If you want to use stock photography for your branding on your website or social media, that’s absolutely fine. But there’s a time and a place.
Even in industries like health and wellness where personal branding is the thing that makes you stand out from the crowd, you can use stock photography successfully so long as you keep your branding in the forefront. (I know it sounds confusing already, but I’ll explain everything!)
I’m going to go through the branding tips I use for deciding whether to use stock photography or not, as well as the big no-nos to avoid that can really damage your brand!
#1 Going for the right fit
This is the first and most important rule of smart stock photography use on your site. Does it embody what you’re trying to portray about your brand?
Is it matching up with your brand’s ethos and values, as well as the aesthetics? There are some incredible photographers and shots out there, but just because the photograph is great, doesn’t mean it’s great for you! It’s better to go for images that make sense for you than something that looks awesome but makes absolutely no sense for your specific needs or audience.
Ultimately, branding is about attracting, nurturing, and converting your audience, so ask yourself: does this make sense for me to post this? Would I create an image like this for myself?
Take UCSF’s brand identity guidelines as a good example of how to navigate stock images: they have laid out their photography guidelines to the tiniest detail!
Top Tip: Most stock photography websites nowadays let you make an account, so browse and save any photo that you think relates well with your branding. You’ll start creating a ‘bank’ of photos to get in a pinch without needing to browse, and it’s easier to share with your team members so you know they’ll pick images that match your branding.
#2 Customise your stock images
Stock images with the right license (more on that later) can be used freely and be edited as much as you want. This makes them great to use on your website or social media because you can do things like adding colourful overlays, brand text and logos.
That’s why stock photography colours aren’t particularly important when sourcing images – you can edit them, and with a few simple tools, you’ll have your colour overlay, which instantly makes them more in tune with your brand.
Doing this usually turns stock photography from generic image to personalised brand photo!
Top Tip: If you find a particular image you like, you can reuse it many times by adding illustrations, edits or text. Stock sites usually have separate illustration sections that you can use to enhance photography. You could even use the illustration on your website itself!
#3 Combine with your images
Customising stock images is just the tip of the iceberg. Since you’ll be using them on your site, it makes sense to combine them with your original images to create a unique look that nobody else can copy!
If you’ve done a home photoshoot and have some leftover images that you didn’t use anywhere just yet, use stock photography as a background for your photo collage, for example. You can also use tools like canva to crop yourself out of your professional photography shoot and add a splash of colour that will pop for things like YouTube videos etc.
#4 Make sure the depiction in images make sense
One of the most common things we do when picking stock photography is to take the image as a whole and basically think ‘does the vibe work.’ And I’ve seen this catch so many people out! For example, someone in the background of the image is smoking, or when you look at the image properly it’s fairly political and the themes change when you look in depth.
This is the downside to using stock photography. We have no control over the imagery and can’t really say for sure what the intention of the image was (or is). So It’s important to take a second to look at the actual picture in front of you.
Does the image show an accurate representation of what’s going on? For example, if there’s a person on the image exercising, are they using all their equipment the right way? Is their posture good? Do they know what they are doing?
The most common error I’ve seen is when people have money or dates in the photo that don’t match the country they are marketing to. This can be a real turn off for the audience!
Everything that’s depicted in the image should be accurate; otherwise, people will get an impression you don’t know what you are doing or there could be something that is categorically against your branding.
Not so long ago, there was a hashtag #BadStockPhotosOfMyJob doing rounds on Twitter where people would comment on just how bad some stock photography depicts their actual job, and it’s hilarious to see some of the comments from seasoned professionals calling out just how easy it is to misrepresent things!
#5 Track your photos
It doesn’t matter whether you’re using a stock photo for a background image or to lift up an otherwise bland web page – it’s not a bad idea to track your website stock image uses. I know it’s a bit ‘methodical’ but there’s a fine line between branding and ‘you’ve-only-used-one-stock-image-for-every-page-of-your-website’ (I’ve seen it done!).
In the spreadsheet, write down things like:
- The section of the webpage where the image is used
- In which capacity is it being used (Background? Pattern? Overlay? Collage?)
- The name of the original photo
- URL of the photo
Top Tip: When your website is complete, you can also just save some screenshots of the original designs it’s easier to see where everything is at a glance. You can ask your web designer to create these for you along with the website when they hand it over if you have one.
How NOT To Use Stock Photography on Your Website
Now, let’s look at what to avoid! There are some things that you should never, ever, do with stock photography. It can result in bad publicity, damage to your reputation, and in some cases legal action against you.
#1 Do NOT be misleading: Show yourself
Using stock photos for your services is fine so long as you don’t imply, suggest, or outright say it’s you in the images. Using stock models to depict yourself (even if you’re trying to do it metaphorically) is going to damage your brand, and it’s actually false advertising.
Plus, when you start engaging online and marketing your services, it’s going to be pretty quick and easy to spot the difference which is very confusing for your audience. Even if you’re self-conscious, be genuine. Use your own images when depicting yourself. Even without a professional photo shoot, it’s better to show your true self instead of a polished generic image that people will never form a connection with.
#2 Never use stock photos to fake before/after shots
Never imply that what is depicted on the stock images is a direct result of using your products or services. This is not misleading, it’s a false claim that can get your business fined because it’s a lie and against advertising standards. Before and after shots are notoriously murky water for wellness businesses, so much so that Facebook now doesn’t allow ads to have before and after shots in them!
Legal repercussions aside, once word gets out about it, you will definitely have a very hard time rebuilding your image. It’s one of the quickest ways for prospects and clients to lose any amount of trust they had in you, and without it, you won’t be able to keep clients at all.
And speaking of clients…
#3 Never try to sell models from stock images as your clients
This is another outright fake claim that can have serious legal repercussions and close you down for good. Instead, do real client testimonies and ask them whether they would be willing to share a few photos. If not and you need an image for the display, add a generic landscape, or animal picture so it’s clearly not trying to be the person!
#4 Never use stock images without the correct attribution
You must be sure the photographer (or the person holding rights to the photo) did actually grant the license. Maybe the original license was changed to something like CC-BY-SA, meaning you must credit the original author, and then share any adaptations that you did under that same license.
Most authors will share their images under the CC0 license, which means you can do anything you want the image, even for commercial purposes. But each stock photography website has their own licensing rules, so read them carefully before you start editing the images.
#5 Avoid stock images that are super popular
This might seem a bit odd at first because, if they are popular, they must be good, right? Yes, of course, but this also means they are used on thousands of websites and even more blogs all over the web! This isn’t a massive ‘don’t’ but when you use stock photography on your website you want to try and be as unique as possible.
Sometimes this can be difficult if you really love an image, so ask yourself: Does this image contribute to the uniqueness of my brand? If it doesn’t, then in the words of Elsa, let it go.
Whenever there’s a very popular stock image on a website or blog post, the first thing I think about is that they didn’t really feel like curating an original image, so do they care about that genuine connection? For customers it’s also very confusing if two brands in the same space are using the same image, which is a particular problem if you’re competitors!
Stock photography is not the enemy
You just have to use stock photography wisely on your website and when it’s done well it can be a great compliment to your branding!
Do you need some guidance on how to use stock photos on your website, or want a helping hand to edit and elevate your web presence? Don’t hesitate to contact me and I’ll help you fine-tune your branding and pick the best images to suit you!