’s often secondary to a strong headline and compelling text. If you can’t find an attention-grabbing image, aim for something that will help the audience better understand the message – such as a simple, colorful diagram for science-related news – or a relatable image, such as a friendly portrait of a researcher.

Vary your search terms.

If you’re searching a stock image website, come up with three or four variant ideas of what kind of image you want and a different set of search terms for each. This requires some trial and error, but it can yield unexpected results and eye-catching options. Institutional image pools are not always well organized, so be sure to review all the categories for “hidden gems”.

Consider timeliness.

Look for an image that links your content to current trends in the news, recent events, or seasonal changes. This will add relevance and is especially useful in drawing busy reporters into a press release.

Check the composition.

Once you’ve narrowed it down to a few choices, evaluate the composition of your options. Check outdoor images for too much empty space and try to match the current season. If it’s a photo of campus, no one wants to see a wide shot of the quad devoid of students, or tiny students in the distance, or a long shot of students grimacing into the wind.

Check for quality.

Finally, make sure your images meet basic quality standards. Check for appropriate resolution and how well it fits your template (the U of M uses 900 x 600 pixels for most web images, meaning portraits often must be altered to fit). Photos should be in focus with and not underexposed or washed out. Colors should pop and blacks should be high contrast. Using Photoshop or an online clone like Pixlr can’t save a hopeless image, but they can help you make small adjustments and crop to the appropriate format.

If you have questions about using appropriate images for your communications, reach out to University Relations’ Public Relations team at