Let’s admit it! Nothing beats professional photography.

Professional photographers have years of experience working with their craft, and they know how to make the most of their equipment in order to produce quality images. They also have access to all sorts of lighting, backgrounds, and other equipment to help them make the most of every shot.

But that’s an idealistic investment for most small businesses. Because professional photography is expensive, most businesses can’t invest in it due to budgetary restrictions.

So, owing to their rising popularity and easy accessibility, the next best option for your projects is stock photos.

Stock photos can be good enough for a lot of uses. You don’t need to hire a professional photographer for every project. All you need to know is how to pick the right ones that fit your brand’s online presence.

The most common problem with using stock photos for your online presence

If you are using stock photos for your marketing, you should be sure that they convey the right message. The problem with stock photos is that they are often overused and over-stereotyped, and most of them don’t fit with your business.

Overused images can stop you from getting the right message across to your customers while stereotypes can have an impact on your business. Generalizations like all women love pink or men like cars or sports can hurt your brand’s reputation. So, if you are using stock photos to represent your brand, they need to reflect who you are and what you do in the most effective way possible.

Why businesses prefer investing in professional photography

Stock photos are a great way to save time and money. You don’t have to hire a photographer or hire stock photography services. All you need is a few pictures from Google Images search results and you are ready to go. And if you are not sure which photos will look best, you can always do some research on other people’s projects and see what they used in the end.

But the main reason why bigger businesses don’t prefer stock photos is that they may not be high quality compared to those taken by professional photographers or digital artists who specialize in this field. However, it doesn’t mean that they don’t work well for all kinds of projects; it just depends on your needs and expectations.

Can stock photos be as good as professional photography?

The short answer is yes. Stock photography can be just as good as, if not better, professional photography when chosen correctly. The only problem is that when people think of stock photography they tend to focus on one important aspect: the price. But in many cases, stock photos are cheaper than professional photography.

Moreover, both paid and free stock photographers work very hard to produce their work and make sure that it is of excellent quality because they also want to build a portfolio for themselves.

Pexels and Unsplash have grown incredibly in the last few years. Pexels has a monthly user base of 11 million people and it offers more than 3 million stock photos. Unsplash is even bigger gaining roughly 16 billion photo impressions per month. They have a community of 20 million creators and a database of nearly 3.5 million stock photos.

Both platforms integrate with content management systems like WordPress as well as online graphic designing tools like Canva to make content creation easier for businesses associated with these platforms. Pexels has actually been acquired by Canva whereas Unsplash now operates as a subsidiary of Getty, making finding images easier than ever.

If you are also looking for free stock videos to incorporate into longer digital essay-type content for YouTube videos or shorter informational videos for Instagram or TikTok, you can find the most suitable clips on Pexels within minutes.

But there’s a catch. Stock photos can be a great source of inspiration for your online presence, but only when used correctly. When choosing yours, ask these three things:

1. Is the image representative of what you’re trying to convey?

If the images don’t align with your content, they will be ineffective as an example of how you want your audience to feel when they visit your site or read your content.

2. Is the image representative of what you do?

Stock photos are often used without any thought or care about their appropriateness for the content you are working with. They can be offensive, inappropriate, or just plain silly if you don’t filter yours properly.

3. Does it look good?

Stock photos can be great if they accurately represent what you are trying to say —but if they don’t fit with the tone or theme of your creatives, then they will end up making your online presence appear cheap and unreliable.

Free stock images vs. paid stock images: Which is better?

Free stock photos can be downloaded for free by anyone who wants to use them in a commercial project or website. There are many websites offering free stock photos, but they are usually of low quality and don’t have much detail in them. Free stock photos include everything from pictures of people and animals to products and objects.

Paid stock photos, on the other hand, tend to be of higher quality than free stock photos because they are taken by professional photographers with specific skill sets at high-end studios with professional lighting and camera equipment.

These photographers know how to capture great shots that will work well with your brand’s image or message without distracting from it. They can also create custom versions of the image with different colour schemes or textures for just about any situation you might need one for.

Ideally, paid stock images are better for your business than the free ones because once you buy them, they are yours and nobody else can use them. But sites like Shutterstock and Unsplash (Premium) offer these at a slightly steeper price, so they may not be perfect for small businesses with limited resources.

Choosing the right stock photos for your business

Make sure the photos aren’t overused

Businesses rarely think about checking the popularity of the images they use for their content. They won’t even go beyond the first page to look for an image. When everyone does the same thing, you have a lower chance of not only making a lasting impression on your audience but also ranking at the top in image search results.

The most effective and easiest way to ensure your stock photo is relatively more unique than others is by performing a quick reverse search on Google. Simply drag the image into the Google search box and hit ‘Search.’ You will be able to see how many websites have used the same image and for what purpose, so you can find a better and more relevant one for your content.

Relevance is key

Your brand is one of the most important things in any business, and your images will be part of the marketing strategy to help people understand what you do and why they should choose you over your competitors. So, you need to make sure they fit with your brand and relate to your topic.

You also want to be sure the photo is from the region you are trying to target, which means it can’t have elements indicating it doesn’t belong to your location. A good rule of thumb is to avoid obvious things like car license plates, electrical outlets, street signs, or local products.

That being said, don’t take a generic image that looks good in any context and slap it on your website or social media —it won’t sell anything (or worse, it might look like you don’t care about your brand).

Maintain consistency in your visuals

The visual brand is the most important aspect of your website, and it is critical that you choose stock photos that are consistent with your brand image. This is especially true for businesses where presenting a professional look and feel is of the utmost significance.

When searching for stock photos, you want to make sure that you aren’t getting stuck with a bunch of photos that don’t match your brand.

A nice trick to keep your images consistent is to try to create a library with all of your shortlisted visuals in one folder. Before uploading, you can filter them based on how well they align with your brand’s other visuals. This will help you find the right stock photos when you are ready to use them.

Ensure your images are compliance-friendly

There’s no way out of this. As a business, you need to make sure that the images you are using are fully compliant with the guidelines outlined by every platform you are using.

For example, each social media platform has its own guidelines for what it accepts as appropriate or inappropriate. Both Facebook and Instagram have strict rules surrounding nudity and violence in images. So, if you are selling, say intimate hygiene products, you will have to be euphemistic in your selection of stock photographs.

Other platforms like Reddit have more relaxed rules for nudity or violence but you can still be caught in a copyright entanglement if you end up using an exclusive stock photo illegally.

In essence, if you don’t follow the guidelines of every platform you are available on, there’s a good chance that your image will be removed by the platform —or worse, your profile might get banned altogether.

There is no doubt that stock photos can be as good as professional photography. Why would Adobe Stock, Getty Images, iStock, Shutterstock, or even Pixabay be so successful otherwise? Once you figure out the basics of choosing the right photos, you can create competent content on any budget.