How to Successfully Use Stock Imagery

Corin Tahinos

Picture this: you're telling a story and trying to convey a visual and emotion to your audience. Something's wrong, though. Your audience isn't engaged and your story feels boring. The emotional experience just isn't there. Much like a children's picture book, you know a story can be better told through strong visuals, but the problem is you don't have any great imagery available. This is where stock imagery is your friend and greatest resource. Warschawski's design director, Corin Tahinos, weighs in on what she find to be most important when selecting stock imagery.

A little background – What are stock photos?

Stock photography came to be in the 1920s as a way to provide basic images for licensed use by companies and individuals. As technology has advanced, stock imagery has expanded to include photos, videos and/or illustrations that can be purchased for personal or professional use. Stock imagery is a cost-effective approach to creating great designs when you don’t have the time or money to spend on photoshoots.

So, how do you successfully use stock imagery?

Choosing the right imagery is more than just picking something that looks cool or fun. It’s important that the imagery aligns with the brand and messaging. Ensure your images have a similar look and feel to provide a cohesive brand experience for your audience.

It’s essential you have clarity on who you are targeting and what emotional experience you want to create when selecting stock images. Are your viewers older or younger? What industry are they in? What images will resonate with them – people, illustrations, something more abstract?

If you are promoting a product or service targeting seniors, you want to use images your audience will resonate with. When your images are authentic and relatable to your audience they will support the brand experience you are trying to evoke.


It’s important that your assets have an ebb and flow to them because at the end of the day, nobody wants to read – let alone – look at content that’s disjointed. Think holistically about what message you are conveying to your audience with the images you select. Find natural images where people aren’t looking at the camera or overly posed. It’s good practice to keep your images visually consistent across the board to create a cohesive brand experience.

These two images below are inconsistent visually, and ideally wouldn’t be used together. One depicts a trendier feel with the lifestyle shot of a woman holding a luxury bag on marble steps; the other uses warmer tones in a showcase setting, depicting a more trustworthy, sales-y vibe.



Don’t be afraid to go outside the box with stock images to make them fit the look you want. You can select something more abstract, add overlays, create cutouts, etc.


What you need to know.

There are many forms of stock imagery that can either be purchased or used for free. Here are your options when beginning the search process:

  • Public Domain (PD) licensing images are free to use. There are several websites where you can freely download stock images like unsplash, freepik and pexels. Just don’t forget to add credit when necessary.
  • Royalty-free (RF) licensing requires a one-time payment (that may come with restrictions). You can use the images as many times as you would like for different mediums.
  • Rights-managed (RM) licensing allows you to use an image once. To use them again, you will need to purchase additional usage rights.
  • Price Ranges: Pricing can be as low as $0.40 and as high as $500+, so have a clear budget in mind before you start your search so you can make your selection with your budget in mind.