Choosing Stock Photos that Don’t Look Stock

Keep these guidelines in mind to find better images

Stock photography is an important part of virtually any marketing department’s toolkit. It’s usually more convenient and cost-effective to use stock photos than to hire a professional photographer. However, many of the stock photos you’ll find in online photo libraries, especially those that are royalty-free, often are generic, staged, clichéd, or artificial-looking—hardly the qualities you want associated with your content or messaging.

While searching for stock photos that better captivate viewers and support your marketing efforts, keep one word in mind—authenticity. Unless you’re in the high fashion business, the more your photos look like they are taken from real life instead of manufactured, the more engaging and genuine your presentation will be. Here are a few simple things to look for:

1) Interactions/emotions/expressions

These elements are inherently human qualities that we naturally respond to. When we see a person engaging with another person, or reacting to something in an emotional manner, we naturally want to understand what is going on. Images that show people connecting to another individual, their environment, an experience, or a memory, pull us in and increase our interest.


2) Unique perspective

A startling point of view or unusual angle adds instant drama to any image. Most of us tend to see the world in more or less the same way. An image that presents the world from a perspective completely different from our own never fails to capture attention.


3) A story

Images that suggest a narrative, mystery, an action about to happen, or the aftermath of something that happened, are always intriguing. Humans have a natural tendency to look for meaning in images—an image that can be interpreted in different ways will hold a viewer’s attention as he or she seeks to make sense of it.


4) Natural lighting/setting

Photos that incorporate natural lighting sources often have greater depth, range of tones, and subtle details than those using bright, flat lighting you often see in studio shots. As a result of these qualities associated with natural lighting, such photos frequently carry emotional weight and power—which greatly help to draw viewer interest.


These basic principles provide a foundation for evaluating stock photography for your marketing communications. Obviously, they won’t apply to every situation, but they can help you find good image candidates more quickly when searching. For additional information on identifying better stock photos, check out this Hubspot article.