The Do’s & Don’ts of Using Stock Images on Your Website


Stock photos can be crazy expensive and are often unloved and overused; however, they are almost always involved in the world of digital marketing. Stock photos can be compelling, drawing visual interest when appropriately utilized on your company website. Stock photos are a great source of design, and many entrepreneurs do not consider themselves professional photographers; therefore, stock photos help business owners stay within their skill sets and marketing budgets. As with most marketing tactics, there are a few simple rules which must be applied in order to utilize stock photography properly.

Be sure to check licensing. Understanding licensing issues associated with stock imagery can be tricky. Failure to abide by licensing laws can reap legal repercussions and the terms are known to vary from site to site. Be prepared to encounter the following terms when checking licensing:

  • Licensee: the one who is purchasing the license to use the image.
  • End-User: the last person to whom the stock photo is intended to reach; your customers.
  • End Product: the final product on which the stock image will appear.
  • Licensee Work: standalone image; utilizing the image in a larger design such as a poster, package labels, letterhead, etc.
  • Print On Demand: build-it-yourself products; utilizing a set of available images in order to create your own product.
  • Single Seat: licensure allowing only one user to download an image onto a single computer.
  • Multi-Seat: multiple users are allowed to download images.
  • Single Application: one product, one user, one edition; designed more for private use; cannot generate nor distribute copies.
  • Multiple Application: multiple users allowed, but only one end product such as a website.
  • Multi-Domain: allows for multiple end products, however only a single user is allowed to use the image across multiple platforms such as packaging, website, brochures, etc.
  • Multiple Client: this generally applies to multiple royalty-free stock images meaning that you can use it endlessly once it is downloaded.
  • Editorial Use: can only be used for items such as magazines or newspapers as relevant to an article and not for the sake of direct sales.
  • Resale: can be used on items such as book covers.

Don’t use Google images. Using google to select stock photos can be tempting because it is quick and easy; however, you might get yourself into a world of trouble down the road. Nothing is free, and Google images come with strings attached. You must have permission to use them. Plagiarism laws exist in order to protect licensed images along with the original photographer or designer. While taking the easy route in the short term is appealing, cease and desist orders and lawsuits can soon follow. Be aware that online photography professionals often use online resources in order to track image thieves and have no qualms about hunting down offenders. In addition, Google Penguin could penalize your business site as photographers often embed metadata into their images to track usage. Don’t risk public embarrassment, the reputation of your company and discredit your brand by failing to follow the rules.

Don’t select the first photo you see. Again, companies never benefit from shortcuts. Don’t pick photos that are “good enough”. Always seek to carefully select relevant photography which applies to your brand and message. Take the time to make wise selections that will enhance your brand and build customer confidence while creating a great website experience for your audience. Rushing the process can injure your credibility, be distracting and cause consumers to question your mediocre efforts. Choose what is best, not what is convenient.

  • Strive for authenticity by selecting photos that feel natural and not staged.
  • Choose cohesive photos in keeping with your brand, considering how emotion, tone, color, and the people in the photos reflect your brand.
  • Think about content and how you will utilize the photos in each aspect of your website.
  • If you select photos with people in them, be sure they properly reflect target audience demographics, likes, dislikes, wants, needs, interests, etc.
  • Quality over quantity – always select the most professional photos. A high-quality image that properly reflects your brand and target audience are worth far more than ten cheap images that have nothing to do with your products or services.


Edit, edit, edit! Editing those stock photos will require you to pay attention to detail. Consider how your selected images could be tweaked in order to reflect your brand, making it more authentic and less “stocky”. 

  • Look for great exposure
  • Beware of chromatic aberration or purple fringing (a band of color along the edge of images) 
  • Edit out sensor spots and blemishes
  • Make sure images are straight
  • Ensure the coloring of an image isn’t odd
  • Remove copyright elements (watches, phones, artworks, etc.)

Get the most out-of-stock photos by consulting a graphic designer or professional marketing agent. The right changes can set your website apart from the competition, acting as a key component of your online success. Be sure to select stock photos from reputable sites as you pay close attention to licensing laws. Some great sites include Adobe Stock, iStock, Shutterstock, Stocksy, Tonl, Unsplash, Pexels, and Pixabay.