Stock Photos – Do’s and Don’ts


Using Your Stock Photos

There’s no doubt that stock photo sites are a great time saver for online business. You can get high quality images to use in your content without having to set up photo shoots or take the time to get your camera out…the images are ready to go for you. I shared some of my favorite image sources here and ideas for using image here, but let’s get a bit more specific about using stock images.

Here are a few Do’s and Don’ts we came up with for our customers at All Private Label Content - I’ve added a few more thoughts for you as well.

The Do’s…

Try Before You Buy

As you search stock photography sites, you will see watermarked versions of the images. Test those images to make sure they are the right fit for your content before you purchase.

At iStockPhoto, just click, “Download a Comp” and you can use that image to test it out.

Download a Comp

Use Narrow Search Terms

Using terms like “wedding” or “social media” will bring up vast amounts of images. If you narrow your search terms to “wedding rings” or “Facebook,” you will spend less time searching and find a more targeted image.

Go Beyond the First Few Pages

Typically the first few pages of your search will bring up the most popular images – those that have been used a large amount of times. If you continue to look beyond the first few pages, you can find some real gems.

Modify The Images

Assuming the license allows it and you have the skills to do so, use the stock image as an inspiration but modify it slightly so it is custom to you. Add a few words, a background or border that matches your website or combine it with another image to create a complete thought or idea. You can also put a few images together to create something new.

Use Metaphors and Similes

Choose an image that illustrates a thought or idea. A metaphor example might be “My kid’s room is a disaster area.” – Instead of using an image of a messy bedroom, use a warning sign. A simile example “Success is like a pie, there are different layers” – use an image of a slice of layered pie.

Use High Quality Images

Purchase and download the highest quality image you can afford, especially if you plan to use it in a print piece. You can always make a high resolution photo smaller but a low resolution image will never look good when enlarged or in print. Not all stock photo sites are created equal and sometimes its better to shell out a bit more cash to get a better image.

Save Your Photos

I keep track of all the stock photos I’ve purchased and save them on my computer. I name them descriptively and note where I got the photo from (so I can be certain about my license). That way, I can easily search for what I need and ensure I’m using the images appropriately.

Saving stock photos

Read The Terms and Conditions

Never assume you know your rights when it comes to how you use the images. Always read EVERY site’s terms and conditions carefully.

Capture Real World Situations

When possible, use real people in real settings. Look for people who are taking action and where diversity is represented (age, gender, race, etc). Choose images where there is good color contrast.

Check Your Competition

Check your competitors and take note of the images they are using. Make sure you aren’t using the same images and try to find a different way to represent a similar product or service in a fairly unique way.

The Don’ts…

Avoid Using Stock Photos with Testimonials

While having a picture of a person by the testimonial makes it seem more real, using a portrait of a stock model will diminish your credibility. Simply ask those who offer testimonials for an image that you can use. If they prefer not to have their picture displayed, ask if you can include their business logo, if they have one. If there is no image to use, publish the testimonial without an image.

Avoid Portraits of Popular Stock Models

When you have to use a portrait of a stock model, consider choosing one that isn’t on the first few pages of your search (as they are the most popular/used). Search for something else that is still high quality & relevant but isn’t currently showing up all around the net. Many stock photo sites will tell you how many times an image has been downloaded as well.

Don’t Try to Fake It

If you are not skilled at editing images, don’t try to fake it. The imperfections will show up and may reduce the value of your product or message. It’s better to use stock photos “as is” if you don’t have the skills necessary to make the adjustments. You can try using Social Graphics Pro to get nice professional results without being a professional.

Skip the Exaggerated Images…Unless That’s What You’re Going for

Images of people who look hyper excited, extremely sad or who have other unnatural expressions should generally be avoided. If it feels staged, stiff, or awkward, choose a different photo. Of course, if you’re trying to use some humor or have a little fun with your images, these might work well.

Here’s a sample from our sales page. We used this image for some fun and certainly didn’t add it to portray any serious message. In short, always use the right image for the job.

Stock Photo Example

Don’t Be Random

Random images may be easier to find and possibly less expensive, but they will not carry your brand message as strongly as images that matches what you’re trying to accomplish. Always choose images that not only relate to your content or product, but also follow the overall image (meaning…your reputation) you wish to express to your audience.

Avoid Stock Photos When You Can Easily Use a Custom Image 

With a little talent and a decent camera (and seriously, my iPhone 5 takes fantastic photos when the lighting is good), you may be able to create custom images almost as quickly as you can find stock images. Plan your content and products in advance and then take a day or a weekend to create images that go with your upcoming needs. Take your camera with you everywhere so you can take real world images at no cost.

But above all, do what works for you. Experiment, have fun and discover what visual content appeals to your readers most.

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About the Author

Alice Seba
Alice Seba is the owner and creator of With a focus on using content to create relationships, loyalty and results from writing, she loves helping online business owners get more bang out of their content.

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  • Rhonda White

    Loved these tips… I liked the “try before you buy” tip — I hadn’t thought about that before. I like to keep check where I get my photos, too…so I create image folders for each photo source and tuck them in the proper ones for storage…and I do name to photo where i can easily search for them.

    • contentrix

      Thanks Rhonda. Definitely keeping track of all your purchases is a good idea. I’ve spent a ton of money on stock photos…it’d be a shame to lose them.

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