• How to Use Stock Photos for Your Business

How to Use Stock Photos

In the online world, stock photos get a bad rap for being inauthentic, generic, and just downright corny sometimes. While some of that may be true, it all comes down to the way you use stock photos for your business. If done right, they’re actually a great resource that you can utilize for a number of different purposes.

That being said, due to tricky copyright restrictions and selective privileges, it’s also easy to get yourself into a bind if you’re not careful. In this post, we’re going to explore the different ways you can use stock photos to benefit your business while keeping it legal at the same time.

How to Use Stock Photos

Stock Photo Terms You Need to Know

Before you start scouring the web for stock photos, it’s important that you familiarize yourself with a few key terms.


With rights-managed stock photos, they’re protected by copyrights that allow a one-time use for a specific purpose if purchased. That means if you find that the picture works well with another piece of content or marketing material, you have to purchase another license to do so.


Unlike with rights-managed pictures, royalty-free stock photos, once purchased, give you the freedom to use them how you like and as many times as you want. So, if you want to use the same photo for a blog post, a PPC ad, and somewhere else on your website, you’re free to do so without having to pay additional fees each time.

CC0 (Creative Commons Zero)

Stock photos with the CC0 license are free to be used however you want. They can be used for personal or commercial use, and are even able to be modified, copied and distributed, all without restrictions or worrying about attribution. Even though freedom from copyright restrictions make CC0 stock photos some of the most popular, attributing is always appreciated.


Attribution is the simple act of letting readers or viewers know who created the photo and where it was sourced from. This can be done by listing their name and providing a source link as a caption under the photo, or you can add photo credits at the end of a blog post.

What to Look for in a Free Stock Photo Site

A simple Google search for free stock photo sites will come up with dozens of sites all fighting for your attention and interest. To help you sort through the noise, below we’ve covered a few simple guidelines you should follow when looking for a stock photo resource.


Most stock photo sites are going to have thousands upon thousands of pictures for you to sort through. While this is great, because it means more options and a higher chance of finding the perfect photo, it can make the search process a little overwhelming.

You want to choose a site that has multiple search filters so you can quickly and easily narrow down the results. Not only is it going to save you time, but it will also enable you to find very specific niche photos that align with targeted content.

Attribution Not Required

If you’re peppering multiple photos throughout a blog post, you want to limit the number of distractions readers encounter, attribution caption text included. It’s important to make sure the site you’re using has no attribution requirements (though it may be kindly requested), because this will allow you to easily create clean, sleek-looking professional content.

Mention of CC0

When specifically searching for free stock photos, the Creative Commons is going to be your go-to resource. As such, you want the website you’re using to have a CC0 section so you can easily navigate to the pictures you need. It also takes all of the copyright and restriction guesswork out of the equation, making the search process faster.


Going hand-in-hand with searchability, the stock photo site should make it very clear as far as the type of licensing you’re working with on each picture you select. To avoid the headaches that come along with illegally using a stock photo, the best sites make it easy to check the copyrights of any photo you like (if they have any).

Tips for Choosing Stock Photos

Spend Time Digging

If you’re like most, it’s tempting to use the first photo that you find. Don’t do it. Chances are, plenty of other people have felt the same way (possibly even your competitors) and decided to use the same picture for whatever purpose they saw fit. Spend some time digging to find unique pictures that have lower usage rates.

Get Creative

When searching for stock photos, don’t be afraid to get creative. Rather than using unnatural, generic looking pictures that everyone goes for, like elderly people laughing at a table with someone in a business suit and folders between them, try out some different keywords and really think about what would complement your content.

Depict Emotion

Think about the emotions you’re trying to draw out in your readers, and choose stock photos based on that. For example, if your post is a How-To piece, select a picture of someone looking puzzled. Emulate what your readers are feeling to help them make a connection to the subject of the content.

Be Consistent

It’s important that the photos you’re using effectively and consistently brand your business. When you use all kinds of different pictures in your content, it’s going to make your brand less recognizable to readers and potential customers. If you use certain graphics in a lot of your photos, keep doing it to stick with the theme.

Free Sites for Stock Photos

Now that you have all of the knowledge you need to safely find stock photos, it’s time to find a site (or multiple). To make things easier, we’ve scoured the web and compiled a list of sites you can use to find tens of thousands of stock photos for your business.

Keep in mind that, depending on the kinds of photos you’re looking for, some sites are better than others for specific styles, so it’s a good idea to browse through a few.

What are your favorite stock photo sites? Let us know in the comments below.

Kristen McCormick
Kristen McCormick
Kristen is the Content Marketing Manager for ThriveHive, where she geeks out daily over SEO, organic traffic, and A/B testing. When she's not equipping business owners and marketers to get their name out there through effective content, she's out pedaling the streets of Boston on her beloved bike.

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