This is a guest post by Karen Gunton.

Visual marketing is a key trend in business right now – people are visual, social media is visual, and visual resonates in a way that words alone often do not.

As hand-makers and product sellers, chances are that you have a lot of product photos on hand to use for visual marketing. Your product images are a great asset to your business as a way to draw people into your shop, much like a shop window would do.

But what about those times when you need something other than a product photo? There are times when your purpose will not be to share information about your product, but rather amplify your brand message in some way – to inspire, to entertain, to help, to educate, to enthral, to entice, to commiserate… well you get the idea!

Stock photos can be a great resource for communicating a message with your audience… but I know that there is often a lot of confusion about where to find stock photos and what you can and cannot do with them.

Stock photos 101

There are tons of stock photo sites online – a search for “stock photos” would probably overwhelm! The key thing to remember with stock photos is that you MUST check the terms & conditions on the stock photo sites before you do anything!

This is what you need to be aware of:

  • FREE stock photos generally come with the requirement that you do NOT alter the photo in anyway, that you credit the author AND link back to the stock site, and that you can only use the photo for certain things (e.g. yes you can pop it in a blog, no you cannot use it for commercial purposes.)
  • PURCHASED stock photos also come with requirements. Always check to see what you are allowed to do with the photo (there are usually limits to how you can use them commercially, and you usually cannot use them for something like a logo).

Note: this also goes for things like clip art, textures/backgrounds, fonts and any other content you find online. Always check the terms.

Know your purpose

The key is really to know what you wish to do with the photo before you start looking. If all you want is to pop the photo in a blog post, then you are probably fine to use most of the free stock photos you come across.

However if you want to alter the photo in any way – add text to it, crop it, use it creatively (in an eBook or a promotional flyer etc.) then you need to make sure you are allowed to do so.

I do think that the best way to make the most of visual marketing opportunities IS to brand the images you share – add text, add a headline or a call to action, share your brand message, include your brand colours and fonts and logo… *stamp* that image with your brand vibe.

The best visual content resonates with your audience AND creates brand recognition AND serves a purpose for your business.

If all you do is pop up a cool photo, it may resonate with people but that might be it! They never take action and they don’t remember your biz in conjunction with the photo.

Where to find stock photos

Here are some of my favourite options:

pixabay – authors have waived all copyright to these images – you are free to adapt and use the Images for commercial purposes without attributing the original author or source – they ask for a link back to pixabay if you wish.

morguefile – images are free to use in creative projects – you must alter the image or use it in a creative way – they ask that you credit the photographer when possible.

unsplash & death to the stock photo – these two sites are subscription based – you sign up and receive free images to “do whatever you want” – no mention of attribution or link back

123rf – for low cost licenced stock photos (say you want to use them for commercial purposes – check the licence terms)

An alternative to stock sites

Even when you know all of the rules around the use of stock photos it can still be really stressful. “Can I use this?” “Can I alter this?” “Do I have to ask?” “Do I have to credit?”

One of the best bits of advice I can give is to start building your own stock library.

This is really the ONLY way you can be absolutely positive that you can do whatever you want with your photos, wherever you want, whenever you want.

While your product photos do indeed need to be perfect, a lot of the other images that we use in our businesses can be *amateur*. And nowadays it is very easy to take great digital photos, even using your phone! In fact Instagram has made it cool to take weird and funky and fun and different and imperfect but cool photos. So don’t be afraid to experiment with this.

Here are some ideas…

  • landscapes and cityscapes
  • behind the scenes of your work
  • papers, fabrics & textures
  • extreme close ups of your work that show detail and hint at the product
  • the stuff around you that inspires your work
  • photos related to your niche or target market
  • objects and surroundings that include your brand colours, brand icons, or fit with your brand message (do you have lollipop in your logo? take photos of lollipops!)

Just remember as you build your stock library (either from online stock sites or from your own photographs) that your goal is to share your brand message, to resonate with your audience, and to serve some purpose for your business. Start by brainstorming on those things, and build from there!


karen gunton


karen gunton is a teacher, brainstormer and visual marketing specialist, and she is passionate about helping business owners SHINE online.

take her FREE visual marketing mini-class (This site/resource is no longer available) to learn more about creating your own branded visual content.

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