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Like it or not, stock images are a necessary part of marketing in 2017. Whether it’s a website, a blog post, a social media campaign, display advertising, or anything in between, stock images are often utilized when unique original assets aren’t yet available or aren’t within reach.

Some think of stock images as a necessary evil, but really they’re not inherently good or bad. It really depends on how they’re used; after all, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, or the customer in this case. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and the benefit of including visual components within your content marketing has been well-observed for a long time: 90% of information transmitted to the brain is visual, and visuals are processed 60,000X faster in the brain than text. So, if given the choice, a stock image, as opposed to no image at all, is almost always better.

If you utilize stock images tastefully and effectively, you’ll wind up with a great piece of content and the customer will be none the wiser. Conversely, if you’re lazy with your stock image selection, it will show and your results may suffer.

Below, we’ll cover a few examples of tasteful stock image use along with how and why these examples work. Then we’ll discuss a few stock image cliches and trends that’ll leave your content looking stale and generic. Finally, we’ll provide a few suggestions of venues to obtain stock images, some free, some paid, as well as tips for searching and selecting images.  

Stock Image Wins

Before we cover specific examples of awesome stock image use, here are a few quick tips/guidelines to keep in mind when you’re searching for your next great stock image.

  • When appropriate, always choose images with people. Visual content with images of people has been proven to receive higher engagement.
  • Think about both the content of the image, and the message you’d like the viewer to glean from it. This will help you think outside the box when searching for images.
  • Be relevant and consistent. Stay relevant to your industry, relevant to your audience, and try and be consistent in the look and feel of your images.

Here are some great examples of stock photography we’ve seen:

work modes

Office Calculator

OfficeMoving Checklist

Apex Facility Resources

The above images were selected from Apex Facility Resources, an office interior design and facility resources company. A lot of their site has fantastic original photography of their spaces and products, but the three header images above are examples in which they turned to stock images to fill the gap of missing assets for resources content on their site – a good example of how stock images can help in web design. Notice that all the images have a similar color balance, a similar quality and feel, they’re relevant to the content of the pages, and they all contain real people. Peruse the rest of their site and you’ll see that these stock images are successful because they blend seamlessly with Apex’s original photography. Nice work!


WREN Apartments

WREN apartments is a newer luxury apartment community in DTLA that’s been killing it with content marketing. The above graphic was created for a blog post of theirs highlighting some of the best food trucks in the neighborhood. First and foremost, this picture works because it was obviously candidly taken – it does not look overly posed or professional at all. Additionally, the colors and the level of brightness matches WREN’s style guide quite well, just look how well the logo in the top right sits with the image. It gives the impression that a leasing manager or a resident snapped this image right out front of the building, giving you the impression that this place has real insight into what’s cool in the neighborhood. Overall, this blog received over 80 shares on social media.

Main And Clay

Main & Clay

Another apartment community, Main & Clay is a luxury community in Louisville Kentucky. About halfway through construction, and in preliminary stages of leasing, they don’t have any visual assets to speak of, and are thus forced to rely on stock images for all of their marketing efforts, including the above display ad. It needn’t matter however, seeing as how the above image correspond well to Main & Clay’s offerings (they have a community lounge and pool with very similar architecture as the above images). Beyond that, the images are crisp and well lit, without looking overly staged. In its lifetime, this ad doubled the industry average CTR.

Cyrene Apartments

Cyrene Apartments

Stock images have seen strong use in social media as well. The above picture is from another apartment community, this one from Seattle, Cyrene Apartments located in the downtown metro area. Part of a successful social media strategy involves frequent, focused posting, and it can be hard to consistently post all original content. This image works because it’s relevant to Cyrene’s audience (apartment dwellers in Downtown Seattle), and it looks like the average instagram user could’ve snapped it on their phone. The other photographer in the foreground gives a candid, non-professional feeling, the same feeling that instagram has capitalized on in the construction of its platform.

Stock Image Trends and Cliches to Avoid

Now that we’ve covered a few strong examples of stock image use in depth, we’ll provide a brief look at some stock image cliches that we see EVERYWHERE, and that customers have become numb to. If you want the visual content of your website, your content, your ads, and your social media to reach out grab your audience, avoid pictures like this:

A Man in a Suit Pointing at Floating Objects

stock image dont

There are just so many of these all over stock image sites. Do yourself a favor and avoid the headless man pointing at floating objects…it’s been overdone.

Blurry Images

blurry stock image

Blurry images like the one above provide no visual value to your content. It’s confusing and communicates no message to the user and there are no people in the image – it’s sterile and lifeless. Why waste your time and effort with an image that does nothing to help your cause?

Unenthusiastic Models

stock image models

The people in this image are supposed to be having a good time cheersing one another, yet no one is smiling and the poses look incredibly forced. There are countless images like this online, and they can easily be spotted by customers. Overall, it’s uninteresting and not engaging.

Before We Go…

Have you used an image like the ones we just called out above? Do not despair. The good news for those of us that rely on stock images for content marketing and web design is that the state of stock image photography is always getting better, and there are always newer, better, less expensive ways of obtaining fantastic stock image photography that suits your exact needs. Stock images aren’t going anywhere, but if you put a little more effort into your search and selection, it’ll seem like they disappeared off the face of the planet.

Here are some great places to find stock images online:

Whether you opt for a subscription-based image service or opt for a free library, there are many companies to choose from. We recommend opting for a free trial or doing a few searches to get a feel for the types of images each site can offer you.

Paid Resources

Free Resources

Final Tips

When it’s time to choose images for your content or project, here are some things to keep in mind:

Don’t search by a keyword

If you search for ‘recruiter’ or ‘Human resources’, you’re bound to find a ton of nearly identical images.

Don’t go with the first image you find.

You might like the way the first picture you find looks, but that’s just means that others have liked it as well. Take the time to do a little extra digging, it’ll be worth it.

Avoid overly posed, overly processed images.

Unfortunately, there is a standard look of stock images, a certain exposure level and a certain style of posing that is easily recognized. Work to find pictures that look crisp, well lit, and in focus of course, but err on the side of casual and candid. This will give a feeling of authenticity, and engagement is sure to rise.

robert hoyt
Robert Hoyt
Content Writer and Editor at

I graduated from UW in 2013 where I studied English Lit. When I'm not cranking out content for Bonsai, I spend my time playing and listening to music, hiking and hanging out with friends.