What are stock photos? Should you hire a photographer or use stock images?

stock photos versus professional photography

Every business, no matter its size, relies on stock photography and video for its marketing and website. Stock photos can save time and money, but sometimes it pays off to hire a professional.

What are stock photos?

Stock photos are a collection of images (varying from landscapes, people, events, and activities) which are often licensed for commercial and personal use.

There are two main types of stock image platforms. The first is microstock photography, which is largely internet-sourced and relatively inexpensive. 

Common microstock sites include Pexels and Pixabay, which offer a wide range of free stock photos for anyone to use. They accept images from professionals and hobbyists alike, and anyone can use the same images.

stock photo microstock sites

Macrostock agencies lie on the other end of the spectrum. Macrostock photos are preferred by companies who are looking for high-quality, professional stock photos.

Sites include Stocksy and Offset, which are significantly more expensive than other sites, but offer stock photos worth the cost. They also have the option for exclusive licensing to make sure no one else uses the same photo.

stock photo macrostock sites

Understanding stock photo licensing

It’s important to understand the licensing rights associated with the platforms you get your images from. 

Some sites, while free, may limit what you can do with the image in question. Other sites include limited uses per image purchased, and you may find yourself in legal trouble if you don’t read the license agreements of the site.

There are typically two categories that photo licensing falls under.

Royalty free images (RF)

Royalty free images allow a user to use an image up to a set amount of times (often in perpetuity, but be sure to read the license agreement on each platform carefully) for a set fee or for free.

When purchasing/using a royalty free image, you are given the rights to use the image, but not the property of the image itself.

This means that others can use the same image as you because these sites license these images to multiple users.

Rights managed images (RM)

Rights managed images limit the amount of times you can use a stock photo, often requiring additional licensing payments for additional uses.

License fees change depending on negotiations with the stock photo agency, determined by factors such as intended use, amount of people who will see the image, and the size and resolution requested.

While more expensive, it’s possible to get exclusive rights for certain images, stopping competitors from using the same stock photos as you.

Why do people use stock photos?

Sorry we're closed sign stock image from Pexels
This is a stock image we used on our last post. It was free and saved us a lot of time. No need for us to send someone to find something similar IRL.

Stock photos are great because they help save time and money. Hiring a professional photographer can be expensive for some businesses, and stock photos serve as a great alternative.

If you need a quick image for your blog, or for a social media post, then stock images make the most sense. Multiple platforms exist that will let you find the right stock image for your needs.

How much are stock photos?

Many stock image sites provide free, royalty-free stock photos that allow for both personal and commercial use. 

The only issue with these sites is that many images are sourced from amateurs and hobbyists, and you may not always find an image that works for you. Sites with monthly subscriptions like AdobeStock and Twenty20 tend to provide a wider array of professional photos covering wider subjects. They lie in-between microstock and macrostock agencies.

Prices can range dramatically depending on platform, quality, and intended usage. Some images can cost you a few cents, while other maybe charge upwards of $1000 or more for exclusive rights to an image.

For some users, the cost of purchasing a stock photo is less than hiring a photographer.

How to use stock images?

In order to effectively use stock images for your brand, you need to consider the content of the photo, and where you’re planning on using it.

Don’t just use any random image you find online. Choose an image that closely aligns to the subject matter and the content you are trying to share.

Be sure to use an image that relates to your target customers. If your audience skews young, don’t use lifestyle images featuring older people.

You also want to make sure the stock photo matches your copy.

In some cases, spend a few minutes modifying the image to make it fit your brand. You can add overlays or other branding elements that are reminiscent of your brand. 

A picture is worth a thousand words

In today’s world, a picture is worth a lot more that a thousand words. Visual stimulus has increased thanks to more advertising and mobile phone usage.

People have come to expect seeing images over blocks of text, and if you can’t engage with them visually, they’ll go elsewhere.

Because of this, the images you use for your site and marketing are incredibly important. Images are great for communicating your brand with potential customers, and it helps to keep them engaged on your website and social media accounts. 

There are some instances where stock photos just aren’t going to cut it, and it’s best to invest in a professional photographer to get the images that match your vision. 

Should I hire a professional photographer for my business?

The main issue when using stock photos is that it becomes difficult to show off your brand.

Professional photos let you show off your products and services

If you’re in a pinch, you can rely on generic “service” shots of handymen working on a home or two individuals shaking hands. But for an industry that relies so heavily on trust, it is much more effective to show a member of your team performing the work.

Not only that, but there are opportunities for additional branding by using work vehicles and products in the shots you capture. You can also craft a specific scene and bring your personal vision to life, something you won’t be able to find easily online.

Hiring a professional photographer is also the best way to get high-quality images of your products. They have the technical skills to capture the best possible images of your products, thanks to their knowledge of lighting, finding the right angles, editing, and, of course, knowing how to professional camera gear.

Professional photos lets you show off your team

People want to know who they’re doing business with, and they value trust and honesty. Your About Us page can be the determining factor on whether or not a potential customer will choose you over a competitor.

Human photos have been shown to increase conversion rates when used on a website. Photos of your team is not something you’re going to find on a stock image site.

Professional headshots are clean and versatile. Here’s Mina, in charge of PR at Star Fox Media!

It’s worth investing in professional headshots and group pictures that you can use both on your website and for marketing collateral. 

While upfront costs may be higher, you get to capture images and video that align with your vision, while also building an image catalogue for your brand and business you can rely on in the future.


Stock photos and images are great for businesses and corporations of any size. Not only do they save a lot of time, but they’re also relatively cheap. The main problem comes down to branding, especially if you’re a company that provides specific services and products. Professional photography is the best way to show off what you’ve got to offer to potential customers, and can help you build a library of media assets for future use. We offer professional photography and videography services to our customers to make sure they can show off the best, quality images of their brand online. In need of drone services? Star Fox Media also provides drone services for those with a greater vision in mind. Be sure to contact us today!

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