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.

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