• The Creative Side

To Use Or Not To Use - Stock Images

Updated: Apr 17, 2020

Stock images…what are they? When can you use them? When should you use them? Why sometimes you shouldn’t? This blog will try and breakdown the ifs, ands & buts of stock photography so you (whoever you are) can see if it’s the right or wrong call for you and your company.

What is stock photography?

Stock photos are taken without a brief, generally of typical subjects such as ‘happy couple’ or ‘motivated employee’ or ‘pretty landscape’ etc, and submitted by photographers to stock houses in order to be licensed. The shots are available for anyone to use as long as they pay the licensing fees, which are usually a flat fee or based on certain parameters. Some stock photography sites offer subscriptions allowing you to download a number of photos per month for a subscription fee. There are also many FREE stock photography sites for less exclusive images, but it is advisable to err on the side of caution for these sites as there can be licensing issues for improper use of images.

An analogy for stock photography vs bespoke photography could be comparing a shelf bought suit from a high street store to a tailor-made offering from a bespoke designer. The shelf bought suit was not specially designed for you, there are many others like it so there will be others who have the same suit and they are generally 1 size fits all in terms of style, so don’t expect anything too creative or bold. But if that off the hook suit does the job, then it does the job.

When is it useful?

There is a place for stock photography and there are a few positives to the whole idea of it. Not only has selling stock photos been a great earner for up and coming photographers (or even professionals such as the now ever more popular Peter McKinnon and other YouTubers), it has become a proving ground for photographers from all walks of life to hone their skills and show their work.

This means that there is a lot of choice when it comes to stock photography. There is a wide variety of styles and ideas to comb through, from vast landscapes to intimate portraiture, to meticulously set up crowd shots. If you are looking on trusted stock sites (E.g. iStock, Getty Images, Shutterstock) the quality of the images is likely to be top drawer as well, with many stock sites having criteria for uploads to ensure no sub-par images get through.

Stock imagery also has the advantage of speed. If you need an image for some content at this exact second, stock images will have to do. Using professionals and doing your own photography is a much more time-consuming affair as it can sometimes take days or weeks to arrange shoots and these shoots will probably be more expensive than the stock options.

Quick Tip Number 1: The quantity of shots to choose from can have a downside however, hours can be poured into finding ‘the right’ stock image in this sea of options. We would recommend having a clear idea of what you are looking for and trying to find the image which resembles your aim the closest… Without being too picky, there will probably never be a ‘perfect’ stock image for your company because stock images are never designed specifically for your company.

Licensing issues

The legal, licensing aspects of stock photography can be hard to understand and licensing issues are common. You cannot just go on google images and download the top image to use on your website, in many cases this is illegal and can result in you or your company being prosecuted for using the image without permission. You should never use any image you do not know the origin of and should always credit the source of the image unless otherwise stated in a licensing agreement.

If you want to use stock photography we highly recommend using trusted sites, aforementioned options iStock, Getty Images, Shutterstock are good places to start. There are free stock sites like Unsplash which will not charge for using their stock images but require you to credit the photographer. The free sites do not have the abundance of choice or quality the paid sites offer, but they can be a good place to dip a toe in.

Quick Tip Number 2: No matter where you get the images from you should always carefully read the licensing agreements to make sure you are protected and can use the stock image as intended.


At The Creative Side we are huge promoters of authenticity when it comes to marketing businesses online. Every business, brand or company is different and deserves to be able to diversify themselves as such. One of the best ways to diversify and stand out in the marketplace is to be authentic.

Customers and audiences appreciate authenticity now more than ever, they want to see the truth and personality behind the brands and businesses they work with or buy from. Authenticity creates trust as a bi-product and trust is one of the most powerful and difficult feelings to muster in a customer, so any help getting them to that trusting place should be a top priority.

Here we come to an issue with stock images, they are not authentic to you. With stock images being available to anyone it is highly likely a competitor in your market would use a similar, or even the same stock image as your company. This means you do not stand out from the crowd as a unique company and any genuine, trusting qualities your business professes can be put into doubt for a potential customer.

Owning your own images

The best option is to always own your own images where possible. This not only negates any licensing issues, it will also help to diversify your brand and promote your unique qualities.

The big thing with owning your own images is that you have full control. You can plan out exactly what you need and get just that, or employ professionals who can help you dig deeper into what you need and form new options for powerful images. The possibilities are endless. Going down the route of bespoke imagery is a business decision to help you stand out from the crowd and portray your best, true self online.

Another point to consider is that everyone knows a stock image when they see one. It is very hard to find good stock images which haven’t been overused or copied. Because of the nature of stock sites, popular images (which get the most downloads), will be replicated by other photographers to try and capitalise on the popularity. This is why the same/very similar images always appear near the top of stock sites… This is where you will find your ‘happy couples’ & ‘motivated employee’ stock photos, the more common these photos become, the easier it is to spot what is stock and what is not.

What is right for your business?

Positives of stock photography:

· Minimal expense

· Fast & easy

· Large variety to choose from

Negatives of stock photography:

· Licensing issues/restrictions

· Images are not original

· Images are not specific to your needs

· Competitors can use the same Images as you

· Everyone will know it is a stock photo

It all comes down to a question of what. What do you need the images for? What do you hope to achieve with this content? For example, if you are looking for an image to pop at the top of a blog post which needs to go out urgently, a stock image is likely a good choice. Whereas, if you are looking to populate your website with images which best portray your company/brand to customers, stock photography is not the best option and you would be better off getting bespoke images done for you by professionals. There is also a question surrounding the importance of the content. The more important the need, the more time should be put into it, and as a result the less likely it is that stock photography will be what you need.

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