The When, Why & How of Stock Photography

posted on Monday 14th March, 2016

As humans, we use a vast range of methods to express ourselves: images, symbols, words and sound. In business, we can also communicate in a variety of ways. When marketing products and advertising our services, it’s imperative to grab the attention of our audience. To do so with photography and visual examples of how our products and services can or are used is a powerful tool in the arsenal of any marketing designer.

Treat yourself with our recommended free stock photography resources!
Treat yourself with our recommended free stock photography resources!

You can add visual flair to your marketing with visuals such as infographics, charts, icons or photography. Where infographics and charts add a visual element to statistical data, photography can be used to stress your argument. Apple use photography in their designs to emphasise how their technology can give convenience to their customers lives. Sports companies Nike and Adidas spend millions each year on aspirational imagery in their marketing, showing how their products better the lives of customers and sports fans across the globe.

You may not have millions to budget towards your marketing, but you can still make effective usage of visuals in your own communications. A popular way to do so is through the use of stock photography.

Many of our clients use stock photography to give a visual element to their arguments where appropriate.

On the Sleeky blog this week, we consider the when, why and how of stock photography.

When should you use stock photography?

Many businesses choose to use stock photography as a way to emphasise their message without spending large sums on bespoke photography. Stock photographs often receive negative press, but when used for the right reasons, it can provide a powerful addition to your communications.

Of course, you can’t beat the real thing when available. Hiring a photographer to visualise your message may be worth the money if you’re certain on the brief. Not to mention that your imagery will be unique to you. Stock photography can be beneficial in instances where you want to try out several different options before you buy, allowing extra flexibility.

It’s also worth nothing that authenticity counts. Where appropriate: photos of your team and workplace will always be more authentic than those of stock team members or premises. Many business owners choose to display real photographs of their team on their website or in their marketing materials to stress their authenticity. This can also help to build trust with your audience.


It’s important to understand why you are using imagery to begin with in your communications. What message are you attempting to communicate with the usage of photography?

Perhaps the biggest misstep with stock photography comes down to inappropriate usage. There are many examples of stock photography which are just far too overused and lose their meaning: the professional call-centre staff, overly joyful business meetings or women laughing at salad (see here for more ridiculous examples).

Stock photography can also be outright strange at times…

Be sure to pair your message with evocative imagery which seeks to stress your message and won’t confuse or detract from it. Stock photography can be useful to bring an extra visual element to your communications.


There are many providers of stock photography online. It’s likely that you’ve heard of or used Shutterstock, iStockPhoto or Dreamstime before. These providers offer search engines which allow you to search for stock photography from their database. For a fee, you can then choose to download the images for use in your designs without paying continued royalties.

The problem with using these sites is two-fold. Their usage is high, meaning that it’s unlikely you’re going to find a unique image which another business has not used before. They can also prove costly when paying for more than one image at a time.

In recent years, many new and fresh providers of royalty-free stock photography have arisen. Aiming to offer unique and original stock photographs, these five websites are well worth your time. Best of all, the photography is often only available for a limited-time, meaning the chances of seeing your chosen image used elsewhere by your competitors is less likely.

Death to Stock deliver a new batch of photographs to their subscribers each month for free. Each package has a unique theme, such as ‘Working on the Weekend’, ‘Dinner’ or ‘Wild’. Best of all, once a photo pack’s month has passed, it can no longer be downloaded.

Unsplash provide 10 high-resolution, high-quality stock photographs for free to their subscribers every 10 days. Subscribe and watch out for their emails in your inbox.

Life of Pix offer a unique collection of royalty-free photographs from a vast array of contributors with a focus on sceneries and nature. Life Of Pix is a fantastic resource for stock photography, curated by a web agency that designs sunglasses and optometrist websites. Their selection can be a little overwhelming, but for the price of free, it’s well worth a look.

Picjumbo again offer a vast array of photographs for personal or professional usage. Their free option allows you to download everything, however, their premium membership allows you to download complete collections, rather than just individual photos.

Gratisography offer a quirky range of photographs, filterable by category. Images can be downloaded at the click of a button, it’s incredibly simple.

If you’re a technology business and your imagery is reliant on showing digital screens or displays, you might also want to take a look at Facebook’s free ‘Devices’ mock-up range. This allows you to quickly and easily include your screenshot onto the device of your choice to include in your marketing materials as an example of how your website or app looks.

It’s also worth nothing that once you have a stock photograph: you can make edits where necessary to make it your own. Feel free to crop out parts of the background, remove undesirable aspects, or add text overlays to suit your communications.

If you’re looking for even more great stock photography resources, be sure to look into Canva Design School’s ‘Free Stock Photos: 73 Best Sites To Find Awesome Free Images’ resource. It links to 73 different stock photography resources, and ranks them by their usefulness — very handy!

Do you want to rejuvenate your marketing with visual flair? Speak to Sleeky today about your marketing requirements. Just pick up the phone or send us an email and we will be happy to help.

Words by Kerri Mark Sharp.

Let's Work Together

We are passionate about innovation, ideas and experience. Tell us about yourself and your project and we can start the ball rolling.

Contact Us