The Applecado blog

Using Stock Photography: 8 Golden Rules to Do It Well



We are lucky to get to work with some great photography from our clients, and sometimes we get to work with amazing photographers too. With the fast pace that the web and online content publishing moves, sometimes we find ourselves having to using stock photography...

 – we know we’re not alone in that so we thought it would be helpful to round up some advice we can share to make sure you’re not falling into the common pitfalls of using stock images.

Here are the more common mistakes you can make when using stock photography.

Choosing clichéd images

There are so many sites still using bad stock photography, *those* photos with cheesy smiles and handshakes that are just obviously stock. Using these clichéd images doesn’t get your personality across, it won’t convince anyone of your authenticity, or your quality of work (or product) and no, I don't believe that’s your team.

The first thing you thought of is probably the first thing most other people would think of too. It won’t hurt to brainstorm a bit further and see if you can come up with some alternative, or more original ideas to support your content.

There are some really good stock photography sources these days, we are spoilt for choice.

Images that don't support or are not relevant to your content

This seems really obvious, but maybe it isn’t to everyone. Your imagery should enhance or reinforce your content, and should confirm what the reader expects to see. Putting relevant imagery alongside articles or a blog post could be the difference between helping someone deciding whether to click your link and read more or to leave thinking they haven’t found what they were looking for.

Using images similar to your competition

You should be looking at your competitors to see what images they’re using, certainly the type of imagery they use as you can set yourself apart by using a different style – bonus points when your style is more suited to your shared target audience.

The risk with stock photography is that it’s available to anyone which means you’ll have a good chance of using the same image as someone else, however, it’s really important you’re not using the same stock image(s) in the important places on your site (or other marketing) as your competitors.

Reverse Image Search

You can even do a reverse look up on a photograph and find other websites that have used it.

To illustrate this point, we chose one stock photo at random to see how many other sites had also used it. You can see from the cropped screenshot below, there were numerous pages of results!

Image Search Results

Not licensing images properly

We are sure you know this, but in case you don’t – please remember you can’t just save an image you found while searching and use it as you please. Being caught doing this can actually be very expensive.

There are a few free stock image sites around, but check the terms as you may have to credit the site or original photographer. Other sites will charge you to download images, and if you choose to pay you’ll probably get a better quality product and available in a whole range of resolutions - just make sure you’ve done your research and the image is a good fit if you do pay for it.

Having said that, stock images are still much cheaper than commissioning a photography shoot, so you’re still ahead if you choose to buy stock – even if you don’t end up using it eventually.

Our Golden Rules for Using Stock Photography

  1. Try to find authentic looking stock photos that match your branding and suit your target audience
  2. Use pictures that support or complements your content
  3. Research and compare what imagery other people are using
  4. Check licences or sources
  5. Download hi-res versions wherever possible, you never know how you might choose to use it in time
  6. Consider editing or cropping the image to make it more distinct
  7. Try a combination of photo’s with illustrations or iconography
  8. Aim to keep a style. Like your design, branding, or tone of voice - keep your imagery similar to get a good feeling of consistency across.


And finally, here are a few of our favourite sites for stock photography

Adobe Stock
Death to the Stock Photo

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