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9 Tips for Using Stock Photos to Enhance Your Online Presence (without looking “stocky”)

So you’re probably here because you've decided to turn your visual game up a notch by using stock photos.

Maybe you are a small-company owner or content marketer with products or services to sell, you know exactly what to say, but need some images to make your communication a little more appealing to the eye. Or perhaps you are an avid blogger looking to make your blog-posts more engaging to your readers.

Either way, good for you!

Because not only do visuals make content more appealing to look at; it’s proven that visuals make content convert more, improve SEO, help retain information better and make content more engaging than text alone. What’s not to like?


Using stock photos can be a good place to start when improving your content marketing online.

Here’s why:

  • Stock photos are cost-effective (often even free)
  • Stock photos are ready-to-use (with a great variety of styles just a click away!)
  • Using stock photos can save you time
  • Stock photos are often created to be clickable, allowing for high reach and engagement

But how do you use photos that have not been taken specifically for you and your brand while maintaining a distinct and unique brand-image? 

To help you get the most out of using stock photos to enhance your brand communication online (without looking “stocky”), we have created this how-to-guide.

So let’s get right into it!

1. Stock photos should be a tool - not visual fluff!

A key thing to have in mind when choosing stock photos for your website is that - like with any other visuals - stock images should be considered a tool to enhance the rest of your content. The idea is to enhance, illustrate or amplify the messages that you wish to communicate already with your text - not to provide visuals just for the sake of having visuals! 

The advantage of images is that they can help get a message across at a higher speed than text alone - an advantage when communicating to time-constrained audiences and competing with all the other marketing messages that they are exposed to on the internet! 

So with this in mind, choosing the right stock photos that compliment your messages rather than just, well… being there - you can get your messages across more effectively and perhaps more precisely. And this is what good communication is all about!

Think about the messages that you wish to get across to your audience and how these can be expressed or elaborated on by an image. 

Consider how you would communicate them if you weren’t allowed to write anything - how would that look? 

Next, jot down all the visuals that come to mind and use these when searching for stock photos.

This is a good way to do an alternative search for images and to find photos that competitors may not have thought about when expressing similar ideas to yours, making your visual aesthetic stand out from the crowd.

2. Ensure that the stock photos suit your design and aesthetics

Creating a presence online is all about making yourself distinguishable from your competitors. 

That means picking the right aesthetic, one that is unique to your brand and is in line with the brand identity that you want to express. 

This is something you must always consider when choosing stock photos for your website. By browsing through several stock photo sites, you can get an idea of the different visual styles out there and think about how they will look together with your existing visual identity, colour scheme and the overall “vibe” of your brand. 

Which type of visual tone-of-voice and style are you going for?

One that eludes authority or quirkiness? Happy-go-lucky? Sophistication or down-to-earthiness?

No matter which style you would like to express with your visuals, the world of stock photography has you covered. 

And when finding the stock photos to enhance your online presence, the search function is your friend! 

3. Seek out authentic-looking stock photos

Other than ensuring that the stock photos match your visual identity and brand expression, finding stock photos that look authentic is equally important. 

This means steering clear of overly staged or styled photos taken in an obviously artificial-looking environment or photos of people with overly dramatic facial expressions. 

Also, avoid visual clichées when searching for stock photos - a key to identifying these is doing a quick search on Google Images for “stock photos”; this should give you an idea of what type of images to stay far away from!

The idea is to exude credibility and doing so means choosing photos that look authentic as well as believable to your audience, so keep this in mind.

4. Avoid overused photos 

Since you’re looking to enhance your unique brand and create a distinct image, it’s important to avoid overused stock photos - and especially the ones that your competitors are already using!

So before picking your stock images, make sure to check out your competitor’s sites to get an idea of what is already out there. 

You can also use the tool TinEye and do a reverse image search to find out where a particular photo is being used online.

For stock photos with people in them, avoid choosing ones with overused models.          

A rule of thumb is: if you can recognize the model in a stock photo, it’s probably because you have seen them on several other websites! 

5.  Avoid them for employee photos

This may sound like a no-brainer. Yet, there are still companies out there doing this.

Although the stock photo market is full of corporate-themed photos, make sure to ALWAYS use photos of your own employees - rather than generic photos of overly enthusiastic strangers dressed in suits!

Including photos featuring employees should be for the sake of branding your culture and giving customers and other visitors on your website a sense of who you are by putting faces to your brand.

Using photos of people that don’t even work in your company kind of goes against the whole point, doesn’t it?

Also, using photos of people that clearly don’t work in your company could come off as dishonest, out of place or perhaps even a little suspicious. Not exactly a triad of credibility, huh?

Enough said; get that camera out, gather your colleagues and get cheesing! 

6. Combine with your own visuals

When using stock images, moderation is key. 

You don’t want an aesthetic that comes off as “stocky” which could result in you looking impersonal and lacking a distinct visual style. 

A good tip is to use a mix of stock photos, each with their own goal, in combination with custom photos. 

Also, decide which parts of your website you think will be best suited for custom photos, such as your “About us”-section or employee presentation. 

Most often, the more personal the section, the more suitable custom photos will be to communicate it. 

7. Try editing them

A good way of making stock photos more personal and unique is to edit them. 

Many stock photo licenses allow you to edit the photos to your liking and there are many ways to experiment with stock images. 

Try out different filters, adjust colours, crop or resize the images, add contrast or shadows or blur the background to make the photo subject stand out.

The key is to use photo-editing to customize the stock photos to better suit your brand image.

An ideal goal to strive for is that customers should be able to recognize your brand based on seeing just one single photo on Instagram! 

So when editing stock images, keep the style consistent with your overall visual tone-of-voice. 

Use photo-editing software

A wide range of tools exist, some free, some paid.

Below are some popular tools to help you edit stock photos, also suitable for beginners:

Canva

GIMP

Pixlr

Abobe Photoshop


8. Add text

You can also add text to your stock photos. Adding your brand’s signature font adds  personality and uniqueness and makes your visuals stand out and become part of your brand expression. 

9. Don’t forget to: pay, credit and/or get permission to use them

Before getting too carried away with the colourful world of stock photography and the vast variety to choose between, don’t forget about copyright

Forgetting about the rules of copyright could result in a copyright infringement, and no-one wants that.

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: 

stock photos do not equal free-to-use! 

Although there are many free stock photo websites out there, you cannot automatically presume that stock-photos are free.

Someone took that photo and spent time, expensive equipment and perhaps many years of experience to create it, and that someone has copyright to the photo. 

Besides, even free stock photos may require that you credit the artist, making their name known with a byline - this will be written in the photo license, if it comes with one.

Therefore - as with all content that you have not created yourself: make sure to find out who the copyright holder is and ask for permission or license to use the stock photo. 

And if not: do not use it! 

Wrapping it all up

Using stock photos is an easy, affordable and time-saving way to add visuals to your website and create both more effective and appealing communication online. 

To get the most out of stock images to enhance your digital presence, it’s all about being conscious of what you are using them for and how well they suit your brand. 

When choosing stock photos for your website or blog, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Does the image enhance the messages that I want to communicate? 
  • Does the image suit the visual identity and overall aesthetic of my brand?
  • Does the image look authentic or artificial?
  • Have I seen the image - or one very similar to it - on a competing website?
  • For an image with people in it, do I recognize the model(s) from other websites?
  • Have I remembered to include custom photos on my website to even out the “stockiness”?
  • Would the image suit my brand’s visual style better if I did some editing - and does the license allow me to edit?
  • Do I need to pay for the image, get a license or credit the copyright owner?


To read more about how to use stock photography and what to be aware of in terms of copyright law, check out this article.

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