Illustration of cameras taking photos

Should your website use stock photos or professional photos? Your website is often the first impression potential customers will have of your business. High-quality visuals are important for capturing attention, conveying professionalism, and ultimately, driving conversions. But when it comes to choosing images, you have two main options: readily available stock photos or custom photography by a professional.

There are pros and cons of both stock photography and professional photography, which will help you decide which approach best suits your website and business goals.

The Allure of Stock Photography

Stock photography websites offer a vast library of pre-shot images on virtually any subject imaginable. Here’s what makes them so appealing:

  • Cost-effective: Stock photos can be incredibly affordable, with some platforms offering subscription plans for unlimited downloads. For businesses on a tight budget, this presents a significant advantage.
  • Convenience: Finding relevant images on stock websites takes mere minutes. You can filter by keyword, category, and even image style.
  • Variety: Stock libraries boast millions of images, ensuring you can find something that visually aligns with your brand or messaging.

The Downsides of Stock Photos

Despite their advantages, stock photos come with limitations you should consider:

  • Generic feel: Stock photos often depict staged scenarios with models who might not represent your target audience. This can make them feel impersonal and inauthentic.
  • Reusability: There’s a chance your competitors or other businesses might be using the same stock photos, leading to a lack of differentiation.
  • Limited control: You may not have complete creative control over the image. Stock photos might require specific attribution or restrict modification.

Finding stock photos

There are tons of places to find stock photos. Here are some references for both free and paid.

Free Stock Photo Websites:

  • Pixabay
    • Benefits: Massive library, royalty-free with no attribution required
    • Cost per Photo: Free
  • Pexels
    • Benefits: High-quality photos, user-friendly interface, free for commercial use
    • Cost per Photo: Free
  • Unsplash
    • Benefits: Beautiful, curated collection, free for commercial and personal use
    • Cost per Photo: Free

Paid Stock Photo Websites (Subscription Plans):

  • Shutterstock
    • Benefits: Extensive library with diverse content, various subscription plans
    • Cost per Photo (estimate based on subscription): ~$0.20 – $1+ (depending on plan and number of downloads)
  • Adobe Stock
    • Benefits: Integrates with other Adobe products, offers photos, vectors, and illustrations
    • Cost per Photo (estimate based on subscription): ~$0.33 – $1+ (depending on plan and number of downloads)
  • iStock by Getty Images
    • Benefits: High-quality, curated collection, royalty-free options available
    • Cost per Photo (estimate based on on-demand purchase): ~$12+ (varies depending on image size and license)

Additional Notes:

You may be wondering if you should choose free photos or paid stock photos. Your first inclination may be to choose from the free options, because they are cost effective. But there are some differences. Take a look at these before making your decision.

Image Quality:

  • Free: While quality can vary, some free stock photo websites offer high-resolution images. However, you might encounter a larger selection of older or less polished photos compared to paid options.
  • Paid: Paid stock photo libraries tend to have stricter quality control, resulting in a more consistent collection of professional-looking images with better technical aspects like lighting and composition.

Selection and Uniqueness:

  • Free: Free libraries boast vast collections, but popular images might be widely used across many websites. Finding truly unique or niche visuals can be challenging.
  • Paid: Paid libraries often have a more curated selection with a focus on fresh, trending content. You’re more likely to find unique photos that stand out from the crowd.

Licensing and Usage Rights:

  • Free: Free photos typically come with Creative Commons (CC) licenses or similar terms. These can vary, sometimes requiring attribution (crediting the photographer) or limiting use for commercial purposes. Always double-check the specific license before using a free image.
  • Paid: Paid stock photos usually come with royalty-free licenses, allowing unrestricted use for commercial projects without additional fees per use. However, some paid licenses might have limitations on things like distribution or modification of the image.

Support and Customer Service:

  • Free: Limited or no customer support is typically available with free stock photos.
  • Paid: Paid platforms often offer customer support to help with finding images or resolving licensing issues.

The Power of Professional Photography

Hiring a professional photographer elevates your website’s visual storytelling to a whole new level. Here’s why:

  • Brand Authenticity: A professional photographer can capture the essence of your brand, your team, and your products in a way that resonates with your audience. They’ll tailor photos to showcase your unique selling points and company culture.
  • Technical Expertise: Professionals know how to utilize lighting, composition, and editing techniques to create visually stunning and technically flawless images.
  • Control & Ownership: You’ll have complete control over the creative direction of the photoshoot and own the rights to the final images. This allows for unrestricted use across your website and marketing materials.

Considering the Cost of Professional Photography

Professional photography does come with a higher upfront cost compared to stock photos. However, consider it an investment in your brand identity and marketing efforts. Here are some tips to manage the cost:

  • Prioritize: Focus professional photography on key areas of your website, such as your homepage, service pages, and product showcases.
  • Package Options: Many photographers offer packages tailored to specific website needs.
  • Long-Term Value: High-quality photographs can be reused across multiple platforms and marketing campaigns, maximizing their value over time.

Beyond Cost: Finding the Right Photographer

Finding a photographer who understands your vision and target audience is key. Here’s how to make a good choice:

  • Review Portfolio: Look for a photographer whose style aligns with your brand aesthetic. Their portfolio should showcase their experience with businesses like yours.
  • Client Testimonials: Read feedback from previous clients to get a sense of their professionalism and working style.
  • Communication is Key: Discuss your goals and budget openly with potential photographers. A good photographer will collaborate with you to achieve your desired outcome.

Optimizing Your WordPress Website with Images

Whether you use stock or professional photography, ensure your images are optimized for your WordPress website:

  • File Size: Large images can slow down website loading times. Use tools to compress images without sacrificing quality.
  • Alt Text: Add descriptive alt text to every image, improving SEO and accessibility for visually impaired visitors.
  • Image Titles: Use descriptive filenames to further enhance SEO.

The Final Decision: Stock vs. Professional

Ultimately, the best choice depends on your specific needs and budget. Here’s a quick guide:

  • Use Stock Photos: If you’re just starting out, have a limited budget, or require generic visuals, stock photos can be a viable option.
  • Invest in Professional Photography: If brand identity, authenticity, and visual storytelling are priorities, then professional photography is the way to go.

Creating a Winning Combination

You can also consider a combined approach. Using stock photos for secondary pages and background elements, while reserving professional photography for hero images, key product shots, and team photos. This can deliver a balance of cost-effectiveness and brand-specific visuals.

In truth, most of the websites we make use a combination of both stock photos and professional photos, and we have a lot of opinions about stock photos. Never use them to represent your office, building, products, or yourself. However, adding in stock photos as visual interest, background images, or to convey missions and goals is a good option.

Amy Masson, Web Developer

Amy Masson

Amy is the co-owner, developer, and website strategist for Sumy Designs. She's been making websites with WordPress since 2006 and is passionate about making sure websites are as functional as they are beautiful.

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