5 Things to Avoid When Using Stock Photography

As a blogger, I love stock photography. I mean, I really love it. It’s become a staple in my diet as a publisher because it allows me to quickly convey a message, catch a reader’s eye, and to easily (and cost effectively!) add more life to my site and/or content.

As a small business owner, you probably love the wide assortment of generic image sites too, and I get it. However, as with most things, there are ways to do stock photography well as a small business, and there are ways to do it not so well. You need to know how to use stock photography in your website — and use it well.

Below are 5 things to avoid when using stock photography on your small business website:

1. Selecting Boring, Lifeless Images

How many times have you landed on a website and instantly recognized the stock photo model you were looking at? She probably had her head resting ever-so-gently on her hand as she stares off in the distance. Or maybe she was wearing both a big smile and a phone headset.  Or maybe it was that generic handshake we’ve all seen too many times

Point is, we’ve seen it already.

Just because you’re using stock photography doesn’t mean the photos you choose have to be boring. Spend time hunting through a site’s photo inventory to find images that will convey the right message and attract your target audience. This may mean dedicating more time to image selection or even spending more money for better images, but it’s an investment into the quality of your site. And a worthy one at that!

Pictures that command attention will ensure that your message isn’t ignored and that users notice them. With the high number of quality photo sites out there, there is no excuse for boring photography.

2. Using Visually Pretty, But Completely Unrelated, Images

We’ve all been there – searching through the photo gallery only to find a photo that makes us break out into giggles or something we think looks really, really cool. The only problem is, it has absolutely nothing to do with the content we’re pairing it with. Hmm, what do you do?

Do yourself a favor and grab another photo.

Get more from your stock photography by selecting images that relate to your content and provide strong visual connections to the message that you’re trying to deliver. That’s when stock photography works the best – when the paired text and image complement one another.

Talking about your client successes and pairing it with scowling faces isn’t going to be effective. Nor will using a photo of blue skies and rainbows on your About Us page. There’s no connection between the image and the text and, as a result, it makes the message harder for a reader to understand or may devalue the larger message.

Even if you love the photo – if it doesn’t match what you’re trying to say, don’t use it.

3. Choosing Models Over Your Own Staff

Your staff may not be made up of supermodels.  Whose is?  But I bet they’re all unique, qualified people who your business would be lost without. And even if you don’t have a state-of-the-art office, it’s probably an environment that you love and that enables you to serve your customers in great ways, right?

So show it off!

When possible, avoid using stock photography on things like your About Us page, your Contact Us page, or any other time when your own pictures would actually do a much better job telling the story. We talk a lot about how important it is that small businesses use their sites to create trust, and showing off your staff or your office space is a great way to do that because it brings people in and lets them know what they’d “see” if they were talking to you in person.

Save your stock images for articles, emails newsletters or billboards on the side of the road. When you’re talking about things that are unique and personal to you – use your own photos. These are often the tie-breakers we use between one company and another.

4. Sharing Images With Your Competitors

Before you place an image on your website or use it in a direct mailing, do some due diligence to make sure it’s not currently appearing on your competitor’s website. You might laugh, but you’d be surprised at how often this actually happens when companies offering the same services perform the same searches on the same photo sites. Before you know it, the same models are appearing on both of your sites!

You don’t have to scour every site on the Web, but do give a glance to the sites you consider yourself most competing with.

5. Using The Wrong Size Photo For Your Needs

Most sites will provide you with several resolution options for the images that they offer with varying prices. Pick the resolution that is right for your needs, even if that’s not necessarily the cheapest option. If you can’t find the photo you want in the correct resolution, find another image.

I’ve seen many SMBs think they can save a few bucks by purchasing low resolution images and then simply “stretch” them to make the image work. Doing so will only sacrifice the quality of the image (making it pixelated and unattractive).  It will also sacrifice the integrity of your brand if it’s appearing on your website.

This is one reason why it’s important to know where your images are going to go (on your blog, on your site, in a presentation, on a poster, etc) and have a plan beforehand so that you can make sure you purchase the right size image from the very start. There’s nothing worse than selecting an image, only to discover later it doesn’t work for your needs.

Stock photography can be incredibly helpful to a small business owner or consultant, adding quick interest on a shoestring budget. However, it’s important that small business owners think carefully about how they’re using stock photography to make sure they’re getting the most from the images.

Image credit: basel101658 / 123RF Stock Photo


Lisa Barone Lisa Barone is Vice President of Strategy at Overit, an Albany Web design and development firm where she serves on the senior staff overseeing the company’s marketing consulting, social media, and content divisions.

9 Reactions
  1. Ah ha, stock images. For the first point, I would advise small business owners who are not tech savvy or do not spend a lot of time on the Internet to get somebody who does to do the picking for you. The person could be a friend or a family member but they should be someone that spends a lot of time online. Show them your shortlisted stock images and most of the time, they’ll know whether they’ve seen some of them elsewhere.

  2. I think the most over-used stock photo on the web is that smiling blond lady with the headset. She. Is. Everywhere.

  3. Lisa, I used to love the stock photos you used for your blog posts over at Outspoken Media. Like your writing, they caught attention and were not boring!

    Just saying you’re the perfect person to write this post.

  4. Hi Lisa

    Stock photographers have views too – using overstretched images is not only bad for your brand but probably against the agreement.

    You’re right that using the same images as your competitors is a no no too.

    If you have a concept, you don’t always have to search thousands of images for a suitable photograph – you can submit a request to a site like Photographers Direct and photographers will submit suitable images to you – you can then negotiate a fee.

    I’m glad you’re giving some advice because there’s a good deal of misuse of stock photography which is bad for stock photographers and the businesses concerned

  5. Lisa,

    I like Wayne’s suggestion – also I think in the age of Facebook cover photos and Pinterest stock photos are getting played out. One idea may be just to take a few of your own – I’ve used a 6 MP camera, so it’s not a High-Def. But many sites online do not require high def. That can be great for an items with a ton of detail, such as an automobile or food. Otherwise, a good camera can yield some unique stock ideas which can still be used for social media sites such as Instagram, Pinterest, and Facebook. For the best photos of service and product, however, let a pro do it.

  6. Great article, we have been wrestling with #3 this past week for our business needs, I think you just saved us time and money.