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How to use stock photos to build your brand (+ where to find them for free!)

by Kaylyn Monk
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When you think of stock photos, the first thing that comes to mind is probably a group of professionals in perfectly pressed suits awkwardly placed in a stark office with horribly fake smiles. Am I right? Not to mention that they also want you to pay an arm and a leg for an image that everyone can sniff out as fake from a mile away.

Because of these phony images, stock photos have gotten a bit of a bad rap and in a world where everyone is craving authenticity, a lot of biz owners steer clear of stock photos thinking that they will devalue their brand.

I don’t buy into this boycott.

There are times that stock photos are a necessity for your biz - in both budget and convenience. Unless you are a professional photographer or have one following you around 24/7, chances are that your business will have a need for stock photos. When I first launched my business, I relied on stock photos for my website because I didn’t have the budget to work with a professional photographer and I still use stock photos now to quickly add visual interest to my blog posts.

“What I’ve learned is that brand-centric stock photos used authentically will build your brand, not devalue it.” #thatsgolden

And I’m going to share my secret on how to choose & use stock images that will do just that - build your brand. Plus, I’m going to show you how you can do this for FREE.

Music to your ears? Let’s dive in.


How to use stock photos to build your brand and where to find them for free

How to choose brand-centric stock photos

You’re going to need to play a bit of matchmaker when searching for stock photos to curate a collection that fits your brand perfectly. Make sure that all of the images do the following:

  • Match your brand color palette: If your brand color mood is light and muted, then using stock photos that have bright and vibrant tones just doesn’t match up. Besides matching the general brand color mood, you also want to look for pops of your brand colors in the images. Each image doesn’t need to have every single one of your brand colors in it, but it’s an added bonus if one of your brand colors (preferably your main brand color) is present.
  • Match your brand vibe: You need to obsess over every little detail of the image. I’m talking down to the style of the furniture to the color nail polish on the model’s fingernails. Absolutely everything in the image must align with your brand vibe and appear as if the image was made just for you. For example, if your brand vibe is modern then an image of a rustic table at a coffee shop with an old school mug from the 80s (because that’s the hip thing these days, right?) isn’t brand-centric - even if the image matches your brand color palette.

So how do you make sure that the image that you’re crushing is brand-centric? Do a quick check of brand color palette and vibe by comparing it to your brand moodboard to see if it’s a fit. The image should look cohesive and right at home in your brand moodboard, not out of place or “almost right”.

Psst! Don’t have a brand moodboard? You need one! A moodboard is the foundation of creating a cohesive and consistent brand and an absolutely necessity to kickass online. You can make a quick and easy one by creating a board on Pinterest and pinning brand relevant images.


How to use stock photos to build your brand and where to find them for free

How to use stock photos while maintaining authenticity

Now that you have brand-centric images, how do you use them while still maintaining authenticity? Here’s a few of my rules:

  • As a solopreneur, you should always be playing the lead role for your brand. This means that using stock photos with models in them can be confusing for your customers. Specifically, avoid using stock photos of models where you can see their face as your beautiful face should be the only face of your brand. A great way to humanize your brand while still maintaining authenticity with stock photos is to choose images that show bits and pieces of people, like their hands, or images where the model is out of focus in the background. This will allow you to pull in that small human element without confusing your customers.
  • When using stock photos as large visuals on your website, such as a header banner image, consider using them as more of a background feature instead of the main attraction. This can be accomplished by using a slightly opaque layer overlay and/or text overlay on the image. This will allow you to take the focus away from the image but still create a visually driven website without it being as obvious that you are using stock photos.
  • Just my two cents worth - you shouldn’t use stock photos on Instagram. Instagram is all about authenticity (and the best platform to use to build an authentic brand IMO), so there is an expectation that the images that you share on here are 100% yours. If you’re worried about photo quality, a well captured iPhone photo is perfect for Instagram and its slight quality imperfection (compared to a professional photo) adds a layer of realness that your followers crave.


How to use stock photos to build your brand and where to find them for free

Where to find brand-centric stock photos for FREE

1. Death to the Stock Photo

Created to solve the problem of brands struggling to find images that fit their vibe and don’t cost a fortune, Death to the Stock Photo funds photographers creative projects and shares the images to help entrepreneurs live their passion. You’ll never find a stereotypical stock photo here, but instead real photos of real places and people - aka picture perfect for building a brand that doesn’t look like a flake.

You definitely want to sign-up for their free monthly photo pack to get fresh images delivered to your inbox. If you need more, you can pay to go premium to get access to a ton of photos in their library plus fresh photos every other week.


How to use stock photos to build your brand and where to find them for free

2. Unsplash

Simply put: Unsplash is a massive library of free, high res images for you to do whatever the heck you want with them. I’ll give you a fair warning that it’s like Pinterest for stock photos in the way that once your start browsing, you. cannot. stop. You can filter by collections to narrow down your hunt for the perfect image. 


How to use stock photos to build your brand and where to find them for free

3. Picjumbo

What started as a photographer looking for a way to share his photos with the world, now has tons of free high res photos for you to use - no strings attached. They also offer a paid premium option to get access to a larger photo library to fill your boots. Since most of the photos are still taken by the original photographer, if you fancy the style and it matches your brand vibe then you’ve pretty much hit stock photo heaven!

Do you use stock photos for your brand? Let's chat in the comments below!

Kaylyn Monk

founder, designer + developer

Brand crafter & website designer for solopreneurs who want to kickass online. I quit my engineering career, chased curiosity, and built the business of my dreams. Now I want to help you build yours.