There are plenty of articles telling why you shouldn’t use a stock photo and plenty of brands relying exclusively on them on their websites or social media pages. In fact, moderation is the key. If you are careful and don’t overuse stock photos you can make it a powerful tool to include in your marketing arsenal. Keep reading to learn how to find the dazzling visuals for your projects.

Why and when to choose stock images over the custom ones? Here are their main advantages.

  • Cost-cutting. Stock photos are affordable or may even be free. The number of high-quality stock images is growing and they can be easily found outside of costly premium photo banks. Also, with the rise of Artificial Intelligence that helps to automate content creation, we will see more of cheap visual content.
  • Time-saving and always available. Stock photos are basically ‘preserved’ ready-to-use content. This feature became especially relevant during the pandemic when custom image production was impossible. Many brands used them to stay in contact with the audience.
  • They can create diverse visual communication when mixed with other types of content. Some say that stock photography has become a cliché but custom photos from the same photoshoot or pictures of the personal brand owner can bore the audience as well. Combining different visuals to achieve different goals is the key to success. Team photos can humanize your company, help to share your ideology; UGC (user-generated content) will help to build trust; stock images can complete and highlight your key brand messages.

Finding the right stock picture takes less time than producing the custom one. However, we recommend taking your time and carefully picking the photos. Here are the crucial tips for finding dazzling stock images and using them.

Search across several websites

Styles, quality, and license terms at stock photo platforms differ. Using them regularly you will figure out which websites have the best food shots and which specializes in images of people.

Special tip: notice the talented photographers with the style that matches the tone of your brand’s visual voice. The photos from one artist will unite all of your visual communication channels with the same creative vision.

Try different search terms to avoid stock photos clichés

Basic search queries like ‘hacker’ or ‘cybersecurity’ will bring you tons of plastic photos with men in suits shaking hands or hackers in dark rooms wearing black hoodies:

search results for hacker

Do any of these pictures seem attractive to you?

Try to look beyond the most obvious keywords. For example, futuristic images like neon night city landscape or people with gadgets fit the topic as well and are far more original and eye-catching:

alternative image to cover the topic of cybersecurity

Pay attention to the emotions

Skip the photos where the facial expressions look fake or people are posed like mannequins. The users are growing tired of phony-looking and meaningless photos. The perfect picture is the one that looks like the photographer has captured the moment in a real person’s life.

Being natural is one of the most important ideas in 2021. Real people, their real smiles, sadness, or anxiety are something that readers, viewers, users trust more than cheesy plastic feelings. The time of fake emotions has passed away, so photographers don’t ask their models to be someone else during a photoshoot, they just let them be themselves.

Let’s compare 2 stock images. The one below may be used in a humorous context, otherwise, it fails to create an emotional connection with the message. The poses and over-exaggerated emotions can’t be taken seriously.

over-exaggerated emotions
sasint / Pixabay

Now have a look at this picture. It is dynamic and credible: the poses and facial expressions don’t look staged.

persuasive emotions

Image source

Pay attention to the details: smartphones released in 2013, outdated clothes, or even the style of the photo could give the old picture away. In this article, Anna Núñez, a photographer based in Florida, put her flatlays from 2014 to 2020 side by side to compare them. You can see how the picture quality changed over time as well as the style and editing. The cameras got better and the colors switched from the brighter ones to the natural muted palette, following the trends.

Make it make sense

As with any other images and videos, stock content should be used as a tool, not a filler. Although integrating random visuals into the article can get you more views you will lose your chance to illustrate and empower your message. Users ignore the purely decorative pictures.

Let’s imagine you are picking the images for your article on a healthy diet. Going with the simple food shots is tempting, but concentrate on how to make your visuals meaningful. You could complete your text with useful infographics or add the short recipe of the food on the photo (just make sure it’s not one of the notorious pictures of laughing women eating salad).

For this promo, Timberland used varied stock videos. Different by the style they are carefully knit together with a good script to tell a story. This series of short visuals helps to communicate the message by evoking users’ emotions.

Fit it into your visual strategy

To keep your brand’s visual style consistent and recognizable you need stock images that are tailored to it as well as custom images. If the audience can recognize your Instagram account by one picture, your visual strategy does the job.

There is a wide range of tips and tricks that can help you change and adapt stock photos. Use filters to find the images that match your brand’s color palette or search for pictures of similar style through the reverse search. These features are available on Pinterest, Google Images, or Everypixel.

Another way is to edit the pictures: adjust the colors or add your signature font like one of the marketing agencies did with this stock photo. Could you tell the stock image from the custom ones on their Instagram?

Creative by Collective Instagram page

Image source

Ask yourself if it’s appropriate

Instagram collage, social media ads, or the article are great to put stock images into. But placing the stock images in the Team section of your website isn’t the brightest idea, because it is aimed to reveal people behind the scenes and enhance the connection with your audience which the stock photos obviously lack of.

To sum up, 3 main questions to answer while choosing the picture are:

  1. Is it high-quality?
  2. Does it complement the piece of content and convey the right emotions and message?
  3. Does it fit into your brand’s visual strategy?

Have you found your perfect picture? Here is a couple of additional tips before you use it:

  • Read the licensing agreements to protect yourself from any pitfalls. Even the free stock content may have Sensitive Use clauses issues or other restrictions.
  • Check pictures’ originality to avoid overused photos or models and pictures used by your direct competitors. TinEye is a handy tool for checking how and by whom the chosen picture was used before.

We hope you now have a better idea of how to choose and use stock images to enhance your projects and empower your communication!

Anastasia Stolyarchuk also contributed to this post.

Read more: