The Quick & Dirty Stock Photo Guide for Boss Ladies

As much as I’d love to take complete and total credit for the outcome of everything I design, the truth is that design is only part of the story.

The full equation is Great Design + Attractive On-Brand Photography + Well Written Copy = Brand on fleek magic.

Ultimately, a brand is only as strong as its weakest asset. If you have a killer website but weak sales copy you probably aren’t going to convert. Same goes for having an outstanding packages guide full of fuzzy cell phone pics. And lots of other less extreme examples in between.

Fortunately for us, we live in a mystical time where you can order couches, groceries, and hand drawn pictures of bathtub Kraken online at 2am. (All things I’ve ordered online in the last 6 months by the way)

And also, stock photos exist in this world.

This is such a super easy way to take your brand up a notch, but I still see a lot of people not taking advantage of what’s out there. Hence, this guide! I’m going to give you the lowdown on what stock photos are, what they AREN’T, where to find them, and where to use them. We’ll talk about how to use them in a different post. For now, let’s roll.


What are stock photos anyway?

First, let’s clarify what I mean by “stock photos”. For simplicity, we’ll use the standard definition from Webopedia. “Stock photos are professional photographs of common places, landmarks, nature, events or people that are bought and sold on a royalty-free basis and can be used and reused for commercial design purposes.”

What I DON’T mean is sterile photos of white guys in boardrooms and overly happy couples riding bikes.

If the image that pops in your head when you hear stock photo is something super cheesy that looks like it would have been on a brochure in your guidance counselors office in the mid 90’s, girl… you are in for a pleasant surprise. We’ve come a long way baby.

Don’t get me wrong, we’ve still got a ways to go in terms of diversity, but there are so. many. more. options now. Flat lays, scene creators, entire suites of stock photos just for female online entrepreneurs.

What's the difference between stock photos and brand photos?

These are two terms I hear occasionally mixed up, so let’s make a distinction here.

Brand photos are photos you have taken specifically for your brand. They might be of you, your office, your products, or just props that fit your branding. I highly recommend every business have a nice set of brand photos done at a certain point, they’re great.

Stock photos are more supplemental. They let you have fresh photography all the time for your marketing without having to keep a photographer on staff. And once you learn how to apply your brand colors and styles to them they can blend right in to the rest of your brand.

What kind of stock photos are there?

There’s three main types of stock photos you’ll likely end up needing at some point or another. There are probably other types I’m blanking on, but these are the three you’ll see most often.

Standard photos

People, landscapes, dogs, fruit, houses, literally the sky is the limit. If you need a photo of something specific it’s probably out there somewhere.

Flat Lays

These are used for quotes or product mockups usually. They are shot from above and show a background with different items laying flat on top, hence: flat lay. They usually have some space in the middle left open to put text in.

Another type of flat lay you’ll see is a scene creator. These are usually Photoshop files and allow you to move all the little objects around separately on top of the background. I use scene creators for my Etsy shop graphics and cover.


Mockups are fabulous for product shots, displaying things like PDFs or albums in a tangible way, or showing off your own work. They let you apply your own images to photos or graphics of blank items. You can find mockups for everything from iPads to coffee mugs and t-shirts. Usually these need a design program like Photoshop to be able to edit, but the results are well worth the learning curve if you use them regularly.

Where can I use stock photos though?

Now that we’re on the same page about all that, let’s talk about where you can actually use these things. Here’s a quick and definitely not definitive list of the common spots. 

  • Blog post hero graphics

  • Smaller graphics inside blog posts

  • Header photos on your website

  • Social media posts and cover graphics

  • Email newsletter headers and inside content

  • Pinterest graphics

  • Slide decks

  • PDF workbooks

Okay, but where can I find good ones?

These are sites I use myself when working on client projects, or sites that I know are reputable. You can probably find a thousand more with a quick Google search, but do your research and use your best judgement with sites you’ve never heard of before.

HauteStock (Membership site + free monthly samples)

Formerly HauteChocolate, this site is all about the female entrepreneur. They offer a quarterly or annual membership to the HauteStock library which has a metric ton of great graphics and photos that are already curated to go with each other. They’re made specifically for online entrepreneurs, and for female business owners.

If you aren’t ready for a paid membership yet make sure you sign up for their newsletter… every month they send out a free sample pack of that month’s images for you to use!

Death to Stock Photo (Membership site + free monthly samples)

If you’re looking for lots of dramatic landscapes, beautiful cityscapes, or just something different than the usual, this is your place. They also have a premium membership and offer a generous free monthly photo pack for signing up on their newsletter. I use their photos quite a bit for my blog post backgrounds.

Creative Market (Pay-per-purchase + free monthly samples)

This one is especially helpful if you’re looking for mockups and flat lays. You’ll find standard photography here as well, but it’s more of a graphics supply house. I’ll go more in depth on this in a future post, but if you’re in the market for graphics, icons, scene creators, and even pre-made Instagram templates this is a great resource.

If you're interested in things like fonts and graphics as well make sure you jump on their newsletter - you can download 6 freebies every week! 

*The link above is an affiliate link. If you purchase anything while visiting Creative Market through that link I make a few cents at no extra cost to you. I only recommend sources I implicitly trust and use myself. 

Free stock photo sites like Pixabay

Sites like Pixabay, Unsplash, Pexels, Wikimedia Commons, and others offer photos that are freely available as public domain images. This covers all sorts of photos and graphics that are either not copyrightable, the copyright has expired, or they’ve been specifically released as public domain. You can download these for free and use them basically anywhere, unless the site specifies otherwise.

The downsides are not all of these photos will be professional quality, and you may have to dig a bit more to find exactly what you want. The upside is they're free and there's a lot of great photos here!

Other paid stock photo sites

There’s plenty of stock photography out there on sites like Adobe Stock, Shutterstock, iStockPhoto, Getty Images, and Dreamstime. You’ll need to purchase the photos you find on these sites. Some will be a one-time purchase fee while others might be a royalty system.

Very Important Note: Make sure you read the license and payment agreements for any stock images you buy to make sure you understand how and where you can and can’t use them. Copyright law is a serious deal and some sites have very specific usage policies.

So there you go. Your quick and dirty guide to understanding, locating, and benefiting from stock photos in your brand. Soon we’ll get into the nitty gritty of how to actually USE them, and even better… how to use them without feeling like you blend in with everybody else!

Looking for ways to stand out and give your clients a great experience? Download my Brand Audit checklist and see where you can grow!

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