How not to suck at using stock images How not to suck at using stock images

Stock images – How not to suck at using them

You’ve undoubtedly seen stock images being used horribly before. You know full well what that looks like, don’t you? People posing uncomfortably, smiling dead-eyed into a camera, often in the middle of a fake business meeting, or shaking hands as if finalizing some unseen transaction.

Stock Images


Perhaps it’s because they’re so generic. Perhaps it’s because they scream ‘low effort’. But whatever it is, there’s a real, tangible feeling of disgust you get whenever you run into boring, ineffective stock imagery.

What’s more, studies have shown that many web users simply skip over images that look like they might be stock photography. Meaning you’ve wasted time, money, and precious space in your marketing materials on an image people may not even look at for more than a few seconds.

However, moving away from stock photos entirely is likely not an option for most businesses.

After all, stock is cheap, widely available, and almost immediately usable once purchased. Those are good reasons to keep using stock, no matter how generic the images look.

So, what’s the solution? How can you get great images, pay close to nothing, but avoid alienating your customer base and giving off a, “we don’t understand images” vibe?

The answer is all in how you use your stock. And today, I’ll show you my top five tips for getting more mileage out of stock photography.

Tip #1: Use higher quality stock images

This one may seem like a bit of a no-brainer, but it’s appalling how many businesses seem to pay little attention to the quality of the stock images they’re using. There’s a reason why the general public associates the term “stock photo” with generic, out-of-touch imagery: they’re the kind of photos businesses always use!

However, that doesn’t mean they’re the only photos available. In fact, if you do a bit of digging, you’ll likely stumble across a treasure trove of interesting digital photography that almost never gets used.

Why? It could be that we’re all just accustomed to the ‘blandness’ of stock imagery. We almost expect stock images to be boring and don’t look much further than the first few images we find.

It doesn’t have to be that way.

If you’re prepared to spend a little extra time searching on stock sites, you’ll likely find more interesting, powerful images. Keep an eye out for imagery that looks both professional and specific, not generic and multi-purpose.


A fashion brand needs an image for their email newsletter. The main story this week is an announcement about a new partnership with a competing brand. They’ve asked their designer to bring them images that evoke, ‘partnership’, ‘cooperativeness’, and ‘excitement’.

These two photos are from the same site and were found using the same search terms.

Which will feel more like ‘stock’, and which will connect with the brand’s audience?

Handshake Stock Image

Tip #2: Edit your images

It’s a well-known principle of marketing design that photos depicting your product (ideally in use) can help increase your conversion rate. However, if you’re getting your imagery from stock engines, it’s highly unlikely that you’ll ever run across a photo of your product.

That doesn’t mean you’re entirely out of luck, though.

It’s often far cheaper to pay a professional to Photoshop your products into stock imagery than it is to hire a photographer. In fact, a lot of stock photography includes blank products (coffee cups, beverage containers, empty smartphone screens) so that you can do exactly that.

Think about the kind of product you’re selling, the kind of content you need images for, and then look for stock photos that can be easily manipulated. Don’t be afraid to crop, color, flip, or rotate images until they’re perfect.


A mobile gaming company wants to launch a brand new game targeted towards a slightly different demographic than they’ve previously worked with. They want new images for the launch that show the game being played by their younger demographic.

The image below is a free mockup PSD file that can be manipulated using drag and drop.

Easy. Personalized. Affordable.

App mockup Stock Image

Tip #3: Keep images on-brand

According to marketing leaders surveyed, by keeping your brand consistent across all media, you can expect to see a 23% increase in annual revenue. In other words, if you’re using the same colors, fonts, tone of voice, and ‘feel’ in your marketing materials, you’ll make the whole running-a-business thing a little easier.

The same is true of the images you use.

No matter how you’ve decided to present your brand, the images you use should reflect those choices. Are you a fun company? More serious? Young and hip? Established and experienced?

As you look for stock images, think seriously about how they’ll reflect your brand. Do they feature imagery, colors, and emotions that are in line with who you are?


Benevity is a corporate giving SaaS based out of Calgary, Alberta. They do a fantastic job of sourcing stock photography that is in line with their brand— fun, adventurous, and good-natured.

Notice how they’ve selected similar stock photos and have even edited them so as to be more on-brand.

Brevity Stock Image

Tip #4: Go for free

Buying stock photos can cost anywhere from a few cents to hundreds of dollars. It all depends on where you buy your images, what you’re buying, and the kind of licensing you pay for.

However, often the cheapest way to get stock images is to simply get them for free!

Right now, you can spend a few minutes on any of the following stock image sites and get entirely free images. No need for attribution, no Creative Commons messages. Try searching in any of the following:

By using free images, you’ll be less anxious about finding the ‘perfect’ paid stock photo. You’ll also be able to experiment, testing different photos to see which helps your conversion rate the most.


Want access to over 25 free stock images? Exclusively for Quuu readers, free stock image site, Barnimages, is offering a one-time gift of over twenty five high-quality stock photos, entirely free.

To access the free photos, simply click here now.

Tip #5: Level up your social media

Using stock images on social media can present its own unique challenges. There, you’ll find that the right image choice can quickly make or break your engagement rate.

In order to make your stock really work on social, look for images that will stand out from the crowd. Remember that users are scrolling through their feeds quickly and absentmindedly. If your images look the same as everyone else’s, they’ll be skipped over quicker than you can say, “hey wait, I actually worked quite hard on tha—”.

Use colors and imagery that contrast with whatever platform you’re posting on. If you’re using multiple platforms to promote the same post, don’t be afraid to use different images that have a similar feel. However, in all cases, be sure to stick to images that are appropriate (no violence, sexuality, or drug use) as these platforms will not hesitate to remove your entire post if they take issue with the image.

Oh, and don’t forget to double check your licensing before sharing an image. While most stock sites are pretty lenient, some take issue with you using their images for social media.  

Tip #6: How to use images wisely

Images are powerful visual assets and can completely change the look, feel, and effectiveness of your marketing materials. To ensure you’re making the most of them, try doing any or all of the following:

  • Use good captions

It’s a well-known fact that readers look at the captions of your photos more often than the rest of the text on any given page. Use captions that will capture attention and help push readers where you need them to go. Ideally, a sale. (learn more)

  • Include your target audience

Who’s in your stock photos? Are they similar to the audience you want to connect with? If not, it’s probably a good idea to go back to the search engine and try again. Photos that show people who look like your ideal customers generally work better. (learn more)

  • Careful placement

Another tactic often used by conversion-hungry marketers is to use images that lead the eye towards CTA buttons or important on-page elements. Use images to support your sales message or marketing copy, DON’T distract from it. (learn more)


In this example, Square is using an image of their product in use. They’ve angled it so that the ‘leading lines’ draw readers’ eyes towards the CTA form on the left.

In this case, the headline works as a caption. Later in the page, it would be good practice to include images (with captions) that show Square’s target audience using the product.

CTA form
The final word: staying relevant

If your only option for building a visual identity is stock photography, hopefully the above tips will help you stand out from the crowd.

Now that you know what you’re looking for, watch how other brands and businesses use imagery. If you notice the same images cropping up again and again, stay away. There’s nothing worse than having the same homepage photo as your competitors.

To keep your stock images relevant and fresh, try sourcing images from multiple stock sites. Of course, if you’d like a bundle of free, high-quality stock imagery that hasn’t been overused, click here to download a free image pack from Barnimages (exclusive to Quuu readers).

Then, all you’ll need to do is pick the right image and get to work!