Images sell. Images can make or break a post, page, ad, you name it. But, what if you have no good pics to use? Is your only option Stock Photography???

Let’s face it, lots of organizations use lots of stock photography for a number of reasons. Mostly, because it’s easy to find the type of image you want and it’s cheap.


We use stock images. I might even use one for this post. It’s probably going to be right above these words I’m writing now. Am I a bad person? No. I want to add a little visual life to this post.

Of course, stock photography is disliked (loathed, hated, despised) by many. Mainly because the images used are cheesy and cliché.

But, visuals help drive a point home. Images bring life to your content. So, if stock photography is so terrible, what are your options? Here are some easy ways to get an original image…

  1. Smartphone
  2. Suppliers, vendors, clients
  3. Stock images (no, really, I’ll explain)
  4. Hire a professional photographer (duh!)

Smartphone Photography

Your mobile phone can capture some pretty incredible images. The new smartphones can take better pics than the Nikon DSLR I bought a few years back.

You do have some limitations with smartphones, however. If you know what they are, you can find ways to work around them.

Here are some of the most common smartphone limitations…

Depth of Field

This is the area of the image that is in focus. A shallow depth of field can produce a dramatic effect. This is used in environmental portraiture where the subject is in focus and the background is blurred creating an almost painterly effect.

For example, the headshot below was taken right outside my house. But, the depth of field is very shallow so my neighbor’s houses are blurred into being more of a subtle background.

Some phones now allow you to blur the background or select the area you want to be in focus. But, be careful. Sometimes the blurred area overlaps into part of the subject making it look unnatural.

Also, make sure you are aware of the background when you shoot. Avoid trees growing out of people’s heads or unwanted squirrel photobombs.

A general rule of thumb is to look at the entire frame when shooting a pic. Pay attention to the background as well as the subject.

If you want a very shallow depth of field, you might want to get a hold of a nice DSLR.

Zoom, Wide-angle, and Macro

Yes, you can zoom with a smartphone, but you lose quality exponentially the more you zoom. Plus, if you are trying to capture any sort of action while in zoom mode, you are much more susceptible to hand-shake blurs.

Try getting closer to the subject. As stated above, look at the entire frame. Is it possible to get closer and at a better angle? Don’t be afraid to move around.

If you are looking to get good shots, the least used shooting position should be you casually standing with the phone out directly in front of you at arm’s length. Move, get close and get the interesting shot instead of just a snapshot.

Macro, wide-angle, and fisheye are used for closeups and small spaces. They are also hard to pull off on a smartphone. That said, you can get pretty close with a phone. Just make sure you are still in focus. Have a laptop or tablet close by so you can look at the image on a large screen to be certain it’s what you want.

And again, move around. Don’t just stand hunched over with the camera hovering above the subject. Get dirty! Get on the floor! Climb a ladder! Make it interesting.

Real estate uses wide angle and fisheye all the time. They want to make that galley kitchen look downright huge! If you need this kind of shot, you really should get your hands on a nice DSLR and purchase a wide-angle or fisheye lens.


Capturing movement with a smartphone is very difficult. If it’s all you have at the time, you can try a few tricks.

One is to hold the phone and then follow the movement. This is tough and really takes practice. But, the effect is very cool. The subject is in focus and the background gets blurred. It’s much easier to do with a DSLR of course, but give it a shot.

The other is to secure your phone in a stationary position using a tripod or whatever you have on hand. This way the phone can be still enough to grab a quick shot of the moving subject. Also, make sure you are in the movement mode (usually an icon of someone running).

If a smartphone is all you have, be aware of the limitations, and use these tips…

General Smartphone Photography Tips

  1. Move! Don’t be afraid to get close, get low, go high, whatever it takes. Don’t just stand there and hope for a good shot.
  2. Look! You have a screen telling you what the image will look like. Look at it! Look at the entire frame. How is the lighting? Anything weird in the background? Is it interesting?
  3. Shoot! Take lots of pics. What might look good on that tiny screen may actually end up looking blurry or otherwise no good when you take it to your computer. Shoot from different angles. Make sure the subject is in focus.

Get Your Pics from the Pros

Supplier and Vendor Images

Many of our clients sell products or services from a larger supplier. Often times, these suppliers will have professional images of these products. Get these pics!

They may also have high-quality versions of the product logos. All of these images and graphics will be crucial when setting up product pages, supplier pages, or adding product logos to print pieces or in the footer of your website.

Whatever you do, do not just save an image from a website, whether it’s an image or graphic. For one thing, you could get into trouble. Most will have terms of service for using their images.

Also, saving something from a website means you are using an optimized image. It is far from ideal for use in any design applications, even for a website. Get the high-resolution image instead right from the source. You’ll then have something you can use for print and web design applications.

Client and Partner Images

Sometimes your clients might take some great images that you can use. If you have an event or they are using your product in a real world application, they may be capturing some great images.

For events, find out if your clients (members, board, etc) plan on taking pics. And ask them if they would be OK with you using some of their images. Just make sure they know how you plan to use the images. And ask if they would like credit and how they would like it listed.

For real world applications, look for opportunities to bring your products and services to life. Lilypons Water Gardens, a world famous aquatic nursery here in Frederick, MD, is known for its catalog.

They have some of the best images of lilies, lotus, and other plants and aquatic wildlife in their catalog. I’ve even shot some images for them in the past and was honored to be included in the catalog.

Oftentimes they will include images sent in from their customers of their plants and products on display in the customer’s water garden. This way, the person thumbing through the catalog can now see an example of what a water garden might look like in their yard.

Plus, the customer whose photo is used will brag to everyone they know about making it into this world-famous catalog. That’s some pretty amazing marketing and it’s free!

Stock Images, No Really!

Like I said, we use stock images. Sometimes we just have to. The client either does not have good images and/or is unable to get some.

But we will not use a stock image as-is in designs for our clients. We always try to just use pieces of images and then either add in other images or design graphics to enhance the image (like our hand-stamped logo above but way cooler). We want all of the graphics we develop for our clients to be unique.

All images you use should be unique in some way. They should also support your marketing messaging. Simply slapping an image on a page is not design. And it’s boring!

If you are forced to use stock photography, try to avoid the same old cheesy images that everyone else uses. You know the ones, the shaking hands (used above for effect), people sitting around a computer smiling, a woman with a headset on, and so on.

Take some time to look through services like iStock, ThinkStock, and others to find something different and interesting. We have a subscription for ThinkStock and use it quite a bit.

If you plan on needing images on a regular basis (like images for posts or presentations), you might want to consider getting a subscription to one of these services.

Hire a Professional Photographer

Sometimes you just need a pro. It might cost more, but you will get more out of it. Some instances where a professional is best include:

Headshots and Team Photos

Don’t shoot these yourself unless you are a pro with nice gear. You want your team to look good and their images to look professional. Having quality headshots will pay off in the long run.

These will come in handy for:

  • Your website – about pages, bios, author listing, etc.
  • Print materials – brochures, sales materials, business cards, etc.
  • Promotional materials – speaker announcements, event posters, etc.

A low-quality picture of someone standing in front of a wall will look bad. And it will give off a bad impression to potential clients, etc. Spend some money and make your team look good!

Product and Food Images

If your vendors don’t have any good images, you might consider hiring someone to take these for you. A professional product shot could mean the difference between a purchase or a bounce.


Food images are another example of where a pro makes sense. Yes, we all take pics of our dinner and post it to social media. This does not make us food photographers. If you own a restaurant or some other food-related business, you will want to hire someone to shoot your food.

We worked with photographer Jeff Behm on the shots for The Tasting Room website (above). The results were amazing and even won an Advertising Federation award… free press!!!

Architectural Photography

If you have a property you’re trying to sell or showcase, it makes sense to consider a pro. They have the equipment and know-how to make a room look really good.

Or perhaps you need to shoot your products or solutions in a real setting like the Conestoga Tile below. Lighting, angles, clarity all make a huge difference.


Of course, this is crucial in the real estate industry. Some agents have studied up on photography and invested in the equipment needed to get high-quality shots. It’s that important to them and their success.


Yes, you can get a lot of great event images with a phone and also from attendees snapping pics. But, if this event is a big deal, invest in getting a pro to document the action for you.

With a professional shooting the event, you can focus on more important things, like hosting the event!

Take some time beforehand to discuss the event agenda with your pro. Tell them the types of photos you’d like to get. These photos can be used for event summary posts and in galleries that attendees can view. These are great ways to keep the conversation going long after an event has ended.

Plus, these images can be used to market future events. Whether it’s an annual meeting, conference, or party, consider a pro to document the occasion.

A Picture Speaks a Thousand Words

This is still true. Instagram was purchased by Facebook for a BILLION dollars. Magazines are still loaded with images. Website design today still includes tons of images. We live in a visual society. Images matter!

Don’t skimp on the visuals. They help support your message. Pictures grab the viewer’s attention and keep them engaged.

Photography Rules of Thumb

  • Your smartphone can get some great images if you understand and can work around its limitations.
  • Everyone is capturing images these days; reach out to your resources to get the pics you need.
  • Use stock photography sparingly. Find unique photos and manipulate them to make them work for you.
  • Allocate some money for professional photography when it makes sense. You’ll be glad you did.

How do you get great pics? Let me know in the comments section below.