3 tips to use stock pictures ethically and where to find them

There are many so-called experts in content marketing that state that you should never use stock photos. And instead, you should hire a photographer.

According to them, all stock pictures look the same. They are wrong for so many reasons, but let me give you two:

  1. It’s unrealistic to think every company can spend thousands of dollars every year on a photographer.
  2. There are countless photo stock collections of all different types: vintage, inclusive, casual, artistic, generic…

How about small companies? Don’t they have the right to illustrate their articles, populate their website and beautify their content?

Choosing stock pictures is exactly that: choices. You pick those photos that fit best for the story you want to tell.

And believe me, your story is your brand. Here you have three tips for those they want to use stock pictures and still want to do it ethically.

Yes, ethically, because it’s not about what you say but how you say it.

Two stock photos of businesswomen

Aim for diversity in stock pictures

When you read about articles that throw shade to stock pictures, one the most common criticism is the fake representation of diversity.

It seems that for them diversity is only based on ethnicity or age. No, it’s about representing your target audience.

We live in the XXI century. There are female CEO, transgender developer, and male stewardess.

When you use the keyword “business meeting” most of the results show a man showing something to a woman.

Well, my first boss was a woman and she taught me a lot. In this case, it was me looking at that screen she was pointing at. Why can’t your stock pictures represent that?

Example of two different stock photos that represent business collaboration and how they will affect your marketing strategy

A picture that represents the diversity isn’t about people from all ethnicities and ages hugging each other.

Try to think of one of your customers and depict hem with a stock picture.

Is it a picture for your About Us section? Try with something that embeds the spirit of your brand.

Transmit a real representation of what you want to share

We all have seen this: Very common in fast-food and fashion advertisement. “Reality” never looked that good.

I’m sure you’ve ever heard of the expression “it’s too good to be true”. This is the case with some stock pictures.

As a marketing manager, content coordinator or art director you should pay attention to this issue. You want to transmit reliability.

A bit of makeup, a bit of retouch here and there. It’s fine. Just don’t make your model look a sister from a different mister.

Pick carefully your pictures trying to be a real representation. Otherwise, your prospects will call you out for a deceiving marketing strategy.

To give you an example, if you are writing an article about how to start a yoga studio, perhaps you don’t need the picture of that slim woman.

Any other, closer-to-reality person will fit the role better. Why? Because people will feel easily identified.

Example of two different stock photos for the keyword yoga and how they will affect your marketing strategy

If you look at these two pictures you will see a difference. How many people do you know that practices yoga on top of a rock and can do a handstand at the same time?

In fact, a yoga studio might look more like the picture on the left. People from all walks of life and in different levels of strength and elasticity.

Of course, the right picture might be more spectacular. But sequins and glitter will fade off eventually.

On top of that, you’ll most likely see that picture on other sites. But if you dig a bit more, you can find alternatives that will give more substance to your blog posts.

Stock pictures should be examples not substitutes

This is very interesting. In theory, companies would use stock pictures to illustrate something or someone, not with intent to make it pass for their product, stakeholder or employees.

Well, I’ve seen this very often. Sometimes, you have a very attractive young person as the author of that blog post you like.

Or you can also see that even-tempered woman signing the email for a webinar. Or in the ‘About us’ section you can see two people, Jonah and Kirsten, in the amazing new office.

Funny enough, sometimes this is not true. That attractive blogger is also on the cover of a book for how to be successful.

The woman of the webinar seems to be busy working for many other websites. And Jonah and Kristen aren’t in London but on their way to a festival in Berlin after the photoshoot.

In a nutshell, it’s the syndrome of the everywhere person. You have seen that person before and you don’t remember where or when.

Golden rule: never use a stock picture as an avatar for your author profile in your blog or for your email. It’s not you, it’s someone else.

In this case, you can’t argue that you are showing an example of who the author is. Either is you or is that person. Take a selfie, it will work better.

The same applies to your career page. Never use stock pictures.

You may try to show a diverse team force but, funny enough, your interviewees realize that they are all white, in their 40s and predominantly male.

Yet, you can use a stock picture of a scene that compliments your story. Like a panorama of the city where your company is located.

A list of websites for stock photos

So, if after reading you wonder why you could find these photos that show diversity, and realness, but still serve as examples. Don’t desperate.

I gather a bunch of resources of websites that include stock pictures that will help you boost that storytelling you want to include in your content.

Rawpixel: At first sight, this might be another generalist collection of stock pictures. Yet, if you look carefully, you will see that they have body positivity shoots, LGBT sections, and photos representing real elderly.

Truth to be told, Rawpixel smells like blogger wannabe, so it tends to fall into the unrealistic. Yet, their inclusivity makes them rank in this list of responsible stock photo websites. Freemium model.

Stock photo of three women representing body positivity

Representation Matters: Perhaps not the best one in terms of quality, but it clearly includes a lot diversity. It’s worth it to consider from time to time. You can also sign up for free pictures.

Their collection can help you depending on what you are looking for. It ranges from body positivity and disability to LGBT and mental health.

Nappy: If you are looking for high-quality stock photos that feature black and brown people, Nappy is your site.

For those with a tight pocket and little money to spend on pictures, you should know that this one is totally for free.

Example of an inclusive and diverse stock photo

Women of Color in Tech: It started as a project that ended in October 2016. It includes realistic photos of women of color working in tech environments.

They are perfect for blog posts and tech companies. Now you can find these pictures in Flickr for free and they’re pictures are Under Creative Commons Attribution.

Tonl: It is subscription based, a must if you want to support the photographer community and at the same time obtain good quality, realistic and diverse photos.

Extra points for representing people who are actually working with the computer and not looking at nonsensical graphs or typing gibberish.

Adobe Stock: Great quality picture, but of course you must pay the price. It ranges from Latino middle age women in New York to old people at the hospital.

Advice, if you are going to pay for the subscription, you’d better be ready to search and search.

Burst: Good quality –of course, it is by Spotify- and with tips on how to use your pictures in your marketing strategy.

They also count with a bunch of good, realistic photos. Some, of course, are a bit staged, but then again, it’s all about searching carefully.

Example of a diverse stock photo of man sitting down by a pool checking his phone







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