How to Use Stock Photos in Your Designs

How to Use Stock Photos in Your Designs
Zain Zia

Written by:
Zain Zia

Nov 12, 2020
A wide illustration of a women holding a bunch of stock photos with spaces of where they'll go in the design behind her.

I’m not going to lie. Stock photos have a bad reputation.

But if used wisely, stock photography can actually help you create better designs and achieve your marketing goals.

What you need to do is find the right kind of image, and incorporate it in a way that it enhances your design instead of making it look corny.

In this article, I’ll help you learn more about the benefits of stock photography and how you can effectively use stock images in your designs.

Let’s get started.


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The Benefits of Using Stock Photography

7 Ways to Use Stock Photos in Your Designs

4 Design Tips for Using Stock Photos Like a Pro


The Benefits of Using Stock Photography

A major reason why stock photography is so popular is that it saves valuable time and money.

You don't have to spend on professional photography gear, learn how to take high-quality photos or even deal with editing images. This is especially helpful if you’re a small team and visuals aren’t core to your business or product.

Even if you’re not taking the photos yourself and are considering outsourcing to a professional photographer, it still gets pretty costly.

Compare all this hassle with a ready-to-use, high-quality stock photo that you can simply download and add to your presentations, infographics, social media posts and other designs.

A collage of stock photos.
Browse 1,000,000+ free stock photos in Visme's graphic library! Sign up. It's free.

It’s just so much easier and quicker.

Another big advantage of using stock photos is that you have a lot of options to choose from. There are millions of free and paid stock photos out there, and you’re bound to find something perfect for your needs.

Here are some free stock photo websites you can check out:

While all of that sounds great, using stock photography effectively can be tricky. If you’re not careful, you can easily end up with a cringeworthy, outdated design that exudes unoriginality.


7 Ways to Use Stock Photos in Your Designs

Here are some creative ideas for using stock photos in your designs.


1. Create thematic backgrounds.

Using stock photos in the background of your designs is pretty common.

But does it always have to be that basic? Not at all!

Whenever you find the perfect background image that’s in sync with your brand personality, think of how you can creatively make it look more than just a simple photo.

For example, you can add text overlays, color filters or graphic elements over your background images to make them look better and serve a purpose.

This also helps to tone down the image so it doesn’t distract your audience from the actual subject of your design. It puts your background image where it should be — in the background, subtly contributing to the overall feel and theme of your topic.

Check out this example of a poster template by Visme.

An example of a pink orange quote poster template from Visme.
Customize this poster template and make it your own!Edit and Download

Notice how the stock photo in the background has a pink color overlay over it.

Not only does this make the quote text pop, the colorful tones and subtle imagery of candy gives the design an optimistic and happy vibe, which is exactly what the quote is all about.

So the next time you're adding background photos to your posters, social media images or brochures, make sure they’re complementing your core message instead of stealing all the attention.

Pro tip: When adding color overlays on your photos, see if you can use your own brand colors. This can help keep your designs stay on brand and resonate more with your audience.


2. Add personality to your headers.

Whether it’s for your landing page or infographic, stock photos are an excellent way to make your header pop and grab the attention of your audience.

Your headers are usually the first thing that visitors or viewers will see. Make a great first impression by using a relevant image that adds to the overall theme or topic.

Take a look at this infographic template as an example.

An example oAn anatomy nfographic template from Visme that uses a stock photo of the beach in the header.
Customize this infographic template and make it your own!Edit and Download

The stock photo in the header instantly grabs attention, and sets the tone and color scheme for the rest of the infographic.


3. Spice up your borders.

A cool alternative to adding stock photos in your backgrounds is to use them as eye-catching borders instead.

Borders and frames not only give a nice look to your designs, but also make it easier for the audience to engage with your content.

Here’s an example of what that could look like.

An example of a Visme invitation template that uses stock photography in the background.
Customize this invitation template and make it your own!Edit and Download

If you want to focus on a specific section, or make your content stand out, you should definitely consider using stock photos as borders for your next design.


4. Use in mockups, storyboards and mood boards.

The thing about stock photos is that they make for excellent placeholder content.

If you provide creative services, for example, you can use stock images in place of real ones to give your clients an idea of what the final version of your design is going to look like.

Not only is this a budget-friendly way to get your work done, but it's also super effective.

Stock photos can also help you put together beautiful mood boards that exude a certain color scheme, emotion and overall look and feel.

Here’s an example of how you can use stock photography in mood boards.

Pro-tip: While creating your storyboards and mood boards, use a mixture of sketches and stock photos so your clients have a better idea of how their end-product will look like.


5. Design around the image.

Another cool way to incorporate stock photography into your designs is by integrating text and other elements into or around the stock photos you're using.

There's no single way of doing this, but it's preferable to find images that have free spaces in them to make this work.

Here’s how that technique is used on an eBook's cover page.

An example of an ebook cover page that has lots of white space, flat lay food photography and text.
Customize this eBook template and make it your own!Edit and Download

Notice how the stock photo used had ample white space on the right, which was effectively utilized by the text.

You can get more creative if you want, by finding unique ways to incorporate text to your stock photos. Check out this beautiful design by Jenifer Blanco Monzón as an example.

You can explore her page to find similar designs. It’s a clever way to add your own creative touch to an ordinary stock photo, and make it unique and meaningful.


6. Style it with textures and patterns.

Another smart way to use stock photography is to add a texture image that gives your design depth, dimension and style.

Here’s an attractive Twitter header template that uses a pattern image.

An example of a Twitter header template from Visme that uses stock photography of a pattern in the background.
Customize this Twitter header template and make it your own!Edit and Download

You can search for and use millions of textures and patterns in Visme's free image library.

Add filters and overlays to your texture images to provide more depth to your designs. If you’re using a pattern image, choose your fonts and colors wisely to seamlessly blend the photo in with your graphic.


7. Make interesting collages.

Stock photos can be a great tool for creating interesting collages that add color and personality to your design.

You can choose the collage layout depending on the number of images you want to include on your website, eBook covers, presentations or social media graphics.

This colorful Facebook ad template uses zig-zag lines to separate the images of the collage.

An example of social media graphic template in Visme that uses a collage of pet images.
Customize this social media graphic template and make it your own!Edit and Download

Be careful, though. It’s tempting to go overboard but using too many images in a collage can reduce the quality and visual appeal of your work.


4 Design Tips for Using Stock Photos Like a Pro

If you use them correctly, stock photos can seriously improve your designs. But getting them wrong is just as easy, especially if you don’t keep some basic design principles in mind.

Here are a few design tips and tricks to help you make the most out of your stock photos.


1. Keep it relevant.

We can’t put enough stress on the importance of finding the right stock photo. It can either make your design look extremely good, or extremely poor.

The key lies in finding images that are relevant to your theme.

Consider an example of a fitness coach who creates online courses.

Stock photos that will enhance the quality of his course material, website or social media posts should ideally be related to fitness, gym and a healthy lifestyle.

Using the wrong stock photos, such as of people in a professional setting or in a non-fitness related environment, can quickly make the coach’s business feel irrelevant.


2. Add plenty of white space.

Some stock images naturally offer white spaces, but for others, you need to make some.

Stock photos that have a lot going on can quickly make your design look crowded. Add some text on top and you have an unattractive, cluttered piece of graphic on your hands.

If you’re using a colorful or happening stock photo in your design, make sure you leave ample white space or margins around it to let it breathe.

As an example, check out this magazine cover template.

An example of a magazine cover template from Visme that uses a stock photo of a home interior at the front.
Customize this magazine cover template and make it your own!Edit and Download

The negative space added around the edges of the stock photo helps enhance the overall look of the design and makes it easy for the reader to navigate through the different elements.


3. Stick to your brand guidelines.

Whether you’re creating a blog post, designing an investor pitch deck or putting together your company’s annual report—stick to your brand guidelines when using stock images.

Don’t use photos with clashing themes, colors and moods. That can slowly poison your brand image, which probably took so much time and effort to build.


4. Frame your images.

A stock photo just standing on top of a design can look a bit awkward.

Blend it in by adding frames around it. You may frame the image into a shape, add stroke or padding to it or play around with it creatively, like in the example below.

An example of a social media ad template in Visme that uses triangular frames for images to make a collage.
Customize this social media graphic template and make it your own!Edit and Download

It uses geometric patterns to frame each image to give it a consistent look.

This is also helpful if you want to add different stock photos into your design but have trouble with different orientations—some might have a portrait orientation while others a landscape orientation.

Adding photos into frames can help you use multiple stock photos in one design by cropping them and giving them all a specific shape.


Create Beautiful Designs With Stock Photography

Stock photography might be frowned upon in the design world, but can be a godsend if you know just how to make the most of it.

Instead of using stock photos as they are, be creative and play around with styles and effects to make them meaningful and unique for your designs.

Use Visme to get a head start on your creative designs with templates and built-in graphic assets. Create a free account today and take it for a test drive.

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    About the Author

    Zain is a freelance writer for eCommerce and SaaS businesses. When he’s not crafting converting copy and insightful content, he can be found making travel videos or discussing soccer on social media.

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