Using Stock Photography? 8 Do's and Don'ts to Get the Best Photos

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Stock photography appears on websites, blog posts and marketing materials as a way to draw attention. Using these images to leverage the power of visual media can improve your content, but you have to know how to incorporate them correctly. 

Do Understand Conditions of Use

When sourcing stock photography, start by reading all the licensing information to ensure that you use the images legally.

  • Public domain images can be used with no restrictions. The copyright has either expired or the creator has released the image for public use. 
  • Free images can be used without fees but often require you to credit the creator.
  • Creative Commons content, including images, is available under flexible licensing with attribution requirements and usage limitations set by creators.
  • Royalty-free stock photography requires a one-time fee for use. You may also need to credit the creator. 
  • Rights-managed photos involve more fees depending on the type and duration of use, your industry, image size and other factors.


Failure to comply with licensing terms may result in additional fees or even legal action.

Do Choose the Highest Quality

It’s worth investing in the slightly greater cost of high-resolution images. Trying to make small images larger results in a fuzzy look. Purchasing the highest quality you can afford means that the stock photography will look great no matter what size you display. 

Do Be Creative

Determine whether you need an image that illustrates your point in the literal sense or a metaphorical image that elicits an emotional response. For example, you could use a chart with an arrow to show growth, or you could choose a photo of a towering redwood tree. The latter conveys a sense of power that puts weight behind the statement you’re making. Look for unique images when searching photo sites and avoid overused clichés.

Do Know When Original Would Be Better

If you have the resources to produce a custom image for your project, take advantage of them. Doing your own photo shoot can sometimes be faster and cheaper than trying to find just the right stock photo. You can arrange the shot exactly the way you want and have complete control over the appearance and use of the final image.

Don’t Take the Easy Route

Grabbing the first image that you see in order to avoid a long search for stock photography can ruin your project. The royalty free photos that you use should relate directly to the message you’re trying to convey. If the first few pages of results don’t turn up what you’re looking for, keep going. The time it takes to search through photos will pay off in the long term. 

Don’t Use Too Many Images

Just because you find twelve images that relate to your blog post or marketing campaign doesn’t mean you should use them all. Cluttering a page with images is distracting and detracts from your message. Place stock photos where they flow naturally with the text to maximize their visual impact.

Don’t Overlay Product Images

Customers will be able to tell when you stick an image of your product into a stock photo to make it look like the model is using or endorsing it. This unprofessional practice can cause you to lose credibility with your target audience and result in decreased sales. It’s better to stage your own product photos than to cut corners to save a few dollars.

Don’t Use the Same Images as Your Competitors

Remember that many people use stock images, including the websites and companies you compete with. Before putting a stock photo in place, check these sites to make sure they’re not already using similar images. If they are, go back to the photo sites you were browsing and look for something unique. Your goal should be to stand out, not blend in.

In today’s highly visual world, the right image is everything. Follow these guidelines when using stock photography to enhance your content, and it will serve you well in all your creative endeavors.

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