The Pros and Cons of Using Stock Photography

By Lesli Walsh on December 12th, 2012 / Comments

Images are a powerful tool used in marketing and branding. That is why it is important to make sure you are choosing the right images to represent your company. Stock photography is a popular option and there is an abundance of stock images available online.

While convenient, there are pros and cons to this option. It is important to weight these digital photo tips carefully before deciding if stock photography is the right choice for your project. Here are a few pros and cons to consider.

The Popular Sites

The Pros

Low Price – If you have a tight budget, stock photography is a great option. The images are very affordable and you can buy them individually or in a package. Most sites price their images based on resolution. Purchasing an image for a website is much less than buying a high-resolution photo for a poster. Choosing to use stock photography also saves you the money you would spend on hiring a photographer and models, or renting equipment and props. Various stock photo companies have different price points for their photos, so finding an option to fit your budget is easy.

Fast – If you need some photography quickly, stock photography is a good choice. The images are instantly available for download. The only time invested in using stock photos is the time used to search for an image and any retouching that is needed. Using stock photography can be a huge time-saver for any project.

Variety – Browse any of the stock photography websites and you will find thousands of images available. Photographers contribute to these websites from all over the world. This is great if you live in Michigan and really need to use a photo of a mountain, or a palm tree. You will also find lots of objects and abstract photos. If you are looking for images to use as accents or texture in your design, such as a close up of a leaf, stock photography is the way to go.

Quality – Most stock photography websites have strict requirements for their photos. They have to pass standards for color, lighting, resolution, noise and more. When you buy a stock image you know it passed rigorous standards and will be good quality. You will also be able to see the image you are purchasing in a low-resolution version before you actually make your purchase. This allows you to be sure the photo you are purchasing is up to your own quality standards before you buy it.


digital photo tips

The Cons

License Restrictions – When purchasing a stock photo you need to be aware of any licensing restrictions. Each company imposes its own restrictions, so please read all of the fine print. Make sure you are buying a Royalty Free license if you plan to use the photo multiple times. Be aware that some stock photos are only approved for editorial use and can not be used on advertising. Most stock photos can not be used on merchandise or in web templates available for purchase. The main point here is to be responsible and make sure that you are purchasing the correct license and using your purchased photo accordingly.

Not Exclusive – Because stock photos are readily available you have to be aware that other companies will be using them as well. This means your competition or another company in your market could be using the same photo. If you are trying to stand out and be unique in your market, this could completely undermine your marketing efforts. Purchasing a Rights Managed license can help control where and how a certain image is used in your market, but it doesn’t ensure that a similar photo with the same models is not being used.

Predictable – Photographers that contribute to stock photography websites try to submit images that will be used by many people. They rely on concepts that appeal to many businesses to attract more purchases. As a result a lot of stock photos can be very predictable or cliché. You are not going to be able to capture the individuality of your company by using stock photos. You may just end up looking like everyone else.

Hinders Design – When you hire a designer for a marketing or branding project you expect them to be creative and also stay consistent to your brand. Both are hindered when you use stock photography. A designer can not create a  unique and custom design concept when limited to using stock photography. Your brand is not going to be accurately represented by a photographer who is not shooting with your business in mind. Most importantly, your product will not be represented by your marketing materials.

After weighing these digital photo tips, you may decide that stock photography is the best option for your project. If you choose stock photography, make sure you devote a lot of time to your search. Spending a little extra time at this stage can help you find images that are better suited to your brand and not used by others as often.

You should also try to think of different ways to use the images, either in concept or execution. Planning and managing your project successfully require extra attention when using stock photography. This can help you achieve a great project, and limit some of drawbacks.

About the Author

Lesli Walsh

Designer of graphics. Visit me online at