Five Ways To Make Your Stock Photos Stand Out From The Crowd

Gone are the days when you can raise your market value simply  by including a photo of some attractive white people. Stock photos, when used incorrectly, have come to signal inauthenticity. (We know those multicultural people don’t really work at your office.) But unless you’re a professional photographer, your image choices are limited. So what can you do?

In my years of blogging, I’ve uncovered a couple ways to use stock photos effectively. Here are my favorite tricks.

1. Crop at the eyes. By cropping photos of people at the eyes, you mask their identity while also encouraging viewers to interpret the picture however they choose – or even see themselves in the photo. It’s a trick that’s often used in book covers:

Book Covers

As you can probably tell from the pictures above, cropping the eyes from photos also removes some of the “stock photo feel.”

2. Add text. You can use words to add meaning to stock photos and increase their relevancy. Play around with the font, color and placement of your text to get the right effect. For the postcard below, I simply purchased a stock photo, then added text using a free font I found at

Copywriting Postcard

3. Add speech bubbles. I learned this trick from Ian Lurie of Conversation Marketing. Adding speech bubbles to stock photos add a playful vibe to your work and can give you the opportunity to further customize the picture’s meaning. Check out this example, from a blog post on rhymes in advertising:

Rhyming Goose

4. Use Photoshop brushes. The internet is full of free Photoshop brushes that you can use over top of stock photos for a customized look. Just choose your color and then stamp the brush on top.

Here, I used a handwriting brush to add an extra layer of interest to a stock photo:

Woman Writing in Journal

5. Forget stock photos. Just use a LOLcat. I’m only half-joking here. There’s a reason LOLcats have become an internet sensation. Two reasons, actually: they’re funny, and they’re cute.

I like using LOLcats on blog posts that are hard to match up with a stock photo. They add humor and irreverence in an industry (marketing) where so many people take themselves too seriously. Use your own kitty image, or do a search on Creative Commons for something that isn’t copyright protected and add your own funny caption.

If your business is serious (say you sell medical supplies) LOLcats may not be the best choice of graphics. So as with any stock photo, use your best judgement.

How do you make your stock photos stand out from the crowd? Let me know in the comments section below.

12 Responses to Five Ways To Make Your Stock Photos Stand Out From The Crowd

  • Kelly Kautz says:

    It’s a graphic novel now, but same concept :)

    I agree with you about the eyes thing. I’m not sure why it’s so popular in book covers, but it’s a great little trick.

  • Gary says:


    Thanks for the interesting article.

    I am particularly keen on the ‘crop at the eyes’ advice and can see the benefits.

    As we are all pre-programmed to look at peoples faces, taking the head away from the eyes encourages people to look at the whole picture and message associated with it.


  • Milehimama says:

    Wow, I was very surprised to see a professional recommend using LOLcats. Why? Because those images are copyrighted and using them is a direct violation of the ICanHasCheezburger terms of use.

    “You agree to not use, copy, reproduce, transmit, broadcast, sell, license, download, or otherwise exploit any of the Content other than as expressly permitted herein, including any use, copying, or distribution of User Submissions of third parties obtained through the Websites for any commercial purposes.”

    It is illegal to just take photos off another site, and you could be subject to sanctions and penalties under the DMCA.

  • Kelly Kautz says:

    Really. I had no idea that images on that network were under copyright. It seems backward that a site devoted to viral sharing of content that’s already harvested off the web would actually prosecute someone who’s using “their” images. But I don’t want to advocate infringing on copyright laws, so I will update the post to recommend only user-created LOLCats. Please tell me they haven’t trademarked that term, too?

  • Milehimama says:

    Please read the TOS for LOLCats- the original creator/user owns the copyright to user created images. So those are not “up for grabs”.

    Read the TOS for ANY site. If you didn’t create the image, then you have to secure the copyright from the original artist and get permission.

    You just have to be so careful about taking images- make SURE they are free use/GNU!
    Milehimama recently posted…Week 2 SNAP Challenge

  • Milehimama says:

    BTW- I like Wikimedia Commons and Morguefile for images, and if you are in the U.S., then .gov images (i.e., images from NASA, EPA, Forestry Service, etc.) are public domain.
    Milehimama recently posted…Week 2 SNAP Challenge

  • Kelly Kautz says:

    Great advice, Milehimama … thanks for sharing those resources and for keeping me on my toes! :)

  • Alex Marsh says:

    People love to see something which is unique and un-usual for that you need to be very creative and smart. Advertising companies have such strength of creative minds who think out of the box that helps you be ahead of others. These tricks are great and will help you to be unique and stand out of the crowd.
    Alex Marsh recently posted…The Benefits of Ayurvedic Hot Oil Massage

  • matei says:

    A lot of bloggers I know have been using lately LOLcats. Moreover, Vodafone has been using lately lots of speech bubles in their ads, sign that they are worth it…
    Though, I really don’t know how efficient are the Photoshop brushes..
    matei recently posted…Olympus PEN E-PL3 Review

  • Julien says:


    I found out your website some time ago when searching infos about gender marketing and landed on your “Brain sex” paper.

    I read your interesting article above and agree with you about “FAKE” images, those pics that look unauthentical.

    Tonight, I was browsing several online image banks trying to find a photo of a secretary at phone. Which kind of secretary?
    – pretty but not a top model,
    – not too young (i.e. not like a student),
    – with a normal phone, not a head set,
    – not in call-center,
    – not with those unauthentical multicultural colleagues in the background,
    – not in a beautiful office at the top of a skycrapper,
    – looking professional (like if she was speaking about something in concern with the company business and not about her latest boyfriend),
    – not working at home with the breakfast cup of coffee,
    – not looking like a top-exectutive with unprobable clothes.

    I mean, I was looking for a photo of a “normal secretary” working for a “normal company”.

    After hours of browsing image banks, I still couldn’t find any picture matching my criterias. Why are so many photographers taking so unauthentical photos?

    Are there some image banks that refuse all those fake photos?

  • John says:

    I love the idea of cropping at the eyes 😉 I’m a photographer, but don’t do stock photography, so reading your post will help give me the right perspective starting out in this field.

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