Choosing Stock Photos for Website Use

stock photos for website

Your visual brand is a fundamental component to your overall business brand. Recently I’ve been working on visual projects with a number of clients so I’ve been really immersed in photography and it got me thinking. When choosing photos for your website, what should you be looking for?

Most small business owners don’t have extensive photography budgets. I try to take my own pictures when I can, and I recommend my clients do the same. I will occasionally draw something or create a composite image.

Still, I can’t create an original piece of artwork every week, so I also rely on stock images. Recently, I read an article with some excellent tips for posting on LinkedIn and one of the suggestions was to avoid stock photos because people don’t click on them.

I don’t think it’s necessary (or feasible) to ditch all stock images. However I do think it’s important to choose stock images carefully because yes, they can affect whether your audience decides to engage. Here are my 5 rules about stock photo selection…and some of the most ridiculous stock photos I’ve ever seen.

Choosing Stock Photos for Website Use


I took a digital communications certificate program at Mount Royal University a few years ago and one instructor pointed out that he knows a website is not thoughtfully made when he sees the Headset Hottie.

An attractive person in a headset was likely creative and original at some point, but now it’s on far too many websites, and most of these pictures look really fake.

Sure, it makes sense for the people in your website photos to be pleasant-looking. The problem arises when we see unusually perfect-looking people wearing headsets and grinning at the camera. We just know they aren’t real call centre workers.

Even if we don’t know it consciously, the photo feels cheesy somehow. Maybe it’s that there are only so many people in the world with perfect skin, perfect teeth, and perfect hair and despite what Grey’s Anatomy would have us believe, we know these people don’t all work at the same place.

When we see photos like this, it simply doesn’t ring true to our brain, and as I love to drone on about say, if our brain doesn’t buy it, WE don’t buy it.


When choosing stock photos for website use, think about how likely it is that the scene pictured would ever happen in real life. For example, these smiley scientists.

No one smiles this much at work. If you’re this happy at work people get suspicious, which is why stock photos of beaming employees do not elicit trust from your audience.


Do you see what the pictures I’ve used so far have in common? The subjects are all looking into the lens. This is not how photographers take pictures of people in real life. It’s not only fake, it can be downright creepy.

In real life, if a photographer captures images of you working, you’re not looking at the camera. If it’s a headshot you’re looking into the camera, but not working. There really is no commercial photography genre that aims for “working, but only in an attractive way, and often in very impractical attire.” Okay fine, there IS, but I don’t recommend it for marketing.


Avoid hand motion photos that look awkward. Which hand motions look awkward, you ask? ALL OF THEM. At least when captured on camera.

Think about it. There are very few times in life where we humans make culturally significant motions with our hands and don’t look really, really stupid. Finger guns? Dabbing? Air quotes? All of them are a bit cringe.

Why, then, do so many stock photos exist of handshakes, fist bumps, and people who look like they’re new to Earth and just learning what a high five is?


A photo should be worth 1000 words, not one word.

Photos are intended to add to the text, but a photo of a word adds nothing. It highlights a common weakness of the stock photo: they’re too literal. When choosing a stock photo for website use, you can always do better than an overly literal depiction of a concept or idea.

“I need something to help people visualize cookies.”
“I know! How about wooden squares spelling out the word “cookies?”

Ultimately, stock photos are like condiments. Best practice is to flavour the dish so they aren’t required. Use them if you must, but choose good ones and don’t overdo it. I have a bunch of tips for what makes a good stock photo too. Should I cover those next week?

bridget brown, founder create that copy