Stop Using Stock Images

Shirley Pattison

Shirley is the content marketing editor at imonomy, a proud contentoholic.

Stop Using Stock Images

Stop. Just stop.

If you want to do something right in the last half of this year, give yourself this resolution:

‘I will not use another stock image until the end of the year.’

I know it’s easier and cheaper to resort to stock images. But try out this resolution for only 6 months, and you can actually see the benefits of using original images, their effect on traffic, engagement and all your other marketing goals you set for the next two quarters. Sounds good, right?

stock images

Even 20th Century FOX had an ‘in gest swipe’ at the stock image industry. Now you know it’s time to change tactics. By photoshopping Vince Vaughn into generic office stock images, they were able to catch people off guard and also promote their new film, Unfinished Business.

Though it’s funny, you’ve probably looked at this picture for 3x more time than for any other stock image you’ve seen before.

Back to Basics of Visual Marketing

If you are in the content marketing field, you will understand how crucial visuals are to your strategy. Whether it’s a way to attract attention, compliment your content or add personality to your article, you need to consider this aspect of your content more than you think.

Just to remind you, HubSpot research (which refers to Facebook posts, but can be also related to other content) found that posts with photos received 53% more likes, and over 104% more comments than plain text posts. (Thanks BitRebels for your fantastic infographic).

facebook pic sharing

What’s Wrong With Using Stock Images?

The problem is that the internet is becoming more and more saturated with stock images. Granted they are created beautifully, but they are no longer original, as they’re often followed by a ‘oh wait I’ve seen this picture somewhere before’, or an ‘I recognize this model from somewhere’.

Take Jesper Brunn, for example, the world’s most downloaded man, as Times Magazine would say. In the eyes of many marketers, he is the epitome of manliness, subtle enough to attract both males and females. I wouldn’t be surprised if you have seen him on a billboard, website or other online materials that stress his prototype handsomeness (no offence Jesper, we love you).

handsome stock photo

The Solution: Create Your Own Images

These days, smartphones are getting smarter, and their cameras are following suit. Although professionally staged and stock shot images remain state-of-the-art, we snap and view more personal images than once upon a time. The effects on our smartphones help snazz up our images, and we appreciate seeing user-generated photos, like our own.

Thanks to Instagram, our personal photography is now getting recognized by the big fish, like Rolling Stone Magazine. These fantastic pictures, taken with ordinary phone cameras, are a great inspiration for creating your own images for your next content piece.

The Process: How to Create Your Own Images

original photos

In The Office

Though it might be trickier to get those ‘office’ images to look sharp and clean, like stock images, you can spice up your visuals by adding shots of your colleagues in action. This personalizes your content, giving it a character and depth that many marketers are currently seeking.

If you do decide that your colleagues are the best people for your images make sure that:

  1. They are happy with you using their images in different content pieces – you might need to explain the context a bit (and remember not everyone understands content like you do)
  2. Have a plan for when colleagues depart. Sadly this is a case for many companies and you may need to remove some images when people leave.
  3. Take lots of shots at one time – It will get annoying for your colleagues if you keep coming back and asking for more photos every week. Ask for a one hour session to be reserved for you to take all the pictures you need and don’t bother them again.


If you are really keen on making this strategy work, I suggest you start creating your own library of images from your daily life. Whether you’re in a coffee shop with friends, or at a date with your beau, think about photos that would enhance your content. It doesn’t have to be for your next post or the one after that, but at one point you’ll be able to use it to draw engagement towards your content.

Here are 3 reasons to give this a go:

  1.       You already take photos when you’re out and about. Why not make them meaningful and useful, too?
  2.       If you are going to a boring appointment and you want to make your time more exciting, think of ways to take interesting shots that could be useful in the future. An empty purple chair, a water dispenser, or a car parked poorly, can all be ideal for content
  3.  At family events, you can get great shots of kids, food, grandmothers, etc. that can really bring a lot of life to your writing. Just make sure you get their permission before using the images. You don’t want a family feud.

I took this photo of my colleague Paul Jacobson when we were at the Yahoo Campus for an event. It can easily be used for a featured image on a blog post or for a social media image.
colleague photos

Remember that if you are a Gmail user, you can now have your phone automatically save photos you take into a folder on Drive and save you the hassle of backing them up later. Here’s the guide.

There are so many tools that can help you enhance and edit your images, but you need to choose the one with the right features for the look you are going for.

Here are 3 free tools that will help you with your image creation:

  •        BeFunky is a great photo editor tool that you can use on desktop and on your mobile.
  •        Fotor helps you create some creative collages with your images.
  •        Imgflip is genius tool that allows you to make your own GIFs – perfect for those wanting to step out of the box.

You can also check out this Roojoom Content Journey for more free photo resources that can complement your content. Who doesn’t like compliments?  

The Implementation: What You Can Do With The Images

It’s not rocket science. You can use any image you create as part of your content strategy. The purpose is to enhance your writing and encourage your readers to continue reading. By using pictures of real people, especially if you are interested in promoting your brand’s story through your content, you will find that people are much more likely to engage with your work.

As an example of what you can do; I personalized my last post on guest blogging with a photo of myself and adding my name to the title. Sound strange? The engagement on it tripled from our daily average.
self picture blog post

Lesson learned: People love personalized images that matches the content. This gives you the opportunity to try out new methods in your visual content strategy and step out of the box.


After making all the effort to create your own image and apply it to your content, you should also consider monetizing from the images you use. As your reader engagement is going to be higher, why not make the most of it and actually generate revenue to help you continue building great content?

Conventional banner ads bring in 0.2% CPR on average, and are no longer considered effective. In-image advertising options such as imonomy helps publishers monetize a new space on their site, without distracting readers from the content.
in image ads

No Other Option

If you have no other option but to use a stock image (and you don’t have Vince Vaughn to photo shop into your image), you should do one of these four things:

  1.       Check who else is using the image – you can do that by right clicking the photo and ‘search Google for this image’ other sites that have used it or go to TinEye and upload the image. This tool will show scour billions of images and give you results in seconds.
  2.       Only use images that have people in natural settings, NO WHITE BACKGROUNDS. Frankly it just looks cheap.
  3.       Rights managed – if you are already paying for the image, check to see if it has a rights managed option. A rights managed photo allows you to keep it exclusive for your use for a period of time between 1 month -1 year. To keep costs low you should look out for royalty free images (Pixabay has a great selection of free photos).
  4.       Make your own additions – just because you didn’t create the image yourself, doesn’t mean that you can’t make additions. Take a tool like Canva and add text or combine images to change the stock image from generic to personal. Their guide to using images for background designs has some great advice to help you out

challenge photo engagement

The Challenge

So, you have 6 months left of the year. This is your challenge. Spend the next half year using only images that you created, whether its smartphone captured images, or creatively photo shopped stock photo. Are you ready for the challenge?

What are your views on the battle between stock images vs originals images? Are you still using stock images or is your original image strategy going well? What are you doing to enhance this approach? Tell us below. 

Have lots of great images that breed good results? Learn to repurpose them.