The right way to use stock photos on your website

Nicole Steinberg
Nov 20, 2023

High-quality, relevant imagery is one of the most important factors when it comes to audiences having a good first impression of your website. In fact, 40% of people say that imagery is the number one visual element they value on a company website.

But what do you do if hiring a photographer isn’t within your budget? Our advice is to take advantage of stock images. While it’s easy to brush stock photography off as meme-worthy or generic, there are easy and effective ways to implement these resources without coming across as cheesy or inauthentic.

Pick photos that fit your brand

With so many stock photo sites at your fingertips, it can be easy to get overwhelmed and fall into the trap of picking images that look nice but don’t actually speak to who you are or what you offer.

The key is to establish your brand values, target audience, and look and feel before even thinking about photography. Having these guidelines set in stone will give you characteristics to look for in the images you choose. Does your company value authenticity? Opt for photos that feel candid rather than staged. Targeting a specific group of people? Select images that feature that demographic. Want to make your consumers feel a particular way? Show people expressing the emotional response you're looking for.

The first image (left) is an example of an exaggerated, unnatural stock photo. The second image (right) shows the same models, but in a more relaxed and candid looking pose.

Don’t be afraid to edit

Just because you’ve opted for photos that aren’t tailor-made for your business doesn’t mean you can’t customize them to fit seamlessly with your brand. Maybe you’ve found photos that check off the right tone and subject matter, but they don’t match your colour palette. Or maybe you’re supplementing existing brand imagery with stock photos and want them to all look cohesive.

Easy edits that can make stock imagery feel consistent and custom include:

  1. Incorporating brand colours or visual elements like patterns, textures, and illustrations.
  2. Applying a filter or editing lighting to make photos look like they belong to the same series.
  3. Consistent aspect ratios, cropping, and focus on the main subject of an image.
While the first set of images (left) all fit together thematically, the colour and lighting doesn’t match. The second set of images (right) have been edited to feel more cohesive.

Remember to optimize for web

Having nice-looking photos on your site means nothing if you haven’t taken the time to optimize them for a great user experience. Stock photo files are typically HUGE in size, which means they’ll be slow to load on your site if not properly exported for the web. Nearly 40% of users will stop interacting with a website if the images take too long to appear, so make the effort to resize photos and save them out as the proper file type.

Another detail to consider is file names and how they tie into SEO. Typically, stock images will be named after the photographer or have a generic description based on the keywords used to find the image. By changing the file name and alt text descriptions to be related to your business, you make your site more discoverable and accessible to users. As a bonus, this practice also makes your images less likely to be identified as stock photos.


We won’t lie to you—hiring a photographer will always be your best option when it comes to having quality imagery for your brand. But don’t let that scare you away from making use of stock photography where needed. When used properly, stock imagery is a budget-friendly option that will get the job done well. (Just be sure to brush up on copyright infringement so it doesn’t become an expensive choice in the end.)

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