Top 10 Image Trends for Powerful Visuals that Stand Out

From Drones to 3D images to smartphone photography, so many image trends are grabbing our attention.

Shutterstock recently compiled 10 popular image trends shaping the future of visual content.

In this post, we break them down and look at how you can apply them to your social media posts to produce powerful visuals – even if you don't have fancy equipment. 

Top 10 Image Trends for Powerful Visuals that Stand Out
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Drone Image by Shutterstock

As every platform becomes more visual and the battle for attention grows on sites like Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest, the average user has become more creative with the tools available.

No longer is beautiful imagery just for the photographers.

Leading provider of stock photography, images, video and music, Shutterstock, celebrated 100 million images on their site by asking their community of creators, designers and reviewers to list their top visual trends.  They shared the 10 Trends in an infographic (featured below).

Let's dive in and take a look at each image trend and how you might apply it to your social media posts in the coming year (including some stunning examples on Instagram).

Top 10 Image Trends for Powerful Visuals that Stand Out

#1  Mobile Photography

Top 10 Image Trends for Powerful Visuals that Stand Out
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Image by Shutterstock

It's no surprise that Mobile Photography topped the list here.  Platforms are embracing instant mobile imagery. You just have to look at Instagram, Snapchat and Facebook to see this in action.

As Shutterstock says: Now ANYONE can take high quality images and share them in seconds!

Take more images.  Get out your phone and capture what you see!  

Coco Lui is a designer at Uber who also happens to take great images with his iPhone around the streets of San Francisco:


A photo posted by Cocu Liu (@cocu_liu) on

Check out this post for 15 Awesome iPhone-only Instagram accounts to follow!

#2  Crowd-sourced Photojournalism

Crowd-Sourced Photojournalism - op 10 Image Trends for Powerful Visuals that Stand Out
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Hope by Shutterstock

Put simply, this refers to photos that everyday people take out in the wild!

Real people in the right place at the right time, capturing moments, events, milestones.

Be prepared. Carry your camera or phone with you to capture events – whether they are related to your business or to local events or related interests for your audience. 

It's not just the traditional media capturing the world's events. Anyone with a phone or camera in their hand can document our history.

#3  Drone Photography

Top 10 Image Trends for Powerful Visuals that Stand Out
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Drone Image by Shutterstock

Images have gone aerial!

Our fascination with drone photography and aerial images and video has enabled a whole new perspective in marketing visuals.

Everyone loves a great drone image or video!

Experiment.  If you have the means to use drone equipment (or hire someone to do it) you can showcase your business, region, location or event.  Not many businesses are taking advantage of this yet. You can stand out if you do. 

PS if you are geeking out about drone photography…. THIS!

Here's an example of an Instagrammer using drone photography to make powerful Instagram images:

#4  Daily Stories

Top 10 Image Trends for Powerful Visuals that Stand Out
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Image by Shutterstock

This is all about a visual diary – sharing your day with images and video.

Think Snapchat and Instagram stories or a series of images or short video on any platform.

Or just a simple image that captures a moment in time.

Use Visual Storytelling to showcase your brand. Try some of the tips in this post.  

I like how Amy Tangerine captures her day with quirky shots on Instagram:


A photo posted by Amy Tangerine (@amytangerine) on

Check out the infographic from Shutterstock below and in this article.

Top 10 Image Trends Infographic:


 Click here to read more on Shutterstock's Blog.

#5  360° Photography

Top 10 Image Trends for Powerful Visuals that Stand Out
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360° Photography by Shutterstock

Seeing the world in the round has fascinated us for a long time but we no longer need fancy editing to do this.

Now anyone can easily create 360° views using a smartphone or tablet and editing it all on the spot.

If you work in Tourism then get savvy with 3D. Even if you don't work in Tourism, use 3D photography to bring your community into the world you live in.   

Want inspiration for how to use 360° images?  Check out Dan Moore's Instagram account:

#6  Contextual Images

Image by Shutterstock
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Image by Shutterstock

Shutterstock's definition of Contextual Images is that the images are “un-posed” and unfiltered.

It's about natural subjects and natural lighting.  We're talking the “everyday life thing” again but really focusing in on everyday subjects, people, activities.  It's a little bit “streetstyle”  too (see #10).

You have your smartphone in your pocket.  Use the light you have.  Capture the everyday moments.  

 I love this photo taken by Y Travel Blog – unposed, natural, and capturing a moment (click through on the image if you want to see what the moment was… and to follow the travels of Caz and Craig and their kids).

Or this one by Lauren Bath, capturing a local kid…

#7  Hand-Crafted

Top 10 Image Trends for Powerful Visuals that Stand Out - Hand Drawn Images (Infographic)
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Hand-Drawn Hearts from Shutterstock

Handcrafted refers to hand-drawn images, illustrations and sketches. Think digital images but with a “hand-drawn” effect.

It's no wonder that things like hand-lettering and illustration have become so popular on Instagram.  We love anything that is handmade – even digitally.

Use images or illustrations that have a hand-drawn effect.  Use searches like “hand drawn” and “handcrafted” when using stock libraries or search for inspiration on Instagram using “#handdrawn”…or create your own.   

HOT TIP:  New technology like the Surface Pro from Microsoft means that we can draw directly on to a screen and make magic happen. Check this out:

Think this is just for illustrators? Anyone with a creative flair can play with tools like the Surface to create great social media posts. I am an Ambassador for Surface Pro and have had loads of fun drawing and sketching to create digital images like this:


A photo posted by Socially Sorted (@donnamoritz) on

The good news is that “Hand Drawn” does not need to be “illustrator” quality.  With Instagram Stories and Snapchat encouraging “doodling” and quick drawings over images and video, you can catch attention easily.

Quick, fun drawings can catch attention just as easily as artistic quality images.  And with the “pen” now becoming part of our essential daily tools, drawing is making a comeback… digitally!

#8  High ISO Images

High ISO Images - Top 10 Image Trends for Powerful Visuals that Stand Out
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Image by Shutterstock

I'm not going to pretend to be a photographer. I'm not.

But I do know that shots in low light are becoming easier and easier to take… the cameras work their magic.

And if you don't know what ISO is, it's a universal scale that refers to the light sensitivity of the camera.

It's all about the ability of the camera to capture images… even in low-light.

If you set your camera to a high-ISO, you'll get faster shutter speeds and ultimately sharper, better quality images.

Experiment with your camera. If you are not up to taking the shots yourself, look for this quality in stock photos and images.  High ISO images are popular for a reason – they capture our attention.  

I have to showcase my friend Lauren Bath's image here. She takes stunning shots in low-light:

#9  Hyper-reality

Hyper-reality - Top 10 Image Trends for Powerful Visuals that Stand Out
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Image by Shutterstock

Software advances mean we can merge reality with fantasy.  It only takes a little Photoshop and you can bend what you can see in a photo.

This example of the image trends is all about “art in an image”.  If you have the means to create something unique then do so!

It doesn't have to be “real” to be eye-catching!  Post something a little unusual, a little “left field”…. even if just to catch our attention before saying what you really want to say.  

Now don't freak out, Venice has not turned to ice, but Digital Artist Robert Jahn's has a mind-boggling account (yes, they are photoshopped) if you want to check it out:


A photo posted by Robert Jahns (@nois7) on

If you want more surreal, hyer-reality examples, check out these Instagram accounts.

#10  Street Style

Top 10 Image Trends for Powerful Visuals that Stand Out - Street Style Images
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Image by Shutterstock

Again, this is referring to real, raw, native images. It's about capturing raw style.

If your business is in fashion, take note… street style might be right up your alley as it is one of the popular fashion image trends right now.   It's also great for showcasing people, food and more.  

Amanda Shadforth has injected street style in her Instagram account at Oracle Fox:


Mediterranean afternoon lizarding done and dusted ?..

A photo posted by Amanda Shadforth (@oraclefox) on

Like I said, this doesn't need to be about fashion. It's just stories. From the street.

Humans of New York (HONY) does this well … each image has an interview in the caption about the person being photographed.

6 million+ followers later, we love HONY:


A photo posted by Humans of New York (@humansofny) on

As you can see, it's not about the fanciest camera or drone, the best lighting equipment or the best eye.. many of these image trends are all about capturing life's moments.

There's more than likely one or two “trends” in this 10 that you can apply right now to create social media or marketing images.

Whether it's behind the scenes, sharing your journey or showcasing your brand, don't be afraid to reveal a little of yourself.

And if you can squeeze in a few of these image trends… you'll catch our attention!

Over to You

Did any of these image styles catch your eye?  Which of the 10 will you start to use in your business? 

I partner with Shutterstock to use their beautiful images on my blog, on SlideShare and in live speaking presentations.  Check out their weekly free content and handy photo editing tools

Top 10 Image Trends for Powerful Visuals that Stand Out - Infographic
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Image by Shutterstock
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Donna Moritz

Visual Social Media Strategist at Socially Sorted
Donna is a Visual Content Strategist and founder of Socially Sorted, listed by Forbes as a "Top 5 Social Media Blog You Need to Know About in 2019". Donna helps brands leverage the power of visual storytelling and content strategy in their business. Her content has been featured in publications such as Forbes and Entrepreneur Online and she is a contributor to Social Media Examiner. Donna speaks about digital and visual content for the marketing and tourism industries internationally.
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  1. Simon Zaku

    Nice article, Donna.

    I seem to like the ‘daily stories photography. As you said, it is all about visual diary which involves sharing of your daily activities. I think its good for brands because it shows ‘behind the scenes’ of your brand or business which really attracts engagement.

    Also, the mobile photography is a very good start for new/small businesses.

    Thanks once more for the post, Donna.

    Cheers, Simon

    • Donna Moritz

      Glad you liked it Simon and I totally agree with you – I love a great visual diary/behind the scenes/fly on the wall kind of posts. And yes mobile photography is an easy way for businesses to get started. Have a great end to the year!

  2. Fiona Lucas

    I love this article. You have such an eloquent and fun way of exploring all the dimensions of visual marketing. So many small businesses are not leveraging the accessibility (and affordability) of apps, devices and platforms that are making it super easy to create amazing images. On the issue of Drones however, it is important to note that there are restrictions around flying spaces and that fines can be substantial. However in Australia laws were relaxed for recreational Drones in October 2016 making us breathe a little easier. Basically for recreational drones (weighing under 2kg) you should follow these rules:
    Only fly in visual line-of-sight, in day visual meteorological conditions
    No night flying (generally).
    No flying in or through cloud or fog
    You MUST be able to see the aircraft with your own eyes (rather than through first-person-view [FPV,binoculars, telescopes]) at all times, (unless you operate under the procedures of an approved model flying association)
    You must not fly closer than 30 metres to vehicles, boats, buildings or people.
    You must not fly over populous areas such as beaches, heavily populated parks, or sports ovals while they are in use (this is one for bloggers to be careful of)
    In controlled airspace, which covers most Australian cities, you must not fly higher than 120 metres (400 feet) above the ground.
    You must not fly in a way that creates a hazard to other aircraft, so you should keep at least 5.5 km away from airfields, aerodromes and helicopter landing sites

    Other that that… get droning – you can capture some amazing images!

    • Donna Moritz

      oooh that’s interesting – really great tips. You should write a blog post on that! A lot of people are getting in to drones. Glad you liked the article Fiona!


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