A lot of discussion goes on regarding the pros and cons to stock photography. Proponents of stock photos say they’re cheap, accessible and great to use in a pinch. Critics say that stock imagery is not unique to the brand and heavily overused. A dime a dozen, so to speak.

Both sides have a point.

But what if I told you that there is a way to satisfy both ends?

It’s true that you get what you pay for and that custom imagery is ideal. But there are many instances where you don’t need to go to extreme lengths to get great photos. Stock photography is perfectly suitable, and it can help you meet deadlines on important projects.

The key is customizing the stock photos to fit your brand.

Many brands already do this, and you wouldn’t even know it. They take photos that we’ve seen a ton and transform them so that we barely recognize them. New colors are incorporated, and fresh messaging is added to align with the brand.

Making Stock Photography Work for You

If you’re looking for ways to customize your stock photos so that you can make them more your own, you’ll appreciate the following design tips.

Let’s get started.

Adjust the Color

Color is everything. Imagine how different your personal photos look when you change something bright and colorful to a sepia or black and white. It instantly makes the photo look vintage.

The same goes with the images used on your website and marketing materials. Using programs like Photoshop or Lightroom, you can enhance the color of the photos to match your brand. You can also find a similar color scheme so that you can use multiple pictures together even though they’re from different photographers.

Remember that photographers use different lighting conditions and styles, so colors are always going to be different across artists.

Go for the Black and White

Sometimes, black and white works best. If you have headshots of your employees and they weren’t taken in consistent lighting, adding a black and white tone evens them out.

Black and white helps make photos look more consistent and also provide a great contrast to everything else on the screen. There’s nothing wrong with having colorful photos, but you must be prepared for them to saturate the design and interface.

If you want something to stand out without it demanding the attention of your user, black and white is the best choice.

Experiment with a Collage

Collages are great when you want to tell a story using more than one image. But unlike posting a bunch of separate photos, a collage allows you to fit a group of images together.

Another nice feature of collages is that you have complete freedom to sort and size the photos the way you want. Using a collage tool like Canva or PicMonkey, you can make one photo larger than the others, add creative borders and do different angles.

You can also use Photoshop or Lightroom to do collage work since they have collage templates that make it easy to drag and drop the photos you want.

Add Subtle Elements

Subtle elements like texture, borders and text are excellent ways to make a stock photo look like your own. It can also help integrate the photo into your website and enhance your visual language.

It’s important to point out that Google can’t read what is written on your images. If you post something important on the photo (a title or brand slogan), you may want to repeat it somewhere else on the page so that Google picks it up. This will help SEO and rankings.

Another consideration is the typography you select. It shouldn’t be disjointed from the rest of the typography on your page. Instead, it should match everything else so that it flows together seamlessly.

Use Color Highlighting

By adding gradients, you can turn an ordinary black and white photo into something brilliant. When you leave just one part of the photo in color, you encourage people to focus on that specific part of the image. If the entire photo were in color, the user may otherwise miss that detail.

Color highlighting is ideal when you’re trying to make a black and white photo more interesting, or you want people to pay attention to certain details. Keep it in your back pocket for when these situations arise.

Change the Shape

This is another obvious edit to make, but one that can have a huge impact on your photos. If you turn a standard image into a circular or hexagonal shape, it stands out almost immediately.

Circles are great when you only need/want a certain part of a photo. Rather than working around the background or other details in the photo, you can put a circle around the important part.

Circle photos can be made in CSS, but you can also check out programs like Photoshop or Pixelmator that may be more user-friendly.

Make the Background Bigger

Have you ever run into the problem where the image you want is near perfect but it’s not positioned properly? Or maybe you love everything about the image but it’s going to get cut off once you work it into your design?

There’s a way to work around these issues. You can make the background bigger.

By extending the background, you’re using the best part of the image and putting it in the spot where you want it to be. This way, you can add text or whatever else you want to make the design work for you.

There is one limitation, though. The photos that work best for this tend to have blurred or simple backgrounds. If you know that you may be extending the background, look for photos with simple backdrops.


The next time you see something written about the pros and cons to using stock photos, remember that there is a way to meet in the middle. You don’t have to use custom images for everything, and you certainly don’t need to feel bad about using stock photos. There are many wonderful images out there, and with a few of the tricks above, you’ll be able to make them your own!