How To Use Free Stock Photos Without Damaging Your Brand

How to use free stock photos

“A picture is worth a thousand words.”

This old saying originated in the USA around the early 20th century. However, it is just as applicable today as it was then, even more so in many ways.

After all, the internet offers more opportunities to communicate today than back then. Also, many people feel the internet is 99% visual.

This means pictures are vital. Especially when it comes online advertising or communication of any type via the internet.

Why Are Photos So Important?

Photos have always been an important element of web design.

However, the inception of Pintrest raised the bar so to speak for what is expected in general online.

Now, readers demand professional quality photos, even when they are reading a post about a DIY project. No longer are professional photos relegated to the realm of the professional web designer.

Now, every blogger should have access to and use such photos.

What if You’re Not a Professional Photographer?

Most likely, you aren’t a professional photographer or web designer.

Does this mean you can’t have professional quality photos on your site?

Absolutely not, you too can use beautiful photos to enhance your content through the use of stock photos.

But, be careful…

Why You Must be Careful With Stock Photos

Stock photos have one thing in common. They are all perfect. They are professional. They are all staged photos.

Overtime, readers have developed a dislike for this type of photo. They can tell when you are using photos for decorative purposes, and they tend to ignore them.

In gym stock photos for example, no one is sweating. People seem irritatingly happy even while walking into work in others.

The photos just come off as fake.

Consequently, landing pages with stock photos yield lower conversions than those with genuine photographs.

Moreover, readers tend to associate the fakeness of the photos to your business and thus feel you probably aren’t authentic either.

This of course hurts your brand. So, what are you to do?

If You Shouldn’t Use Staged Stock Photos, What Can You Use?

It is wise to have authentic professional photos made of your team. This will show site visitors you are real people. People they can relate to. This in turn will make you more trustworthy in their eyes.

The Many Adventures of a Stock Photo

A good way to understand why unaltered stock photos aren’t a great idea is to consider the ‘everywhere girl.’

This girl, named Jennifer, was commissioned to do a photo shoot at Reed College in 1996.

The purpose of the photo shoot was to create stock photos.

Anyway, years later, the photo of Jennifer taken all those years ago is all over the world. It can be found on websites, books covers, suicide mind maps and everything in between. Jennifer herself enjoys finding her photo and journaling about the many places her image has shown up.

Her picture was, literally, everywhere…


Admittedly, Jennifer’s story takes place before the internet was prevalent. But, the same thing occurs today.

For example, you can find a photo from a free stock photo site.

Then you can do a quick Google image search on this photo.

We did this experiment and found a photo entitled “watching” that had been downloaded 3,166 times.

It had returns of more than 8,660 pages. This photo showed up exactly the same.

No alterations or modifications.

Imagine if you picked this specific photo for your website advertising? It wouldn’t look very good.

After all, there is a very good chance your readers will recognize a photo that has been circulated this much.

But, what do you do if you have to use stock photos?

What if that is your only option?

Read on…

What if You Have to Use Stock Photos?

So, let’s say you can’t get authentic photos made of your business.

Perhaps, you don’t have the money or your team isn’t interested in being photographed.

Thankfully, you can use stock photos.  Just change them a bit.

There are two main rules to obey when using stock photos that will keep your business from suffering from their use.

They are as follows:

Rule 1: Only Use Photos That You Can Modify For Free

You now know you should alter stock photos instead of directly copying them in order to create that uniqueness you are going for.

However, you have to make sure that you can legally manipulate the photo.

Photos that fall under the umbrella of the Creative Commons CCO license can be modified.

They can also be copied and distributed for commercial purposes, all without requiring permission.

My favorite site for finding these is

They iframe many of the other free stock photo sites in one place.  I aways start here first

Some of the other popular sites that offers CCO licensed photos are :





Rule 2: Always Modify The Photo to Create a Branded Unique Image

Now that you know what photos are out there that you can modify, you need to learn how to do the modification. There are several options you can use.

For example, Pixlr and Canva are free online tools that help you alter stock photos.

PickMonkey is another, and is the one we recommend, visit their site for more information.

The general idea is to crop and reframe the photo.

Then add a colored overlay or a filter.

Here is an example of one I did before for this post:


If you want, you can also add your own logo or text.

This turns a basic stock photo into a personalized, unique photo.

The best news is this type of stock photo won’t negatively impact your brand.

You must use photos on your website in today’s visual world. There simply is no alternative.

You won’t get through to your readers without them.

However, you also have to make sure you are using authentic photos. Readers will know if you are sneaking in unaltered stock photos on them.

Of course, ideally, you would have your own photos made. However, that isn’t always possible, and even if it is possible, you probably can’t get enough personalized photos to fulfill every graphic design need.

Therefore, a great skill to learn is the art of manipulating stock photos.

You can improve and authenticate even mundane stock photos. This will save you money as many stock photos are free or very cheap.

Just remember the two rules listed above when it comes to using stock photos, and you can be sure your brand won’t be negatively impacted by using these types of photos.

About the author

Brian Ainsley Horn

Brian Ainsley Horn is considered to be the “pioneer of authority marketing”, which has exploded in popularity recently. His unique methods have been talked about and covered on The Howard Stern Show, Wall Street Journal, ABC, Perez Hilton, CBS News , Forbes, Advertising Age and dozens of other media outlets. Brian is the co-founder of the consulting firm, Authority Alchemy, and also writes for Huffington Post and Entrepreneur Magazine about authority marketing and personal branding.

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