What Are Stock Photos and Should You Use Them?

Need a consistent stream of visuals? You may think stock photos are the answer. But what are stock photos, and should you really use them? Let’s find out!

August 22, 2022

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Visual content is increasingly important. Let’s be real, would you follow an Instagram account with no pictures on its feed? Probably not. With the growing need for visual content, many companies turn to stock photos. But exactly what are stock photos, and should you be using them? We’ve got the answers.

Stock photos are one of the easiest ways to quickly add visual content to your next project. Text and visuals are intertwined; publishing a text in the digital space without visual support is nearly unthinkable in this day and age.



<em>By using our brand’s colors, applying a filter, and often cutting out the main object, it’s redesigned into a unique visual that fits our blog.</em>


Via BoredPanda

An example of a mock-up scenario stock image by Marianne Krohn on Unsplash

Before we answer that question, let’s backtrack and start from the beginning. What are stock photos, and what are stock photos for?

Even though the benefits of using custom visuals paired with your content are proven time and time again, it’s a hassle to source images and get your hands on solid quality visuals. Using stock images sounds like the solution to the problem, but is it?

In marketing, the difficulties come with sourcing images. If that’s something you resonate with, you’re not alone. 37% of content marketers surveyed by Venngage struggle with producing visuals regularly.

Part of this has to do with how inefficient at reading our brain is. The human brain is wired for simplicity, and processing numerous letters as little pictures is much less efficient than looking at a larger whole; an image.

There’s a good reason for that. When people hear information, they’ll likely remember 10% of the information after 3 days. But when a relevant image gets paired to the information, people remember 65% of it after three days. (Brain Rules)

What are stock photos?

Stock photography or stock images are visuals that can be licensed for creative use. Most people think of awkward, overly staged pictures when it comes to stock photo examples. However, that doesn’t have to be the case.

There is a wide range of stock photo categories. Cheap stock photos, with some even free and up for grabs. Others come with specific licenses and can only be used for non-commercial projects. And there are subscription-based marketplaces filled with a stock photo for every situation you can imagine, from stock photos of people to scenery photos.

When you purchase a stock photo through a stock photo company, you pay a fee to purchase the legal rights to use the selected stock images. The fee pays both the stock image photographer that originally took the photograph and the platform.

What are stock photos used for?

You might be wondering: “what are stock photos used for?” Let’s review a few scenarios in which companies often turn to stock photos.

  • Blog article content – Blogs, especially long-form articles, are usually quite dense and text-heavy. One way to break up different text parts is by using images. However, you may have reached the maximum budget for your article after spending money on a writer, an SEO specialist, an editor, and a publisher. Stock photos are a customary quick fix for many content marketers.
  • Social media posts – Social media accounts require regular upkeep and many posts. Sourcing unique content can be a struggle, especially considering your daily posts disappear quickly due to strict algorithms. It’s expensive to source and create unique content that’s only there for a day max. Stock photos are a widely used alternative.  
  • News coverage – A lot of bigger stock photo companies purchase photographs surrounding newsworthy events in the world. If you publish news articles but don’t have the budget for a photographer to cover visuals, a subscription to one of these marketplaces could be worth it.
  • Websites – Websites require a lot of visual content, considering you have multiple pages and a fair amount of space. Web designers regularly use stock photos to break up the information on a website.
  • Mock-ups – To make a mock-up truly come to life, stock photos are used all the time. Think of a building mock-up that uses stock photos of people walking in front of it or an app displayed on a phone.

Reasons you shouldn’t use stock photos

Now that you know an answer to the question “what are stock photos?” and “what are stock photos for?” you may have gotten excited to start using them for your own business. That’s where you should think twice because using stock photos actually comes with some negative side effects.

1. They make your business look generic

Your business is unique, and so your visuals should represent that. Using mundane stock photos will show a lack of character and will make your business look generic.

Stock photos are often created to match a very broad audience. They display average people, clothing, and lighting. This makes the images non-specific and interchangeable; they don’t really show what your brand or product is about. Instead, they just look like placeholders. Some stock photos are even downright ridiculous, proving that they have been created without giving it much thought.


2. They look impersonal

Audiences are getting smarter and smarter. They will instantly be able to tell if you’re using stock photos of people that look overly posed. It doesn’t contribute to authenticity, which many customers look for when engaging with a brand.

Additionally, these generic stock photos won’t do much for the recognizability of your brand. If it’s just another picture that floats around multiple similar websites, the chances of people remembering the photo and matching information are low.

3. They are widely used

Especially the cheap stock photos that pop up with a simple Google search are everywhere. By using them as well, you risk having a similar aesthetic as your competitors. And with digitalization and competition ever-growing, that’s never a good idea. If you want to stand out from the crowd, using stock photos is a no-go.



How to make stock photos work for you

Using stock photos doesn’t sound that great anymore, now does it? But let’s be frank, endlessly creating unique, custom content from scratch is a massive job. With new social media platforms popping up constantly and new advertising opportunities opening up, it’s understandable that you need easy access to visuals.

Luckily, there are some ways you can make stock photos work for your business. Here’s some basic stock photo help to set you off on the right foot.

Be selective

Rather than going for very mundane search words and picking the first result from the first free platform you find, dig a little deeper. Use specific descriptions to find stock photos that actually match your content. Additionally, look for the following:

  • Natural posing – Stock photos of people can often look overly posed, which immediately gives off an unnatural and fake vibe. Not something you want your brand associated with. Look for images with people that are posing naturally or not at all to visualize authenticity.
  • Licenses – Are you allowed to use the image for commercial ends? And are you allowed to alter the image? Check the requirements and find an image that gives you the right permissions for your project.
  • Natural lighting – Does the image have very harsh, unnatural studio lighting? Move along. Find an image that has more natural lighting to it in order to make your project and its visuals look more realistic.
  • Usage – A quick way to check if not everybody is using a specific image you’re interested in is by doing a reverse Google Image Search.


Instead of solely picking free stock photos for your projects, you may want to opt for a paid subscription or stock photo. With cheap stock photos you have a bigger risk of them being widely used and making things look mundane. Spending money on a stock photo is still much cheaper than hiring a professional photographer, models, a location, etc.


The biggest tip to make stock photos work for you is by redesigning them. If you pick stock photos you’re allowed to alter, which most of them are, you can hand them over to your designers to redesign them according to your company’s branding.

Removing the background, adding a filter, some icons, and text gives you a whole new and unique image.

Have a look at the example below. Here at ManyPixels, we occasionally use stock photos for our blog article covers. But instead of using them as is, we ask our talented designer to transform the image into a fitting ManyPixels style.




  • Unsplash – Although widely used, Unsplash offers free-to-use images from creators worldwide. These make for great images to redesign since they won’t cost you anything.
  • Freepik – This image bank has over 25 million graphic assets and costs $15 per month. The subscription lets you download 100 assets daily, including Photoshop files you can alter.  
  • ManyPixels – Apart from offering royalty-free icons and illustrations, ManyPixels is an affordable way to have professional designers at the tip of your fingers, ready to create unique visual content for you and alter stock photos to your liking.  
  • Adobe Stock – From templates to audio to images, Adobe Stock has an impressive library of royalty-free visuals. You can opt for a paid subscription or purchase licenses separately.

Final thoughts

Stock photos are often thought of as overly posed and awkward pictures. While that may not necessarily be the case, they still pose huge risk factors when using them excessively and without any alterations. You risk losing face with your audience, who may just deem you unauthentic.

Producing unique visuals on the daily is expensive and time-consuming. But luckily, there is a happy medium.

As long as you try to opt for paid stock photos, look for good quality, and redesign them, stock photos can help your business generate visual content more easily. Good luck!


Simone is a writer, dividing her time between native Netherlands and 'home away from home' Malawi. Whenever not stringing words together, she's either on her yoga mat or exploring any off the beaten track she can find.

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