How to creatively use stock photos in your branding and online presence

How to creatively use stock photos in your branding and online presence -- Mervi Emilia Eskelinen

For the creative types, like you and me, using stock photos on your branding, social media and website can feel shameful. I mean, you are creative, so why won't you create your own photos and other images?

Sure, if you have a wast collection of photos and other images that fit your brand, or have the time and energy to create them for each blog post, social media update and branding, that's great. And if you have the money, you can hire a photographer to create you a full stock of your own branded photos.

Both these options are fine. And then there are times when you need a quick pic that fits your content. Right here, right now. Perhaps you don't have a vast media library to dive into and find an image for any situation.

Opting for stock photos, those you buy and those that are shared in public domain or with Creative Commons licensing, is often a good idea. As long as you make sure you have the right to use the photos, and check the licensing for the need for attribution and such.

Big brands and businesses often opt-in for stock photos, so why not you? Buying stock photos isn't that expensive and there are these days plenty of free (and legal) options. You can find a nice variety of affordable stock photos on sites like Creative Market. And such sites as Unsplash and Skitterphoto offer a wide selection of good quality public domain photos.

"There are ways to use common stock photos so that they will look like they belong to your branding and blog. Get creative with the stock!" Tweet this

Obviously, stock photos come with some issues. They may look way too much like stock photos. You know, those very much posed images of people in offices pointing at things with a waxy smiles on their faces. On the other hand, you may recognise the same photos used over and over again on different blog posts and other such content.

So, how can you make stock photos, even the ones that are used on every other blog post, to seem like they belong to your branding and online presence? Try these tips for starters.

Choose photos with fitting colours

Okay, I'm going to assume here you have a brand colour palette. If not, start with creating one. I can help you with that, or if you are good with colours and branding, go ahead an create your own.

While stock photos will rarely match exactly your branding, there are plenty that will be close enough. In case you are good with photo manipulation, you can even modify the colours to fit your branding better. Just be sure to check if the licensing allows modifications.

In my opinion, the brand colour palette is more of a guideline, and using close matches or similar colours works as well. Especially when choosing photos. I mean, getting exactly fitting photos is at least a challenge even if you take them yourself or hire a photographer.

Look at the "big picture". Do the colours of your chosen photo fit your overall brand colour palette?

Choose a theme

Again, your brand guidelines are very helpful with choosing stock photos. A good brand guide gives an idea of what types of photos to use in your branding.

Does your branding include photos that don't feature people at all? Or should there always be a person or more people in the photos? Do you use food photography, or photos of plants and flowers?

If you don't have a brand guide which includes photos, choose one or more themes for your photos. Perhaps a certain category of blog posts features a certain photo theme.

I usually look into the theme of a particular blog post and choose a stock photo fitting it. I also think about the style of the photo and how it fits my overall branding and, when it's a new photo, the front page of my site.

Edit the photos

I need to reiterate this: Check the licensing of the photo before making any edits or modifications. Some Creative Commons licenses don't allow making edits, so don't retouch, colour, crop or add text on those photos.

After you have made clear you are allowed to edit the photo in question, you can make it look more fitting to your brand very easily. You can consider adding text, modifying the colours, adding your brand elements or cropping the photo to better fit your branding.

For example, a very simple way to make a photo fit your branding, is to add your logo on it.

Cropping the photo to exclude elements that don't fit your branding is also an option. Some high quality photos can even be cropped into multiple photos, which you can use for different blog posts and other content.

Make sure not to claim stock photos to be taken by you. Doing so would be fraudulent, unethical, illegal, and would make you seem suspicious. You don't want to seem suspicious, do you?

Combine photos to a digital collage

If it fits your brand, and if editing the photos this way is okay, you can combine multiple stock photos into a digital collage.

Think about the collages people make from clippings of magazines and printed photos. The uneven edges and overlaying images.

Combining stock photos into a collage is a great way to create something completely new and unique. You can take a person from one photo, use another as a background and add elements from yet more photos to create collages that speak about your brand, content and products to your audience and clients.

Of course, creating a collage is a bit more work than using a stock photo as is. But hello! How highly creative is it! And fun! And artsy! And so you!

So go ahead and take a bunch of public domain pics, cut them into pieces and combine them into a memorable digital collage.

Don't worry so much about being unique

For a long time, using stock photos on my blog and branding was shameful. I felt like a fraud, and like I was betraying myself and anyone who was reading my blog or interested in my services. Especially I was worried that people would recognise certain stock photos and... I don't know, laugh at me or something. They wouldn't think I was as unique as I want to think I am.

Then I realised it doesn't matter a bit.

It's not that serious, really. Branding, blogging and business. None of it is that serious. There's no reason to overcomplicate it with an obsession of being completely unique. There's no such thing anyway. I mean, you are uniquely you, but it kinda ends there. Everything else has already been done and seen.

I do see the same photos I have been using on other websites, all over Pinterest and elsewhere. And these days it mainly amuses me.

With any luck, someone has seen the photo on my site at first. And now, when they see it everywhere else, they will think about me, my site, my business and my brand. A win for me!

Get creative

These are just some of the ideas of how to make stock photos, even the ones that everyone and their dog is using, to fit your branding and online presence. As my idea of a digital collage proves it, a little creativity goes a long way.

And as I pointed out, it isn't that serious.

As a creative person, you can take even the most common stock photo and turn it into something uncommon, that screams your name to anyone who stumbles upon it.

Go ahead, get creative!

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Mervi's picture

Hello there!
I'm Mervi Eskelinen

I'm an artist, nerd and creative business wizard, dedicated to help you build the business of your dreams, market your creativity, and find a meaningful way to support your lifestyle.