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What are Stock Images?

Stock imagery is a surplus of photographs, graphic art and design elements that fall into various licensing categories that are used to enhance visual content. Though copyright-free image libraries are more than sufficient for most projects, they don’t always have the exact thing you’re looking for, due to the limited selection within each category. If you're willing to invest in your project, we suggest paying for a licensed image which will more than likely have that professional touch you weren’t encountering in your previous searches through the copyright-free libraries.

The two most common stock image licenses are Rights-Managed (RM) and Royalty-Free (RF). basis, the image would be limited to the individual user, as opposed to a non-Rights-Managed licensing can be a bit restriction (not to mention more expensive). With this option, the user must pay depending on how many times they wish to use the photo. This copyright license varies depending on the contract; on an exclusive license where multiple users could purchase the rights to use that same image. Retrofile is one of the first major stock photography agencies. It was founded in 1920 by H. Armstrong Roberts. In late 2005, Getty Images acquired the Retrofile brand name and trademark. Some of Armstrong's collection not acquired by Getty will be available at Classic Stock.” From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia https://en.wikiped

The term “Royalty-Free” can be misleading (since it is not actually free) but it does have plenty of benefits that the RM license may be lacking. This type of license often requires a one-time payment that allows for infinite uses of the image (within the guidelines laid out by the copyright holder). A few examples of rules a copyright holder may impose on the user could be not to use the image in an inappropriate manner, not to modify the image in specific ways or most obviously, not to illegally sell the original image as if it were your own. All of these details can usually be found on the same page where the stock image is being advertised which brings us to our next topic...

Where do we find Stock Images?

When searching for photographs to use in your projects, you may be tempted to browse the Google Image library – DON’T! There is an abundance of amazing stock images out there that you can legally use in your projects, without the fear of being tracked down for copyright infringement. Plenty of sites offer stock imagery at little or no cost; this includes copyright-free libraries, donation-based libraries and the royalty-free libraries which we mentioned earlier. As always, be sure to read the copyright notices before downloading and/or using any image, to be absolutely certain you are not overstepping any boundaries.

Some popular copyright-free and donation-based stock image libraries can be found at:





Wikimedia Commons

If the libraries listed above do not have precisely what you are looking for, consider purchasing a stock image license from one of these reliable sources:


Adobe Stock




Why do we use Stock Images?

Examples, Explanations, Emphasis! When your project is lacking visuals and you don’t have access to a camera, when you are not a graphic designer but you need to bring your content to life, when you are awake at 4 am laughing at your own jokes and it suddenly occurs to you that you were born to meme... that’s when stock imagery comes to the rescue. Stock images not only give designers, advertisers, storytellers and artists an infinite array of material to build with or draw inspiration from, they also make great wallpapers. You don’t have to be in the marketing industry to make use of a good stock photograph; they exist for everyone, for any occasion.

When should we avoid using Stock Images?

Stock image-use in itself is an art form. There is a bit of finesse involved but that all comes with experience. Amateurs will of course make mistakes but they can quickly learn the rights and wrongs of stock image placement so long as they are open to criticism and willing to seek feedback regarding their projects. The list below may seem painfully obvious but these are the most common stock image fails that we witness regularly:

Identity Fail Whether you’re introducing a team, a staff member or just yourself, you should want the photograph to be legitimate and accurate. What do we mean by this? Well, if you are having a bad hair day but you need a portrait for your social media profile do you just Google a person with similar features and throw that on there as a placeholder? No... you probably wait until you’re all dolled up to take a photograph of yourself if you don’t already have one on file. Surprisingly, not everyone thinks this way. There are plenty of people out there using profile or resume images of complete strangers. Surely we don’t have to explain why that is a problem...

“My name is Pedro, professional dog-walker”

Editorial Use Only!

Acting Fail

Another crucial thing to pay attention to when selecting stock images is the attitude of the subjects. Something as subtle as a fake smile or unnatural body

posture is enough to kill a first impression when meeting someone new and that same principle carries over to your project. Those cliché photographs of forced behavior are a threat to your image/branding. Be real!

“Hahaa! My salad tells the greatest jokes!”

“Best day ever! I’m having so much fun.”

“I quit my job and climbed a mountain... again!”

Location Fail

The amount of businesses and events out there using completely irrelevant stock images to enhance the appeal of their websites, flyers or brochures is shocking to say the least. If you were to pay for a clean, cozy hotel suite that you saw in an advertisement only to arrive and find out the photos are from some other hotel, in some other country, on the other side of the world and the “suite” you’ll be sleeping in is actually just a van down by the river, you’d be pretty upset. What if you’re trying to find the location of your attorney’s office but the image used on his website is of a building he wants to be in and his office isn’t even on the same street? You’ll be waiting in the lobby until security drags you out.

“Welcome to Brooklyn!”

Object/Service Fail

False advertising is all too common these days and it’s not going anywhere but that doesn’t mean you should take part in it. Aside from facing legal consequences it’s just plain shameful. Restaurants that use stock images instead of photographing the meals they prepare may as well be called thieves. This goes for just about any form of product advertising. While you could tastefully use stock images to advertise certain services we will always recommend it as a last resort. Your viewers, site visitors, leads, colleagues, friends and family all want to see your products, your services and your achievements. What sense does it make to showcase a poorly chosen stock image in these circumstances? Avoid this bad habit like the plague. If you cannot photograph your product for whatever reason, at least, try your best to find a photograph that, near identically, resembles your product.

“Authentic Mexican Cuisine”

“Professional Guitar Lessons!”

Context Fail

Context is a bit more nuanced than the raw examples above but ties into all tiers of stock image fails. Though it may not be noticeable at first glance, using stock images out of context could ruin a decent project. Do the subjects in the photograph match your target audience? Are their facial expressions appropriate for the situation? Does the photograph look staged, cliché, unrealistic? You definitely should consider the fine details within each stock image before committing to it. It’s best to ask others their opinion if you’re having trouble deciding on which image to use and/or where. Many people have navigated to websites and immediately closed the tab because something just didn’t feel right. If you’re trying to gain trust, spread a message or advertise a product, you don’t want to scare people away. Classic examples of context issues when using stock images include the use of outdated photographs, background objects that are inconsistent with the subject being discussed and worst of all, ignorance. Let’s say, for example, you’ve been hired to create an announcement for the local bird-watching club. Their goal is to spread information about endangered species and host a fundraiser which will seat up to 500. You print out a tall stack of attractive, glossy posters and start taping them up around town... moments later, you get a call from the client; he tells you he’s embarrassed and that you’ve tarnished their reputation. “Why would use an image of a bird-hunter to advertise an event about saving birds?” Confused, you quickly run to the last poster you placed and sure enough, there is a camouflaged man with a rifle in the bottom corner of the photograph that you didn’t notice beforehand. You just lost a client!

“VEGAN Recipe Blog ...Ignore the eggs.”

Your Florida Vacation is almost here! ...Don’t get your gloves wet!”

“Find True Love – Sign up now!”

“Stress-free learning from home – apply for online college courses”

“Spring Fashion Sale! Everything 50% off!”

Who is Harold?

If you haven’t met “Hide the pain Harold”, you’re probably new to the internet. No worries, we’ll introduce you.

“I’m having a swell time fixing this virus!”

András Arató, Hungarian electrical engineer turned stock photo model, awoke one day to learn that he’s more than just a face... he’s a meme! How did it happen? His photographs were being used all over the internet because of his unique facial expressions. What started out as a simple modeling job quickly became one of the most popular subjects in the world of stock photography. András, nicknamed “Hide the Pain Harold” by his fans, is a perfect representation of how not to use stock photography.

What went wrong? Well, his posture and uneasy look was far from convincing. Based on the context of the site or advertisement where his likeness was being used, one immediately gets the impression that there are sarcastic undertones which is not how you want to grow your brand. In cases where the subject was, say, “online shopping made easy”, one might find an image of András, clearly uncomfortable and possibly holding back tears. This does not convey the “ease of use” their product or service offered. In some cases, András is seen with a similar, confused, unconvinced or even stressed look in a seemingly happy, exciting situation, such as a family event or a relaxing evening. The images were not meant to be hilarious but because of the context, they are. “Hide the Pain Harold” photographs are now incompatible with any professional, serious project because of the notoriety he’s received. He’s no longer just a stock image; he’s now a classic!

“It’s delicious... trust me!”

Your goal when using stock images is to improve the visual aspect of your project and, similar to the art of movie-making, you want to captivate your audience and get them emotionally involved without reminding them that they’re just staring at a 2-dimensional spread. The reason Hollywood directors master the craft of blurring lines between the subject and the viewer is exactly what you should aim to do when choosing your stock images. Don’t just splash up some photographs you found on the first page of search results; take your time to understand the people you wish to reach and really know what will keep them interested. A good rule of thumb - if it’s an image you’ve seen plenty of times before so has everyone else. "I’ve done this before. You’re gonna’ be fine!”

Let’s recap: - Know your project - Know your audience - Know your options - Don’t be tacky! Practice makes perfect; you’ll be a stock image expert in no time! “I enjoyed reading this article.”

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