Website Preloader

A man sleeping on a cake. An underwater nun. What are these stock photos even for?

“I don’t trust words. I trust pictures.”

— Gilles Peress

Everyone knows the saying “a picture is worth a thousand words.” In today’s world of social media, inbound marketing, and the 8 second attention span, what does that really mean?

Well, it means tweets with images are retweeted 150% more than text-only tweets. Facebook posts with photos receive over 2 times more engagement than ones without.

It means that articles with images spaced every 100 words get twice as many shares as articles with fewer images. In fact, eye-tracking studies have shown that readers spend more time looking at images than reading the content.

I think we can all agree photos are a crucial part of creating an authentic connection between your viewers and your content. So why is it that so many organizations use stock photography?


A dog with a donut on it’s head, a child smelling a cactus, and a man pouring orange juice down his front. Why do we do this to ourselves?

What is stock photography?

Stock photography refers to the licensing and sale of photographs for use in print publications, web design, or any number of creative endeavors. Basically, photographers sell the rights to distribute photos to a company like Adobe, Shutterstock, or Getty Images. That company then sells licenses to use the photos in specific ways. Many free stock photo websites have cropped up over the years, as well.

The sale of stock photos started in the 1920s, when photographers started asking their subjects to sign model releases. This allowed the photo to be sold commercially, with the buyer not having to go through the trouble of finding the models to sign releases.

A major benefit of using stock photography is it can be much cheaper than hiring a photographer. It can also be helpful if your deadline is looming and you need an image fast.

This all sounds awesome, so what’s the problem?

A major drawback is that stock photos are not original. The same photos will appear in multiple articles, websites, and social media images. Your product or service is not going to look as vibrant or interesting if it’s paired with a photo your audience has already seen a dozen times.

It also can be hard to find good, relevant images, especially if you’re looking for a cheap or free option. What you save by using a cheap photo, you probably pay for in the employee hours required to find that photo.

Stock photos are also notoriously cheesy. The only thing worse than no picture is a bad picture, especially if you are selling customized products.

(Above) A stock image of a cutting board. It’s not terrible, but it isn’t necessarily on brand. (Below) A custom photo taken with the client’s brand in mind, of the actual product.

5 ways it pays to have professional photos

A good photographer will customize your photos to fit your brand or style. This, in return, will increase your brand awareness and increase sales.

  • The photo will be yours, and it won’t appear anywhere that you don’t want it to.
  • You can do whatever you want to the photo: crop it, re-color it, redistribute it, etc. Many stock image licenses forbid any type of photo editing.
  • You also won’t have to pay a new licensing fee each time you want to reuse a stock photo.
  • You will likely end up with more photographs than you will end up using. You will have a variety of options available to you, which is great for ecommerce sites. Your customers likely want to see the product from multiple angles, close up, and farther away.

How do I take good photos?

If a professional photographer just isn’t in your budget, you can still have sharp custom photography by learning how to do it yourself! There are tons of free articles and videos available to help you up your photography game.


  • Use landscape/horizontal orientation
    This will ensure your images will look great on mobile & desktop.
  • Use a plain background
    Busy backgrounds detract from the main focus of the photo.
  • Be a human tripod
    A common mistake of amateur photographers is to stand up and hold the camera at eye-height. Boring! Try moving around to get shots from different angles. Bend your knees, stand on a chair, or lie on the ground. Lock your elbows in at your side to hold the camera steady.
  • Move in close
    Detail shots are much more interesting to look at. Don’t be afraid to get uncomfortably close to your subject!
  • Take tons of shots
    The more photos you take, the more likely that you end up with some great ones.
  • Use the rule of thirds
    Make sure the subject is not in the middle of the frame. This will make your composition much more eye-catching!
  • Use light wisely
    Good photography is all about lighting. The subject should be well-lit and easy to see.
If you’d like help strategizing about what types of photos to use, get in touch!