How Stock Imagery Can Be Your Best Friend

While I’m a big fan of organizations having a library of custom photography to authentically represent their brand in the world, there is a place and space for stock imagery to reflect your brand, too. It just takes some mindfulness and care.

Side note: When I say “stock imagery” I am lumping both stock photos and vector images together. Think of vector images as illustrations and graphics. I’ll save the whole raster (photos, pixels, and resolution) and vector (points and scalability) for another time.

So When Does It Make Sense To Use Stock Imagery?

My Short List of When It’s a Reasonably Good Idea:
For humor, to break the ice (especially in a live presentation)
To evoke a strong emotion (to incite action)
To make an emotional connection (grow fans for your brand)
To Illustrate data (make facts and figures easy to understand and recall)
To help tell a story (make your brand relatable)

Below are examples, all illustrated with, you got it, stock imagery.

Use Stock Imagery In The Branding Process

Let’s say you’re getting ready to launch a new product, a new service or program and you need to create new branding around it. Stock imagery is super useful in creating mood boards to help you arrive at the right tone, color, texture, and personality the shiny new thing you’ve worked so hard to make should have. This is important internal work and part of the branding process, not to be confused with actual design or to be used publicly. More about mood boards here, including a handy resource in making your own mood boards.

branding mood board example

Example of a mood board. It includes texture, colors, typography, and tone. I can’t tell you what exactly this brand might represent but if I had to guess it would be fulfilling a want, filling a void, looking to make people whole again, reflection and restoring faith.

Use Stock Imagery To Illustrate A Point

Stock imagery can give presentations (as in our pal PowerPoint) a huge visual lift in helping audiences absorb what you’re saying when it’s directed well. For example: Instead of showing your audience one slide full of stats, break this information over a series of slides. What makes your information you’re presenting more digestible and memorable is thanks due to well-chosen stock imagery.

Exhibit A: Your typical non-inspiring PowerPoint slide containing data about a fictitious urban center’s traffic management systems. You can do better than this. Below are examples showing the same data spread over several slides with relevant well-chosen stock imagery to support the facts.

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Use Stock Imagery For Impact

Use it as an attention-grabbing visual to start your blog and social media posts to motivate people to click and read more. Choose wisely and make sure the image clearly aligns itself with the topic you’re wanting to illustrate verses a vague concept. Choosing a photo that’s pretty for pretty’s sake won’t deliver the impact (or honesty) you want unless, of course, you’re posting about the beauty industry.

Chosen for impact. This stock image could represent a women’s self-defense studio, a women’s mentoring program, a post on how women are fighting for their rights, or the rise of women athletes in traditionally all-male sports. Photo source:

Use Stock Imagery with an Editorial or Journalistic Approach

Stock imagery can be especially useful to illustrate research findings, industry news, and case studies. It can add a human element, convey emotion or urgency about an issue. In short, when chosen well, stock imagery can emotionally connect others to your content.

91% of women are unhappy with their bodies.


Using stock imagery to visually support research findings. Choosing the right image can amplify your message. Photo source:

Another creative way of using stock imagery to illustrate information in a journalistic way. Photo source:

When selecting stock imagery, keep these questions in mind. Does this communicate my brand and is this something that my target market would find appealing? If you haven’t already, it’s a good idea to include imagery guidelines in your branding style guide to help make deciding what stock images are in keeping with your brand. That way you can make stock imagery a reliable resource and maintain your brand image.

Up next: Stock Imagery Resources Without The Cheesiness Factor.

ENDNOTES: Kristin Maija Peterson uses her talents and discerning eye as art director and designer to find and use stock imagery effectively for her clients’ projects and whenever there is the need. All the examples shown in this post were created by her using carefully chosen stock imagery.

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