How To Stay Authentic When Using Stock Photos

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Stock photos give your marketing and branding an incredible boost in terms of visual appeal. They help you go from messy & neglected to polished, cohesive and high-end; which is a major plus when it comes to getting your viewers attention in that all-important 10 second window you’ve got to grab their attention.


A common concern is how to stay authentic when using stock photos. The fear is that you’ll look misleading, inauthentic, and disingenuous to your audience – which couldn’t be further from the truth. When used the right way, they’ll actually help you be more genuine and intentional to your audience, and stop you feeling like all you can do is ‘sell sell sell’ with every post you put out there.

So to help get you started, I’ve listed five key do’s and don’ts when using stock photos, so you can be confident you’re using them in a way that feels right for your brand.

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Don’t just slap an odd stock image here and there and expect it to do anything for your engagement. Really think about your brand. Not just the visual aspects – although they are important. Also think about your brands personality, your ideal audience, their struggles, your brands values and what you stand for. Think about the message and vibe you want to give off on your website, emails and social media feeds. Then think about your brand colours & styles that will help portray this personality. Getting this noted down really helps when planning your content marketing, and instantly makes everything more authentic to you, because there’s meaning and purpose behind all your visuals and your copy.

For more on where to use stock images to grow your business, check out this post!

Do Be Intentional

2: DO Use images that can be related to your brand’s key topics

But think outside the box! Regardless of your business model and niche, you can probably use a variety of stock images to discuss a wide range of brand topics. Just think of all the aspects of your customers journeys – from the struggles to the benefits of your solution. As you can see from this example, this image could be used for so many brand topics for so many business niches!

For more on this, check out this article on choosing stock images for your brand’s social media!

Stay Authentic - Do Discuss A Variety of Brand Topics

3: do Use stock images to open up a conversation

Ask questions to increase your engagement! High-end images catch your viewers attention so much quicker than lower quality visuals – and using stock images of a variety of content can really open some doors in terms of the kinds of engagement you could get. From Instagram story polls, to asking questions in your post, to encouraging your viewers to leave a comment or fill in an enquiry form. 

Stay Authentic - Do Create Engagement

4: DO Credit the stock photographer 

This isn’t always necessary depending on your terms of usage. Tide & Tree members never need to use a credit – but they’re always welcome to! However depending on the ways you’re using the stock image, it can help to credit the photographer so your audience know it’s a stock photo, and therefore no one will question it’s authenticity to you. Plus, the photographer may even share it to give you a bigger reach! 

Stay Authentic - Do Tag The Photographer

5: DO Inspire your audience or inject SOME RELATABLE humour

Stock images have so much potential for inspiring or funny content. No one questions whether the image is one of yours when you’re using it to relate to your audience in an inspiring or funny way. It just emulates the emotion you’re wanting to get across whilst letting your quote stand front and centre.

Stay Authentic - Do Use Quotes or Humour


Stay Authentic - Don't Portray As Your Home

1: Don’t portray the image as your HOME OR YOU

This isn’t your bath, so implying that it is, is misleading. Stay authentic when using stock photos by not literally implying the subject matter is your home, your garden or, if you’re using a photo with a model – you.

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By switching the caption to the idea of self care, rather than a specific description of what you’re doing, it allows you to use a high-end stock image whilst offering education and valuable tips to your audience. The image simply emulates the feeling you’re trying to get across.

Stay Authentic - Instead Offer Education
Stay Authentic - Don't Claim You Took The Image

2: DON’T Imply you took the image or it’s exclusive for your brand

There’s no need to imply they’re your images to look authentic. In fact, I highly recommend you don’t do that – it’s unethical and a breach of copyright law.

do this instead

You don’t need to pretend you took the image. If it’s an inspiring picture, just offer the inspiration to go with it, whether it’s a well known quote or a motivating caption for your audience. Let the image speak for your caption – but don’t say you took it.

Check out the top 6 myths about using stock photos for your business.

Stay Authentic - Instead Use A Quote
Stay Authentic - Instead Use For Non Specific Blog Posts


When offering specific education on a visual topic, say cooking recipes or photography styling tips – don’t mislead your audience with a stock image you didn’t take, as it implies the result they get will look like the image – which in the majority of cases, it won’t. It also implies you got that specific result – which you didn’t. If you’re offering specific education on something that will have a visual result, it’s best to showcase the real result with images you take.

do this instead

However, say you’re a food blogger, whilst you should use actual images of the end result for specific recipes, you can still stay authentic when using stock photos by using them  for more general education, say your top 5 pie flavours for Fall. You’re not offering a specific result to anyone, you’re simply using a fall-inspired baking image to demonstrate your point.

Stay Authentic - Instead Use For Non Specific Blog Posts
Stay Authentic - Don't Sell Sell Sell


It’s spammy and annoying, and will turn your audience OFF. No one wants to be sold to, but everyone probably wants or needs help with something. Literally pitching in every post using a pretty stock picture will make you look like a bot or a catalogue and you most likely won’t see results or growth.

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That doesn’t mean you can’t use stock images to pitch! Quite the opposite. Just like any strong marketing strategy, you need to offer valuable and educational content to show your audience you can help them if they buy in with you – and using stock images is a great way to grab their attention. By switching from sell > sell > sell to help > help > offering > sell; your audience can see first-hand your expertise on the topic.

Stay Authentic - Do Help, Help, Sell
Stay Authentic - Don't Portray As Your Life

5: Don’t portray a life you don’t lead using stock images – stay real!

Taking this example for instance; this image of a beach with caption ‘seeing this ocean everyday fills me with inspiration’. This is absolutely fine if you actually live by this ocean. But unless you live in Hastings, UK – this is not your ocean, and your audience will clock on eventually. It’s misleading.

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If you live by an ocean, you could adjust the caption to read ‘seeing the ocean everyday fills me with so much inspiration’ – this simple word change adjusts the feel of the image to portray the idea of an inspiring ocean, rather than a fact that isn’t true. And by all means, use ocean images for inspiring quotes, day-dreaming captions about getaways for engagement etc, but don’t suggest you take a daily walk by the sea if you live 60 miles from the nearest sea. Use what’s around you instead. Live by a nice park? Use stock images of foliage and trees instead. 

Stay Authentic - Instead Relate To Your Audience


And there you go. Five do’s and don’ts to help you stay authentic when using stock photos, so you can use stock images confidently and effectively without appearing fake or disingenuous to your audience. As a final tip, wherever you’ve sourced your stock images from – stick to the terms! If you’re unsure, reach out to the photographer to check.

Tide & Tree members have easy access to the terms of use whenever they need them – and there’s no jargon! But they’ve also got the peace of mind knowing they can reach out anytime with any questions relating to image usage.

Want to know how to curate cohesive images for your brand? Check this post out!

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