An ecommerce brand’s guide to using stock photography

Anete Lusina
minute read
Written By
Anete Lusina
March 13, 2023

You already know visuals are essential for ecommerce. In fact 75% of shoppers say product photos encourage them to buy. But for small and growing brands on a tight budget, it’s not always feasible to hire a photographer every time you need a new image. 

Enter: stock photography. 📸

We’re not talking about cringe-worthy shots of people laughing while eating salad. We’re talking about stock photos that align with your brand and blend in with the aesthetics of your website, social feeds and email campaigns. 

So where do you find affordable stock images? And how can you use them across your marketing channels? Let's get into it. 

Why should you use stock photography for your brand?

It’s understandable if you’re feeling wary about using stock photography. Sometimes it’s super obvious when someone is using a stock photo. But if you pick the right kind of images which blend nicely with your own creatives, we doubt anyone will notice. 👀

Here are some reasons brands use stock photography - I’m sure a few will resonate with you:

  • You want to save money: A photographer can range anywhere between £700 to £4,400+ per day. And that excludes extra fees like model and location hire. In some situations you’ll want to hire a photographer, for example, to take product shots. But for anything non-product related, stock photography is a super-affordable option. For example, this photo of a woman cuddling her dog costs just under £50 for unlimited online use and could be a great fit for a pet supply brand in need of lifestyle photography. 
Person holding dog
  • You need fast access to high-quality visuals: You can find ready-to-use stock photos in minutes. You can search stock sites, download images and use them in marketing campaigns on the same day. 

  • Your brand needs more image variety: Stock photography sites give you access to pics that include different backdrops, cultures and people from around the world. 🌍 Ideal if you’re on a tight budget and need images quickly. 

  • To keep up with trends: You may notice a new trend on social media only for it to be forgotten a month later. It's difficult enough for marketers to respond to the latest fads, let alone create new content for them. Stock photo libraries are regularly updated, so you'll likely find images that work for what's 'in' right now. 

When shouldn’t you use stock photography?

Stock photos aren't the be-all and end-all. Here are a couple instances you may want to give them a pass:

  • To sell a specific product or service: Your customers want to know exactly what they’re buying when they scroll through your product pages. In this instance, you should post authentic photos of your goods. You can create your own DIY product photos if you’re on a tight budget. 
  • To show your headquarters, manufacturing facilities, or team:  Your ‘About’ page doesn’t have to be perfect. It’s more important to be transparent about your business by showing your workplace and the real people who work there. A mix of stock and real life photography could work well here. (See how Pact uses stock photography on their ‘About’ page later on in this post.) 

It’s important to not get too reliant on stock photography - especially for ecommerce. It’s great to have it as part of your visual mix, alongside product and brand photography. But use it too much and it will dilute your branding. Take a look at a couple of our guides to help you create your own images:

Where to find stock photography?

Where should you begin looking for stock photos? There are plenty of free and paid stock agency options available. Let’s take a look at some below:

  • Paid stock photo sites: Think of popular sites like Adobe Stock, Getty Images, Shutterstock, and EyeEm. You’ll find a wide range of photos and featured collections. Take a look at In The Moment by EyeEm or Adobe’s Curators’ picks for the latest releases in stock photography.
  • Royalty-free stock photo sites: These include sites like Burst by Shopify, Pexels, Unsplash, Foodiesfeed, and Kaboompics, which offer free photos for unlimited use. While these sites have plenty of photos and great image search features, you’ll likely find images that other brands and creatives are already using. 
  • Smaller stock agencies: These agencies are more selective with contributing creators and the images they sell. For example, Stocksy focuses on authentic and diverse stock photography with creative, off-the-cuff images that traditional stock sites may reject. 
  • Membership-based stock creators or businesses: These sites have highly-curated collections and release new ones regularly. Some examples include Inspired Stock Shop, Pixistock, Styled Stock Society, and Haute Stock. Most offer monthly or annual memberships for full access to their photo libraries, but some sites also sell individual image collections, like this ‘Conscious Lifestyle’ set from Inspired Stock Shop. 
  • Custom branded stock services: These sites offer a hybrid of regular photoshoots and stock photos. There’re no hiring fees or minimum budget requirements. All you’ll need to do is submit your brand guidelines along with the products you want to feature in your images. Once the team is done shooting, you’ll get a gallery of photos to pick from. You’ll only pay for the ones you want to use. Take a look at Cherrydeck as an example. 
  • Artificial intelligence text-to-image generators: DeepAI, Dall-E 2, Stable Diffusion, and NightCafe, create images based on your text prompts. You may find them more useful for inanimate objects or digital art since they don’t always generate realistic human features.

Tips for using stock photography in your marketing

Now you’ve got loads of places to find stock imagery, how do you know which ones to use? And how can you use them in your marketing campaigns? Here’s some tips to get you started: 

Use images that fit with your brand’s visual identity

Your brand's visual identity and design aesthetic will help you find stock images that work across all your marketing channels. 

To steer your brand’s visuals in the right direction, social media and content strategist Katie Barber recommends getting all your current brand elements out onto a moodboard first. You can create a moodboard of assets you already own or use free stock photography from sites like Pexels and Unsplash.

“Play around with the fonts, brand colours, and any existing photos,” says Katie. “See what works together and, most importantly, if it's instantly visually clear what the brand is and does. If your brand is youthful and ethical – is it coming across?”

Smol is a great example of a brand who carefully picks stock images that match their visual identity. In the build up to the launch of their new pink washing up liquid, they used a mixture of stock and brand photography to drum up interest on Instagram. You’ll note the pomegranates and bubble shots perfectly blend in with their pink campaign. 

Smol stock photography on IG

Still figuring out your brand's look and feel? We have a branding guide to help you get started.

Use a tool to organise your images 

Before downloading stock photos, it helps to have a system for managing your images. This is where Dash (our digital asset management tool) will come in handy. ✨ Mixing stock shots with existing brand assets can soon become a nightmare without a proper workflow. You end up getting lost in a sea of assets and end up recommissioning images you’ve already got simply because you can’t find them again. This is what happened to Elli from appliance brand Ebac before moving to Dash:

“We had a huge amount of company-owned and stock assets that were stored across multiple locations and folders. This was not only an issue when trying to find an asset, but we found we were wasting budget recommissioning some images that we already had.”

Dash lets you organise, tag and search your photos quickly. You can also add usage rights and expiry dates which is ideal for keeping track of stock imagery. You can even check the usage of your stock photos across the web. This’ll help you see how unique your images are. 

Pick photos relevant to your brand and audience

Choose high-quality photos that reflect your brand's messaging. Just because a competitor brand focuses on perfectly curated imagery, it doesn’t mean that your brand has to. Perhaps your brand is about promoting the ‘real’ lives of ‘real’ people. In this case, you don’t need a perfectly polished image. Instead, opt for an image that’s a little more candid. 

Mix up stock images with brand photos 

Stock images are great for bolstering your social media feeds. But use them too much and your socials might start looking unoriginal. Mixing them up with some real shots of your products will help your stock images feel more authentic. Take furniture brand, Mubu, as an example. They’re all about promoting local craftsmanship and natural ingredients. They incorporate stock photos of water and plants next to their product photos to show how important natural materials are for their brand.

Mubu IG grid

Be inclusive

Our world is diverse and marketing campaigns should reflect that. The largest minority is people who live with a disability. That’s around 16% of the world’s population but they are rarely included in marketing content.

For brands that want to champion inclusivity, fortunately, more stock photo sites are embracing what our society looks like without falling into stereotypes. Like photographer Anna Neubauer, who, in her stock photography portfolio, shows young people who live with disabilities and visual differences.

But it's not enough to just throw in a couple of pictures of diverse models and move on. Inclusivity should go deeper and become something your business regularly addresses. 

If your brand is trying to reach adults aged 18 to 25 it's worth noting that they tend to be especially attuned to inclusive advertising and brand values. To connect with younger shoppers, an ongoing commitment to promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) is key.

Activewear brand Girlfriend Collective sells clothes from sizes XXS to 6XL and cater to women of all ages and ethnicities. Representation is a key component of the brand's Instagram feed and business practices.

Girlfriend Collective IG grid

Check image and usage rights

Purchasing stock photos is fairly straightforward as long as you know the rights that come with each image. You will find these next to the image buying options.

Adobe Stock usage rights

Image use licences vary by agency, but most fall into one of the following categories:

  • Royalty-free: Images are available free for you to use commercially (like images from Unsplash and Pexels), but some licences may request you credit the photographer
  • Standard licence: Covers most web-based marketing needs like posting on social media or a website
  • Extended licence: Does all the above as well as allows you to use images for selling merchandise

Keep an eye out for limited-time or usage licences to avoid compliance issues. There may be a limit to how long you can use the image for. Or there might be a maximum number of print copies you’re allowed to download or a geographical restriction on media.

Dash lets you store all this information next to your photos, so everyone on your team knows when image usage rights have expired.

Set image usage rights in Dash

Make stock images your own

Stock photography can seem generic, but it doesn’t have to be. You can make it yours by using websites like Canva, Adobe Express and VistaCreate to create personalised visuals for your website, social media, and ecommerce store. And, if you use Dash, you can seamlessly drop your images from Dash into Canva without going back and forth between different tools. ✨

You can edit your stock shots by cropping them, applying filters, or adding your branding (so long as your image licence allows it).

Here’s an example of how two companies have made the same shot feel unique to their brand. Cafe con Libros uses a full-size shot with a friendly “hello” on the phone mockup.

Cafe con Libros stock image

Influencer marketing agency, Social Studies, has cropped the same images and added Supergoop’s TikTok screenshot on the phone.

Social Studies uses stock photography

You could also lay text over your stock photos to create fun, inspiring or educational content for your social feeds. Period underwear brand Moove uses text against stock photos on their Insta feed to educate customers on why period underwear is better than traditional sanitary products. 

Moove IG page

5 brands using stock photography in their marketing

 Now that you’ve discovered some ways to incorporate stock imagery into your marketing, let’s have a look at some more brands who're cleverly using stock photos across their channels. 

Gallinée uses a mix of stock photography and product shots

Beauty brand Gallinée, uses stock photography to compliment the product shots on their website. In this example, the snapshot of oats gives you insight into the natural ingredients used in their products.

Gallinee uses stock photography on their home page

Key takeaway: Using relevant stock photos can give your customers a better idea of what your products are made from. 

Pact uses stock images to highlight their brand mission 

You can use stock photos to emphasise your brand’s mission. Fashion brand, Pact, uses images of the ocean to highlight their ethos about sustainability on their ‘About us’ page.  

Pact uses stock images on their About page

Key takeaway: You can use stock images to reflect your brand values and help support your website copy. Take a look at our post about challenger brands to see what kinds of imagery other brands are using to highlight their mission and goals. 

SABI curates beautiful imagery on their blog home page

Health care brand, SABI, uses stock imagery to create hero images and thumbnails for their blog. The result is a beautiful visual experience that encourages you to click through to each of their articles. 

SABI uses stock images on their blog

Key takeaway: Make your company blog a beautiful visual experience for your readers. Adding eye-catching stock shots for each blog entry will make it easy for customers to skim the page and find what they want to click on. 

Siblings use images to evoke different emotions on their product pages

Sustainable candle brand, Siblings, uses stock photos to mirror the feeling that each candle is designed to evoke. These images are also used to differentiate product bundles. The ‘Jungle Party’ wax blend shows an exotic beach retreat, while the ‘Beach Daze’ is all about sea salt and sand dunes. 

Sibling uses stock photos on their product pages

Key takeaway: Is your product designed to spark a feeling or emotion with your customers? Make sure your stock imagery reflects that on your product pages. 

Hello Klean Use textures and patterns in their newsletters 

Hello Klean sends out a newsletter educating subscribers on how to take better care of their skin. They use photos of textures, patterns, and natural elements as backgrounds for their marketing copy. It’s eye-catching and feels aligned with the visual identity of their brand. 

Hello Klean uses stock images in their email marketing

Key takeaway:  Play around with different textures and patterns to jazz up your email marketing. Tools like Canva will allow you to pick colours and fonts that match your brand guidelines. Check out our guide to creating better designs in Canva for more tips. ✨ 

Keep your stock photos organised

If you’ve ever spent ages looking for a file someone on your team has saved somewhere (but you’re not quite sure where), you know how frustrating and time-consuming it can be.

To avoid your stock photos getting lost and to keep them organised and easily accessible, use a digital asset management tool like Dash. You can organise your stock images alongside your product photography and brand photos to create a beautiful asset library. Sure, file management is not the most glamorous part of your job, but a DAM will allow you (and everyone on your team) to find files faster and get those campaigns launched quickly.

Sign up below for a free 14-day trial to see how easy it is to keep all your stock photos organised and share them with everyone on your team.

Anete Lusina

Anete Lusina is a freelance B2B writer and a creative at heart. You'll find her either at the desk writing, traveling for a street photography trip, or playing video games.

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Anete Lusina

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