The Best Way to Use Stock Photos for Small Business Marketing

Choose great stock photos that feel authentic and stylish

The Best Way to Use Stock Photos for Small Business Marketing

When you’re building your website and social media presence, chances are you won’t have a library of professional photography of yourself or your employees.

If you’ve taken photos yourself, they’re most likely poorly framed candid shots or low-resolution cell phone pics. Anything that looks blurry or grainy will make you look messy and unprofessional if used on your website and social media.

That’s where stock photography can lend your brand polish and style, and create a sense of value your customers will associate with your business. Forget the days when stock meant cheesy or fake-looking photos—in 2019 there are many options for beautiful, high-quality stock images for every business’ needs.

Your visual style

Figure out the building blocks of your brand’s unique style


Before you jump in and start downloading photos, sit down and decide how you want your brand aesthetic to feel. Are you aiming for a slick, corporate appearance with lots of cool colors and shiny surfaces? Are you proud of your brand’s rustic roots and looking to evoke safety and comfort with warm tones and wood textures? Putting together a mood board with words, Googled images, and screenshots of sites that capture a similar feeling can help you pinpoint your stock photography needs.

Choosing images

Now that you know what you want, it’s time to comb through the stock sites for photos. Easy, right? Not quite. Hundreds of thousands of photographers submit to stock sites every day, with photos ranging from good to bad, and all shades in between. Some sites even accept amateur photography, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing unless the photographer’s images are too low-resolution for your purposes.


Adobe Stock’s search engine has a wealth of options for finding the exact image for the job.


Most stock sites can fine-tune your image search, usually via a dropdown menu or options in the search sidebar. This can help you find images that won’t have to be cropped to fit in Instagram’s square ratio, for example, or images that have lots of blank space for you to add text. Use this feature and the task of looking through images will be much less overwhelming.

It’s easy to fall into the time-sucking trap of collecting dozens of beautiful photos only to realize they’re not relevant to your business. Keep your mood board handy to help you focus on exactly what you need right now. And stay away from highly stylized and filtered photos. They may look great, but they also may not reflect your specific vibe. Look for images you can edit yourself and adapt to your own style.

Features to know

Resolution: This is the size of the photo, not just in pixels or inches but in how much data the photo contains. High-resolution photos (wider than 2000 pixels) look stunning in print but will have trouble loading on your website and can sometimes take a toll on your editing apps. Low-resolution photos can become pixelated and look unprofessional, detracting from your credibility. Know the specs for your social media and website images (dimensions, ratios, and resolution) and try to find images at around 1.5-2x the size of how you want it to appear.


Collection: Sometimes called a “lightbox,” this is a feature on many stock sites that allows you to save multiple images without purchasing or downloading them. Having all your favorite images in one place is a great way to define the aesthetic for your website or social media campaign, or even just provide a trusted library of images you can pull from when needed.


Photographer: Chances are if you like one or two photos by a certain photographer, you’ll find more of the same style in their online portfolio. Sticking with one artist can create cohesion in your branding, and you may be able to start a professional relationship for later projects. Bonus points if they happen to work nearby!


License: A license specifies how and where you can legally use the photos you download. It’s especially important to read the license for free photos because some photographers don’t want their work used for promotional purposes or on products for sale, even if the images are easily available to download.

Where to find great stock photos

Unsplash homepage


Many sites attract professional and student photographers who submit their work for free commercial use, whether to promote themselves or simply release unused work from their paid projects. Try Unsplash for artsy photos, Pexels for warm, conventional images, Pixabay for a wide variety of photography as well as stock illustrations, and New Old Stock for quirky vintage images.


Getty Images homepage


Shutterstock and Getty Images are industry giants with high-quality images, but their licenses are generally pricey and their vast libraries can be hard to sift through. Twenty20 specializes in natural, candid photos with a monthly unlimited subscription. Adobe Stock has subscription plans as well, with a powerful search engine and integration with their Creative Cloud apps.



Still struggling to figure out which stock photos are just right for your business? We’d love to put together a style guide for your brand and help with any setup needs, whether it’s social media, a website, or print ad. Check out our subscriptions or à la carte options to learn more. And please reach out to us at [email protected] or (888) 616-5505 if you have any questions.