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  • Writer's pictureKristine Forster

Stock Photos or Real Images (What to Use for Your Website)

Photos can make or break a web page as they can set the tone, show off your product or service, and communicate important information to website visitors. So it's no surprise that businesses agonize over choosing photos for their websites. And with good reason, because the wrong photo equals to the wrong message.

But there's another decision to make: should you use stock photos or go with real images? Which one will sit well with your marketing budget and brand voice? If you’re contemplating this decision, we hear you.

Today we'll take a look at the pros and cons of each, so you can make an informed decision for your site. Stick around a little longer to know if stock images will do or if you need custom images for your site!

1. Usability of Images

When filling up space on a canvas - whether physical or digital - we often find ourselves spoilt for choice. Do we go for the tried and tested path? Or do we take the road less traveled?

The answer is as personal as the art you create.

It depends on what you're trying to achieve. If you need an image that's going to be eye-catching and attention-grabbing, then sure, go ahead and use a custom image you've clicked. But a stock image might do just fine if you want your site images to be more subdued and complement the text around it without being too overwhelming.

The key difference between stock and real images boils down to this: Stock imagery is usually generic, and you can use it for various purposes. In contrast, your own clicked custom images can only fit in some places. This somewhat binds your creative freedom.

Say you have a blog post about tips for starting a small business from home. A picture of a laptop with some code written on the screen might work perfectly as your featured image because it's relevant to the subject matter.

However, if you try to use the same image for another blog post about symptoms of anxiety disorders, it won’t fit. Because while laptops are generic enough to be used in multiple contexts, the code on the screen is too specific to be used as a general featured image.

2. Image Quality

On one side, we have stock images meticulously taken by professional photographers and sold for a price. On the other side, we have real photos, usually captured by non-professionals from their phones or cameras.

At first glance, it might seem like there's not much difference. However, upon closer inspection, some key differences set these two types of images apart.

For one, stock images are usually higher quality than real ones because professional photographers use high-end equipment to take them. They also know how to edit them to make them look their best.

With real images, it can be tough to determine their quality since any amateur can take them with a smartphone. Stock images are the better option if you don't have professional equipment or photography expertise.

Also, businesses often use stock images because they're seen as more polished and professional. They convey an image of success and often inspire confidence in potential customers. On the other hand, custom images are seen as more casual and personal. They offer a glimpse into someone's life and can help create a connection with the viewer.

3. Image Personalization

You can control the composition, lighting, and mood with a real image. You can ensure that every element in the frame creates a harmonious whole. In other words, you can craft an image that perfectly captures the feeling you want to convey on your website.

On the other hand, stock images are created by somebody else entirely. Sure, you can choose from various options, but at the end of the day, you're limited by what's available. And even if you find the perfect stock image, there's always the risk that somebody else will use it, which could make your website feel less unique.

Plus, let's be honest: real images can gel well with your web design. They have an energy and a vitality that stock images can't match. When people see real pictures on your website, it helps them feel like they know you and your business—and that's exactly what you want.

4. The Pricing Factor

What if you don't have the time or resources to take your pictures? That's where stock images come in. Stock images are professional photos you can purchase and use to increase your site’s responsiveness. Several stock photo websites offer cost-effective resources. Plus, you don’t have to worry about the equipment or photography costs. And while stock images can be hit or miss, when you find the right one, it can make all the difference on your website.

For example, let's say you sell skincare products. A picture of a model with perfect skin might not be as effective as a real person whose skin has been transformed by your product. In this case, an image of a genuine before-and-after using your product would be worth so much more than a thousand words. It would tell a story, evoke an emotion, and sell your product without saying a single word.

5. The Realness of Images

90% of the information processed by our brains is visual, so overlooking their power is never smart. The value of an image depends on what message you are trying to communicate. For example, consider the stock image of a mother and daughter happily cooking together. The mother is perfectly put-together with not a hair out of place.

The kitchen is spotless, even though they are in the middle of cooking. This image markets the idea of family togetherness. It's aspirational.

Now compare that to a real image of a mother and daughter cooking together. In this image, you can see the messy reality of cooking—pots on the stove, ingredients strewn about, and flour on the counter. The mother's hair is pulled back in a messy bun, and she has flour on her shirt. But there's also laughter and love in this image. It's relatable.

Whether you want to use stock or real images depends on your brand. If you are selling an aspirational product, then stock images make sense. However, real images are probably a better choice if you want to boost trust with your audience.

Final Words

Consider this: You are looking at two pictures side-by-side. In one, a mother and child are laughing together. The mother has bright eyes and an infectious smile; the child is captured mid-laugh, pure joy radiating from their face. In the other picture, a student is sitting at a desk, staring intently at their laptop. Both photos are high quality and technically perfect.

Which image packs more of a punch?

The answer is obvious: the first image has more emotion and connection. It tells a story that engages the viewer and sticks with them long after they've moved on from the photograph. That's the power of a real image.

While stock images have their place, they will never be able to replicate the complex web of emotions and stories that real images can communicate. That's why real images will always pack more of a punch.

But this isn’t to say that stock images are any less; if you purchase good-quality images from an authority source, they prove to be more budget-friendly. And since you can evaluate stock images’ pixelation, licensing, and pricing beforehand, going wrong with them is out of the question.

So pick a side that sits well with your budget and breathe life into your website with eye-catching visuals!

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