February 15, 2016

543 words 2 minutes.

To Stock or Not to Stock? The Dos and Don’ts of Stock Photography

Stock photography of a group working on laptops at a modern desk.

How can you make your website more attractive and interesting? By using the right images, in the right way. You’ve heard it before: a picture is worth a thousand words. And while it may seem a bit cliche, this seriously overused saying is backed by some very interesting data.

Data shows that visual communication is undeniably powerful.

  • The human brain processes visual information in about 1/10th of a second; that’s 60,000 times faster than it processes text.
  • Human communication has existed for about 30,000 years, yet textual communication has only existed for about 3,700 years.
  • Studies have shown presentations that include visual aids are 43% more effective at persuading an audience than those without.
  • Images can affect a person’s mood, without them even being aware of it.

Images are processed faster in our brains, have a bigger impact on our emotions, and our emotions influence our decision making. But you can’t just throw up a bunch of images to your site and expect them to have an impact.

Stock Photography vs Real Photography: Which is Better?

There are many services available that offer high-quality stock photography for you to use on your website. With so many professional images available, there is no excuse to ever upload a grainy, out of focus, or badly composed picture on your site.

But is stock photography really the best option?

Visitors to your website can typically tell the difference between a stock photo and a “real” person. In fact, eye mapping studies have shown that generic “filler” stock images often are completely overlooked, unlike images of real people or products. A/B testing of stock images versus images of real people consistently return the same results: real people outperform stock photos every time.

Stock photography can give your website a professional look, but you also run the risk of giving it the same professional look as all of your competitors. If you are all using the same smiling, “customer service rep wearing a headset” image on your website, you definitely won’t stand out above the crowd. In a worse case scenario, you may use the same model or image as a competitor with a less-than stellar reputation.

Not every company has high-quality, professional photos of real people and products ready to be used on their website. For others, the cost of stock photography better fits their budget. In these cases, stock images can be better than low-quality or no images at all.

If you are going to use stock images, here are the do’s and don’ts to get the biggest impact from every image:


  • Tell a story
  • Support your copy
  • Illustrate concepts
  • Are high quality
  • Direct the user’s attention
  • You have permission or license to use


  • Have no purpose
  • Be generic or boring
  • Direct the eye away from products or content
  • Be low-quality

If you are going to use stock photography on your website, be sure you are using it with a purpose, and not just to ‘jazz’ up your pages. Mix it up, and include images of real people on your about page or company page. When it comes to images, stock maybe better than no images, but a real person is your best bet for more conversions.

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