Stock Photos vs Original Photos (The Definitive Guide)

Marketers often contemplate whether they should use stock photos or original photographs in their visual marketing strategy.

While the former provides easy access to a vast library of images, advocates of original content argue that stock photos lack when it comes to exclusiveness.

However, in both cases, the old photography quotea picture is worth a thousand wordscontinue to hold true!

In this post, we will discuss the debate on stock photos vs original photos and which one should you choose for your marketing.

Images are Important!

Images are inarguably the cornerstone of every branding campaign. Adding photos help break up long blocks of text and make the content more understandable.

In fact, images have been proven repeatedly to boost performance and engagement across all online platforms:


  • Articles with images get 94% more views compared to those without pictures. (Jeff Bullas)
  • Adding photos on Facebook increases engagement by 2.3 times while Twitter users are 150% more likely to retweet posts with visuals.  
  • People remember only 10% of the information they read. Adding a picture improves the recall to 65%. (Brain Rules)
  • More than 67% of online shoppers rate ‘high-quality images’ as the determining factor in their purchase decision. (MDG Advertising)

With so much hype surrounding images, it does not come as a surprise that marketers are forced to look beyond pictures that simply ‘looks nice.’

And again, this is where the debate between stock photos and real photographs heat up!

Why Insist on Stock Photos?

many stock photos in pic

Stock photo sites are the go-to choice of marketers, freelancers etc. who are both – time and budget restricted. 

These websites hold a vast number of professionally taken photographs on unlimited categories, making it easy for marketers to find the right one without putting in any effort.

For the most part, quality is never a question in stock photos. The stock agencies that buy these photographs have a vigorous vetting procedure and hire trained staff to filter out the images that fail to meet their quality standards.

Above all, stock photographs are very cost-efficient with many notable stock photo sites such as,, and, offering unlimited free photos for commercial and personal projects.

 You can also purchase subscriptions from a distributor’s website for unlimited downloads at a very affordable price tag.

Just like every good thing, stock photos come with a few hitches so its important to utilize them effectively and choose the right ones.

Drawbacks of Stock Photos

1 - Too Common

While the easy availability of stock photos is a blessing for many, it can also become an obstacle if the image you use is found on another website. And more so if the same image is used to represent the same concept on a rival’s website. The problem here is the same stock photo can be bought by anyone.

When it comes to stock images, there are specific images that are very popular but overused. Since there are no limits to their usage, you are always at risk of finding multiple places using the exact same photograph in their advertising strategy. 

This creates a negative impression of your brand’s reliability, especially if the consumer has had a bad experience with the competitor’s product or service. 

The Fix – Unstock the Stock Photos

man editing music video

Despite the differences, there is a lot to love in stock photos. And many ways to modify them effectively, so they don’t appear generic.

Make Edits

Making alterations to the image is one of the best ways to make it unique and relevant. Standard editing for stock photos includes cropping, resizing, altering the colors, and even adding texts or overlays to customize the image according to your project’s overall layout.

In fact, most stock photo sites allow you to experiment as much as you want with the pictures. Just confirm their licenses to ensure that they can be changed and not marked to be used ‘as is.’

Avoid the cliches

Two businessmen shaking hands, a picture of an overly enthusiastic customer service representative, or a woman laughing with a salad bowl are just some examples of common stock photos that are sold to stock photo sites. 

But as standard as they may be, these types of ‘unrealistic’ images fail to attract the audience – and ultimately fail to make an impression you want to create.

Avoid such images that have:

  • Unnatural or staged poses
  • Artificial or bright lightning
  • Lack of context
  • People looking directly at the camera

Be Consistent

When choosing images for your blog or website, make sure to remain consistent with your project’s color, style, and overall theme. This will help the audience to stay familiar with your brand. And you can always modify the backgrounds if they don’t match with your complete branding style.

Do Your Research

Google Image Search allows you to instantly check whether the same image is being used on other web pages. Simply drag the stock photo to its search bar. In the results, Google will show you how many times the image has been used and where.

2 - Rights and Licenses

eiffel tower stock photo

Another element to look out for when using stock photos is the licensing requirements. Most images offered on free and paid stock photo sites come with a license that allows users to utilize them in any way they want. 

However, several restrictions on a few of these websites may not allow you to make edits or distribute them for commercial purposes.

Additionally, there are some types of subjects that are not eligible for reuse without proper consent. For example, a picture of Eiffel tower at night – with the lights twinkling is protected by a trademark. And using them without taking consent from the relevant authority can land you in legal troubles.

Same goes for images that include:

  • Recognizable features of a person such as a celebrity
  • Privately-owned property
  • Government buildings
  • landmarks
  • trademarks and logos

Failing to use images without proper authorization can lead to severe consequences that include the penalty of paying a fine, taking down a website, and even a lawsuit.

The Fix – Check Licenses

To avoid landing in hot waters with the legal authority, make sure to read the licensing details of the stock photo you are using…thoroughly! 

Each stock photo site has a dedicated Terms and Conditions page available

This page dictates whether commercial usage is allowed, the extent of editing applicable, and if giving attribution to the original photographer is necessary. 

Follow the rules as stated. You can also check for stock photo sites that offer Rights Managed Licenses. With this license, you get exclusive rights to photographs by paying a small fee. 

Why Not Just Hire a Professional Photographer ?

Original photographs tend to give a more authentic visual impression of your brand. Since you control the complete photography session, you can showcase your brand’s personality more effectively. 

Plus, using real photos of your company and its people make the audience connect better with your organization and foster a long-lasting relationship.

And needless to say, you simply can’t beat the quality produced by professional photographers. Backed by years of experience and the latest equipment, professional images are guaranteed to deliver exceptional results.

In the long run, professionally taken images are cost-effective as well.

There is no royalty to pay for subscriptions, and you don’t have to worry about managing the licenses. 

When planned correctly, the photos can also be reused in different scenarios, making the investment of time, resources, and effort worthy in the end.

Take Original Photos using your Smart Phone

taking photograph with mobile phone

Considering the vast availability of stock photographs, it is very easy to forget about your own skills – and the equipment you have in your hands.

These days, our smartphones are equipped with cameras boasting the most high-grade features capable of taking ‘perfect’ photos. 

And snapping a few images from your phone is not at all problematic. You do it for your selfies, now try them for your marketing too!

You might be surprised, but when it comes to capturing images of female and male poses, smart phones can do a great job. 

Play around with your personal camera. Make edits using the online tools available. The internet is also loaded with tutorials and tips to help improve your photography skills and make them appear more professional. 

Try the DIY Approach

Thanks to several online designing tools such as Canva, you can conveniently create custom graphics for your marketing strategy.

These are especially helpful for designing infographics, hotel menus, logos, banners, and even business cards.

Offering a user-friendly interface, the graphic designing tools are easy to use and don’t require any prior experience or skills.

Above all, most of these tools are available for free, so you can experiment as much as you want.

Can I use both Stock and Original Photos?

With images being a critical component, it is best to use both stock and original photos to enrich your content. When it comes to marketing, conveying the right message with relevant pictures is essential rather than focusing on the type of photograph you use.

If you have the budget for a professional photograph – Great, go for it! But then stock photographs are also valuable, especially if used correctly. 

For eCommerce products, you should use photographs taken by a professional and you can compliment your blog posts with stock photos.

For blog posts, its best to use original high quality images. But since it can be time consuming, you have the option to use stock images as well.

Let us know the type of photographs you use in marketing?

Is it always stock photographs, or do you combine them with original photographs? 

Share your experiences in the comments below!