What you need to know about using stock images for your business

Need images for your business but can’t afford your own photo shoot? Here’s what you need to know about using stock images. 

When you’re looking for a photograph to represent your business, it’s usually preferable to create your own images that are unique to you and your brand. Visuals are an important part of creating a better online user experience for your customers – according to Hubspot, optimising an article with visual elements leads to 37 % more engagement.

But of course, there are times when sourcing a stock photo is quicker and easier than hiring a professional. Stock photos can depict just about anything and suit a range of needs. Here’s what you need to know about using them for your business.

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A brief rundown of the pros and cons of stock imagery

The benefits of using stock imagery

  • It’s versatile – Yes, there are thousands of stock photos out there. And because of that, there are plenty of different ways you can use them. Whether you want something with a broader meaning or something more specific, you’re sure to find it somewhere.
  • It saves time – Hiring a photographer for a custom photoshoot takes time, not to mention the lengthy editing process that follows. Stock photos provide a huge selection of images that you can use immediately.
  • You get high quality images for less – In addition to the time it takes, using a professional photographer to take custom photos can also get pretty expensive. Stock photos give you access to similarly high quality images for a much lower cost.

The downsides of using stock imagery

  • They can be used by anyone – Anyone can buy an image from a stock photo website, so it’s not unusual to see the same images featured again and again on other websites – perhaps even competitors.
  • They’re inauthentic – There are stock photos and there are stock photos. Our options are much better than they used to be, but most of us can still tell when we’re looking at a stock image. They may be easy to source, but they’re a less authentic representation of your brand.
  • Licensing quandaries – When using stock images, you have to double check you’re not using photos in a way that oversteps the license boundaries. Getting this wrong can have costly consequences.

What to look for in a free stock photo website

If you decide to go the stock photo route to source images for your business, here are some signals to look for when choosing a free stock photo website.

Attribution not required

If you want to use lots of photos throughout your website and in your blog posts, you ideally want to reduce the amount of potentially distracting attribution text. You should therefore ensure that the stock image website you source your images from doesn’t have attribution requirements – they may be optional, but not mandatory.

Creative Commons

When you’re looking for free stock photos, Creative Commons is a particularly handy resource. Check that the website you’re using has a CC0 section that lets you find the pictures you need easily – without copyright restriction.

Search filters

The best stock photo websites have hundreds of thousands of images in their databases. Which is great because you have a lot to choose from, but it can sometimes make it harder to find exactly what you’re looking for. You’ll likely have more luck if you choose a stock photo site with powerful search filters that allow you to get really specific.

Clarity around licensing

As well as being able to find appropriate images easily, you also want to work with a website that makes the licensing status for each photo very clear. Misusing a stock photo can have expensive consequences, so you should always check this beforehand.

Here are some of the best stock photo resources I like to use for my own projects (of course, there are many more):

Don’t rely on stock photos to represent your brand

Using stock images to enhance your blog posts is one thing. But when it comes to your actual branding, you need something unique to you – something that can’t be copied by other businesses in your niche. In these instances, it’s usually better to hire a professional photographer to give you something authentic and bespoke.

When you use stock images of people to represent your team, for example, you’re sort of implying that this is what your team looks like – even though users can smell stock photos a mile off. Even more embarrassing is when you discover a rival company is using the same stock photo to do the same thing, which isn’t as rare as you might think.

Real doctor? She’s fooling no-one.

The standout feature of the above image is that it doesn’t look natural. A posed photograph with a plain white background and strategically placed props are hardly a realistic representation of real life. If you must use stock images, look for photos that are as natural as possible.

Optimising your stock photos

And finally, it’s not just about the images you choose, but also how you optimise them for use on your website. Here’s how to customise your stock images for better results.

Customisation

First off, if you’re going to use a stock image and it’s suitable for reuse and modification, then you can mix things up with colour overlays, filters, text and symbols. You may also want to crop the image to focus on a particular area. All of this can be achieved easily with free programs like Canva.

Branding

By adding a title and/or logo you can inject some of your own branding into a stock photo to make it feel less generic. Though as previously mentioned, you shouldn’t rely on stock images to form the basis of your brand.

SEO

Did you know that images can be just as important as text when it comes to showing up in search engines? Using well-optimised image titles and alt tags will give your articles and web pages context, as well as improving your chances of generating traffic through image search.

Final thoughts

As long as you follow best practices for choosing stock imagery, such as opting for relevant, authentic and realistic images, always checking the licensing status, and customising them for your own business, you should be absolutely fine.

If it’s outdated, cheesy or overused, then reconsider. And remember that when it comes to your business’ branding, professional, unique photography is best.

Victoria Greene is an ecommerce marketing expert and freelance writer who loves writing for different audiences. You can read more of her work on her blog.

Photo by Brooke Lark