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Stock Imagery – Should I Use It?

February 16, 2016 - Fifteen

They say a picture says a thousand words, and we believe that to be true! This is why we would always encourage the use of imagery, especially throughout web design. Images immediately evoke feelings, and providing you choose the right ones, can really help the end user identify with your company.

What is stock imagery?

Stock imagery is the supply of licensed photographs, illustrations or other images for purchase (or in some cases for free). Some of the most common paid sources include iStock, Shutterstock and Getty Images. Often, stock imagery sites will offer packages, such as annual subscriptions, or bulk downloads. However, there are also some ways of finding free images, we would recommend Flickr (make sure you search under the creative commons section), Pexels and Pixabay.

Why should I use it?

Now, a lot of people may immediately dismiss stock imagery, but we find it to be a hugely successful and cost effective tool in design. It suits some projects, especially those with a budget to consider. The best way to use stock imagery is to make sure you spend your time carefully and choose images that are appropriate to your content. Complimentary photography can make or break a design, that’s why we usually create a ‘lightbox’ when using stock images. A lightbox lets you collect various images into a folder to consider. It makes it easier to compare and choose images that work well together.

When you should avoid it.

Where it can go wrong is if the imagery chosen is inappropriate or conveys the wrong message. Some stock imagery sites are chock-a-block full of photos that we can’t believe anyone would ever use in a serious design!

Here’s some examples of good vs bad stock imagery:


Top tips

Avoid cheese!

Not as in the dairy variety, we mean the very obviously staged photos. Bear in mind that a lot of stock imagery sites out there are based in the US, which means you’re probably going to have to sift through the bright white cheesy grins to find the right shot.

For pics sake

Don’t go searching for an image when you don’t need one. We’d like to say this tip is obvious, but sometimes you can find yourself looking to fill a gap. Sometimes it’s better to leave white space alone!


Try and choose an image that will compliment your content. Sometimes you don’t have to be all that literal with your images either. Conceptual photography can work if the image is engaging.

Ch-ch-ch-ch-change it!

If the license you purchase the image under allows it, try modifying your image to suit the content. Whether this is simply cutting out a background, cropping the image or flexing your Photoshop muscles to the max, get creative with it!

Try before you buy

If you’re unsure about whether that image will look good within your design, you can always try out the watermarked version of the image first. Yes, it won’t be of any quality, but it gives you an idea of what the finished article will look like, without spending on it first. Just make sure you DO download the proper version, and don’t let a watermarked image creep into your final design!

Leave it to the experts?

If you still don’t know where to start with stock imagery, then we can help. We’ve curated imagery for many clients as part of their projects and have a wealth of experience in creative direction.

Get in touch with us today to start your project, you don’t need a wealth of imagery to get going!

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