How to use stock photos

Guide on how to use stock photos for your business
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Guide on how to use stock photos for your business

Stock Photos get a bad rap. I’ve heard other photographers say cheap stock photos are ruining the industry. It’s true that stock is a cheaper alternative to custom photography. I wrote a bit about that here. Google prefers original images to stock images.  So you may be asking yourself, why would anyone want to use stock photos? I’m going to talk about why and how I use stock photos and how you can use them effectively for your business.

How to use stock photos for your business

The problem: High image use demand

I use stock photos. It’s not the main source of images I use. It’s also not to most popular images I have and I would highly suggest getting custom photography for your brand, but it’s not all bad.

There’s a high demand for generating a lot of content these days. For SEO optimization you want to have images every 75-100 words of text. It’s not only search engines that are requiring a lot of images, but also consumers. Articles are more readable when broken down into chunks instead of one long stream of words.

I love creating custom stock images for clients during our shoots. But on my content creation days, I want to get things out in a timely manner and not wait for another photo shoot before I can publish. How often or consistent you show up on your platforms is often a ranking or algorithm factor – Cue using stock photos.

advise on how to best use stock photos for your business

Best Practices for stock image use

Computers now have an increased ability to recognize photos. That technology is being used now so we have an increasing demand for images to match their content.

IG wants your image to be related to your hashtags to ensure they are relevant to the discoverability. They also don’t want the same image flooding the search term over and over again. If you searched for apples and you only saw the same image over and over, you wouldn’t want to stay on the page very long, and their goal is to have you stay on the platform longer. So they want different pictures, customized content.

Where to Find Good Free Stock Photos 


Canva has both a free and a paid versions. One of the biggest bonuses of a paid account is having more access to photos and templates. Some of them are better than others, but since I already have an account, I sometimes will peek at their stock photos selection when looking for a photo. I like that there’s an easy built in stock photo search within the website, but they don’t have quite the selection and range of photos as the other two sources I’m going to link and talk about. 

To find the Canva stock photos: open up a design template of what you’re trying to create. On the far left, you’ll see a bar where you can click “Photos” When you click, you should see a Search bar appear on the top next to the left sidebar where you can search for images with the keyword you’re looking for. 


Unsplash also is a great place to look for free stock photos. You can get more specific in this platform with tones and other design elements. So if you’re going for something super specific, I would try this before Canva. They have a lot of great categories of types of photos, a trending area, as well as awards for creators to submit their work! Once you select a photo you like, other similar photos will appear. 


Pexels takes it up another notch by offering free stock photos ANNNND videos by creators. Because they highlight creators, that’s another way you can go down your rabbit hole search. Once you find an image that is what you’re looking for you can click on the creator and see what else that creator has made. Usually a creator will have a similar design style so that’s another way to do a search. 

Turn your favorite images into a Mood Board

During your search you may want to collect all the images you’re searching and finding. Here’s a link on how you can make a mood board from the images that have caught your eye! 


Customizing Stock Images

The way I get around everything looking the same is editing. I will use a stock image and use Canva to edit and add some of my branding features like colors, fonts, that adapt to my brand appearance.

You can also add,  filters, shapes, the name of your business, etc so you are customizing the stock photo into something that’s no longer the same image anyone else has.

Quick Recap:

  • Custom images are king and strongly preferred
  • Stock photos shouldn’t be the only source of photos for your business. They aren’t personalized to your unique voice and appear elsewhere.
  • You can effectively use stock photos that are customized in a pinch so you can still create content for your business and brand in a timely fashion with some branding features.

I hope this post was helpful for you to know how to use stock photos.


Related Links:

How To: Find the right brand photographer

The high, medium, and low end of pricing for commercial photography

Commercial Product Photography


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