Tips and Best Practices for Using Corporate Stock Photos — and What to Avoid

How much time do you spend thinking about stock photography? If you’re anything like us, then… probably not much. Often-mocked, and often-memed, stock photography is nevertheless an important part of content strategy for your business.

After all, compelling visuals can add context to your blog posts and social media posts, and help you illustrate important points. And while you may, at first blush, hesitate to refer to most stock photos as “compelling visuals,” the truth is that there are thousands of great stock photos out there that you can use to really knock your content out of the park.

When picking out a prime stock photo, the key is to look past attractiveness (if this was Tumblr, we’d say “the aesthetic”) and consider effectiveness. Don’t distract your reader with a pretty picture — instead, add an image that inspires their interest in your content and drives them to keep reading.

Let’s keep reading to see what makes for an interesting stock photo and what you should keep away from when choosing images for your business content.

1. Use real, relatable business photography.

This is the golden rule of using stock photography. Images that are authentic, minimally-processed, and relate to the subject at hand are what will connect most with your audience. Many stock photos have a bad reputation for having a fake-looking, hyper-edited sheen to them — and this is well-deserved. Your goal when choosing stock photos should always be to avoid this style of image (unless you’re choosing one on purpose, to be hilarious). Essentially, look for stock photos that don’t look like stock photos.

Use This

This actually looks like it could have been taken in our office.

Not This

Nobody has ever done this pose in the history of the world, except for these models at the request of their photographer.

 

2. Use the right kind of abstract images.

Sometimes, you don’t need — or want — to be literal with the images that accompany your content. They’re illustrations, after all. It’s okay if they’re a little abstract, and maybe it’s even better that way. But in the world of stock photography, “abstract” is a big category, covering everything from the wondrous to the wacky. It may be needless to say, but we’re saying it anyway: stick to the former (wondrous), not the latter (wacky).

Use This

Success is a team effort, rarely a solo affair. While this image is semi-abstract and probably doesn’t relate directly to what success looks like for your team, it’ll give your readers the right idea.

Not This

This is abstract, of course, because there are no real road signs that point toward success. It’s also dull, cliche, and uninspiring. We get it, fake virtual road sign — success is thataways. Now what?

 

3. Consider what using technology actually looks like.

You’ve seen them before — the “technology” stock photos. Lots of blue, lots of glow effects, lots of little icons peppered all over the image. No matter how intense your desire for a future where people tap buttons in the air may be, our advice is to never use these stock photos. Instead, go with simple, human depictions of real, everyday technology use.

Use This

An actual person using an actual computer next to an actual server. What a concept.

Not This

It appears that these blue ghost hands are using the computer to send little glowy emails, but who can be sure? Maybe the little glowy emails are controlling the ghost hands. Either way, this is weird.

Ultimately, the quality of the stock photos you use reflects on the quality of your content. To keep readers interested and drive retention, keep things real and follow these tips. Remember, there’s a lot of great stock photography out there — especially the stuff that doesn’t look like stock photography.

Do you have more tips for using stock photography in business content? Share them with us by tweeting @Pardot.

This blog post was originally written and posted by Molly Hoffmeister in 2015, and updated September 2020 by Jozi Hall.