Using Stock photos - Complete Guide

Using Stock Photos – 5 Best Ways to Use Stock Imageries

“67% of consumers say that the quality of a product image is “very important” in selecting and purchasing the product” – MDG Advertising.

Which is an even better score than “Product-specific information” (63%), “Long description” (54%) and “Ratings and Reviews” (53%).

This statistics is mostly for eCommerce products, but be it Social Media, be it your Website’s Service Pages, or Landing Pages, images play an important role.

But not just any high-quality image, but the images that give viewers a good feeling about your products and services help your goal with the image. 

But how can you get perfect photos that represent your business well or go well with your project?

Using Stock photos is a common and inexpensive solution.

What are Stock Photos?

Stock Photography is an industry that creates edits ready to use photos, videos, illustrations, icons. These photos, videos and all other resources are generic, not made for a particular project in mind. Anyone can purchase the licence and use them in their projects.

Stock photography a good way for photographers to make a full-time living; at the same time, business owners, media companies, content curators, website developers, graphic designers can get creative assets inexpensively.

Usually, individuals and organisations pay a small fee for the licence and use those imageries for marketing campaigns, websites, packaging, or other projects.

There are various usage rights or licence models.

Types of stock photography

The stock photo industry developed models of stock photography over time.

  • Macrostock: Also known as traditional stock photography. Which costs from several hundred to several thousand USDs per Image as the images are exclusive. Customers can get unique photographs.
  • Midstock: Midstock photographs are less expensive than macrostock, but at the time, less exclusive. There can be a limited number of customers using the same stock images to maintain some exclusiveness.
  • Microstock: Microstoks are sold in mass, available everywhere. So, there is no exclusiveness at all. But they are budget-friendly. They can be sold for even 25 cents. Since 2000 many popular microstock photo websites have grown, and now it is possible to find good stock photographs for free.

Microstock photographs mostly come with a royalty-free licence, which means buyers have to pay once for user rights and use them in as many projects as they like. And when they make revenue using those photos, they do not need to share the revenue with the creators (photographer, models, producers).

The theme for stock photography can be diverse, and it can range from background patternsAbstract images to BusinessTechnologyTravelFoodHealth and Wellness photographs.

Rules for Using Stock Photos (licencing types)

Stock photos have various types of usage rights, and they can be complicated. But commonly, marketers designers deal with three types of user rights –

  • Royalty-free: Users pay a one time amount to use an image in any commercial, editorial, and personal projects. And users do not have to pay any royalty from the revenue they generate utilising that image. Royalty-free images do not have any exclusivity, so anyone can use them.
  • Rights Managed: In this licence, images are pay-to-use, can be licenced by individual projects or geographic location. There can be exclusivity (a limited number of user can buy one photo). This licence is very restricted but is very exclusive. So the pricing fluctuates a lot depending on the rights and exclusivity.
  • Public Domain and Creative Commons: Public domain photos are the photos whose ownership has expired, so they are available for anyone to use for free. Creative Commons Licence is where the creator has made their publically available for free. But this can require specific attributions or may available only for personal use and not for commercial. So, make sure to check the licence carefully while using creative commons licenced images.

One restriction is found in almost any types of licences except the public domain, that you can not resell them without altering them, especially in bulk. So, you can not buy stock images from Shutterstock or iStock and create your own stock image business by selling those images directly.

Why use Stock Photos?

Stock Images, in General, have some bad reputation.

Stock photos do not perform as good as original photos. There are have been plenty of study on it. People have developed a superhuman sense for detecting stock images from real images, and they are programmed to ignore them.

The stock photo agencies will mostly be selling the stock photos to many customers, so some stock photos are found everywhere.

So, why the hell bother about using stock photos?

Because stock photography is the most inexpensive, most painless and least time-consuming way of dealing with your imagery needs.

Let’s be real.

How many of you folks can hire a professional model and a photographer, rent a studio or a suitable place to shoot, and get the perfect one for your blog post or social media?

Finding a suitable person and places organising a photoshoot session is a challenging and time-consuming job.

Hiring an agency to do a photoshoot, particularly for your project, is highly expensive.

But browsing the internet to find suitable stock photos and purchasing the licence will take a few hours.

Most importantly, the stock photographs are shot with commercial intent in mind. The people know what marketers and business owners need, what converts well. For you to come up with that good photographs, you will require skill and experience.

If it is worth it for business, or getting some original good photos, not a big deal for you, then, by all means, get original photos.

But for the rest of us, we have to rely on stocks for most of our imagery needs.

And there are plenty of stock photos that don’t suck.

How to use Stock Photos?

Depending on usage rights, you can use stock images in different ways –

Business or Commercial use

This includes photos for social media, online ad campaigns, websites, posters, stationeries, TV commercials, branding materials, film and videos and so on.

Entertainment and Editorial use

So, images with this licence can not be used in promotional material or any other commercial purpose, except Editorial and educational purposes. Books, Newspapers, magazines, blog posts, videos (YouTube videos), emails, newsletters etc.


Webdesign, graphic designs, themes and wallpapers, and so on.

Personal use: 

Personal use licenced photos are can be used for art and education, which will not be used and reproduced for commercial purposes.

While using the stock images, remember these key points:

1. Find a Stock Photo that does not look like a stock photo

Best stock photos are the stock photos that visitors do not feel to be stock photos. Visitors have developed the habit of discovering stock photos quickly and ignoring those.

Personally, whenever I see a generic stock photo in an ad, I feel like the marketer was being lazy that day.

While choosing photos for your promotional materials and ad campaigns, your goal should be to compel your user to click through or take the necessary action. Overused stock photographs can be turn off to your audience.

So, try to select stock photos that look real.

2. Choose the stock photo that is relevant to the message.

It is quite apparent! You don’t want to use a random great-looking high-quality stock photograph. The most important thing is it should send the message.

Do not confuse your audience with irrelevant images. It will dilute your branding effort. And the message will choose its effectiveness.

Use human and emotional photos. They attract people easily and are great at implanting a feeling like Happiness, Feeling of success, Security, trust, etc.

3. Check who is using the same stock photo

We want to do these two things –

Avoid using the same photos everyone is using

Here is the story of The Everywhere Girl

So, the young model Jen Anderson from Portland did some photoshoots in the year 1996. When the stock image websites became common on the internet, her photo took over the internet. She was everywhere, including big brands like Microsoft, BBC, Greyhound Bus Lines, Hewlett-Packard, Dell, and countless others have used the same photo.

The Everywhere Girl - Stock Photos (1)
(Image Source: Idee Inc, via CXL

So mostly, you don’t want to use those photos that everyone else is using. 

But in this case, I am going to use her photo in the Featured Image as it makes sense. 🙂

Check who is using the stock photos that you are planning to use

Checking who uses the same image is more important than how many people or projects have been using the photo. You want to make sure that some popular scammers have not used the same or similar photos.

The thing is, if visitors see you using the same or similar photos as another website that had created a negative experience for the visitor, visitors will project their negative experience on your website hence reducing trust for your business.

Similarly, if reputable and trusted brands are using the stock photos you are also using, visitors will exhibit trust in your business.

So, how to check so?

Use TinEye or Google Reverse Image search tool to find out who and how many people are using the same stock image.

Personalise stock photos

Don’t add stock photos out of the box; edit them. Add some of your own elements make it your own. 

Here is a YouTube banner image that I have designed for my friend’s gaming channel.

Crossfire Gaming Banner 3

Here are the original images that I have used.


Of course, it wallpapers from games; everyone understands that. But it is a gaming channel, and the photo is customised, and it looks like a part of his channel.

You may need to learn photo manipulation in photo editing software. Or hire a professional photo editor to do the job.

But it is not always that difficult to alter the images to match your brand style. I have used a simple software called Paint.NET. You can use Canva, add some filter or elements, add text if it makes sense. And the photo will perform much better.

Use a mixture of real photos and stock photos.

As I said already, you should use real photos wherever it is possible for you.

Only where you can not shoot a real photo, try to find a real looking stock photo.

Mix up with real photos, and chances are people feel all the images to be authentic.

Maybe use the real photos in the more prominent places.

Make sure all the photos go well together with the project’s theme and design, and colour scheme.

Where and how to find perfect Stock Photos?

There are so many websites for finding stock photos. But some are better than others. A good stock photo website should have a good collection of high-quality photos with a decent search engine.

Stock photos can cost you from a few dollars to thousands of dollars. But for like $5 to $100 per photos, you can get pretty decent pictures if exclusivity is not that important for you.

Here are some of the websites where you can buy cheap stock photos –

  • Shutterstock: One of the most popular stock image collection
  • GettyImages: Getty offers price breaks for packages of 5 and 10
  • Adobe Stock
  • iStock
  • Image Bazzar: Indian Stock images
  • Stocksy
  • Depositphotos
  • Freepik: You can find decent photos from Freepik for a really low price. It runs on a subscription basis; for 9.99 Euro a month, you can download and use unlimited images. Freepik also has a good collection of free stock images, but you must credit them for using the photos.

Many premium stock image websites offer free trials. So, you better look for it before buying stock images.

There are some free stock image websites. There you may or may not find the perfect images. But for all common needs, they are pretty good.

Here is a list of handpicked websites that allows you to use their photos for personal and commercial use for free, and no attribution needed.


But the biggest issue with these free websites is, even if they have really Googd Collection, but they do not have good Search Engines, so finding the perfect image becomes difficult.

So I am trying to build a search engine that searches photos from all the above websites all in one place. 

Stock IMG Finder - Durbar Ghosh

It is far from complete but considers trying and let me know your feedback. Here you can find the updates about my progress.

Will Using Stock Photos harm your brand?

It is advisable to use original photos, but it is not always possible to get original images, or it is just way too expensive that it doesn’t make any sense.

So, you can find even bigger brands are filling some of their imagery needs using stock photos.

Many big brands, like some banks, have used the following video in even Television Ads during the lockdown.

Thoughtful Concerned Indian Woman Working Stock Footage
Find the video on Shutterstock

Is it hurting their Brands?

Maybe a little bit.

But it is still getting the job done at the right time.

The key is when you can get original easily, go for Original.

But let say you are preparing for an FB ads campaign, but you cannot manage to get original photos in 2 months. What shall you do then?

Postpone the ads campaign by two months?

Heck, many campaigns are seasonal; you may need to skip an entire year then.

In that case, it is much better to find a suitable stock image and start the campaign.

Also, in this case, let’s say you have a small business, and you use the photos, footages from this shoot that SBI was also using; it is bad for their brand, but your brand? Customer may consider you are with the good guys (SBI) whom they already respect. So, it may turn out to be positive for your brand.

But at the same time, I would pray that my competitors don’t use it, then it will surely be terrible.

Why shouldn’t you use Images from Google?

It is very tempting to browse the images in Google image search, download and use them. But most of the photos you see are copyrighted to the owners. And they do not allow you to use those.

Though you can filter the search results using Tools > Usage Rights > Creative Commons Licences or Commercial and other licences.

But don’t directly use them without checking the actual message rights on the website. It is possible that some random websites have provided the wrong usage rights, and Google is showing that. These websites may not update the licences. So, even if you are using Google, make sure to use the photos from some reputed stock websites only.

Also, usage rights can vary a lot from website to websites. It is hard to know just by searching on Google.

And probably many people are using the same images as it is available in Google.

Protecting yourself from getting sued

This quite serious. 

This is quite common in the stock photography industry. When it comes to stock photography, you should play by the rules. Lawsuits are costly.

So, avoid them altogether before using any photo from the internet check if you have the correct licence to use it.

Some photos allow you only to use them for personal purposes, not commercial. Some images require you to give proper attribution to the owner. Editorial images generally do not allow you to alter the image much.

You can learn more about licences here.

Key Takeaways

So, you are pretty serious about using stock photos; you would not read all the way down otherwise. You better be serious, as it can make or break your business.

So, here are key takeaways about using stock photos –

  • Whenever possible, use real photos.
  • Try to use stock photos that look real.
  • Try to get unique stock photos.
  • Customise the stock photos and make them your own
  • Before doing anything with the stock photos, check the licence and learn if you have the right to do so. Check the legitimacy of the website from where you are buying the stock photo.

I hope this helps. If you got any query regarding using stock photos, feel free to drop a comment below.

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