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5 tips: How to stay unique and out of trouble in the wide world of stock photography

By June 11, 2024June 14th, 2024No Comments

Stock photography.

Love it? Hate it? Need it.

Unless you have the budget and time to do a custom photo shoot for your every content need, you’re going to have to turn to the dreaded stock photography sites at some point.

But I think stock photos get an unfair shake. (Get it? Polaroid pun.)

Read on for 5 ways to spice up your stock photography to either blend in or stand out – including examples.

Taking the stock out of stock photography: 5 tips to make your images feel more unique

1. Search wisely

Stock photo sites all have filters to help you find the perfect image. If you have a vision of what you want, ditch the endless scrolling and use filters to your advantage.

Filters include orientation, location, number of people, age, ethnicity, color, size, mood, and recency.

2. Don’t pick the first photo you see

Or even one from the first page of results. That’s what every time-strapped creative is doing and is the best way to ensure you use the same photo as your closest competitors.

Also consider searching multiple stock photo sources. iStock and Adobe Photos aren’t your only options.

3. Use Google’s Image Search feature

Want to be really unique? Run a stock photo through Google’s Image Search to see who else is using it.

4. Know your license, know your limits

Not all stock photos are created equal. iStock photos have either a Standard license (for use in advertising, websites, blogs, presentations, publications, video productions, podcasts, and more) or an Editorial license (which cannot be used for commercial, promotional, advertorial or endorsement purposes).

Other stock sites have similar licenses and limitations. Be aware of the license type to avoid any trouble down the road.

5. Make your stock feel less stocky

“Stocky” is a word we all use, right?

When it comes to stock, it’s all in the presentation. Get creative by adding design elements to make the photo feel more like a unique, intentional design element. See some of our favorite examples below.

logomark as background of a stock photo

Adding TruLite’s logomark to the background gives this stock photo dimension. The color in the scarf also matches the brand accent color in the call to action button, making the photo pop and giving it cohesion with the rest of the webpage.


stock photos for natural brand style

What started as a stock photo transformed into a full mood set off by the addition of topographic map elements, data visualizations, and the signature leaf shape cut out — all parts of Arboretum Ventures’ brand style and story.


stock photos in headline and call to action

Sometimes stock photography can be used as a subtle, visually appealing sidekick for the star of the show: the headline and call to action you want to stand out. It worked for Prognos, whose short but successful digital campaigns generated $15M in pipeline.

BONUS TIP: Be wary of AI-generated imagery

As artificial intelligence (AI) continues to permeate our everyday professional and personal lives, cautionary tales have emerged.

Adobe recently came under fire for selling “Ansel Adams-Style Landscape Photography” on its stock photography site. The multinational company responded by removing the content and stating that the act violated its AI-generated content policy.

AI is still very much the Wild West, and as rules and regulations catch up to the rapidly evolving technology, it’s wise to exercise extra discernment when choosing photos to represent your idea or marketing materials.

Want to make your designs shine?

Contact our healthcare and biotech graphic design experts today to discuss your branding or design project. See our full design portfolio.

Note: This blog post was originally posted on November 20, 2022, and has been updated to reflect new information. 

Brian Shilling

Author Brian Shilling

Brian is our Executive Vice President of Client Operations with experience leading diverse teams of marketers and designers in strategic marketing, content creation, and crafting comprehensive messaging and positioning platforms for our healthcare and tech clients. To learn more about Brian's experiences and qualifications, visit our leadership team page.

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