Stock photos are images of landmarks, nature scenes, or people taken by professional photographers. Depending on the licensing agreement for these pictures, many can be used commercially on a website after you pay a fee. As photos are protected by copyrights, violating them can cause steep penalties. Before you use a picture for your business, you may want to familiarize yourself with the small print of the licensing agreement (I know this is hard) or consult with a lawyer. The licensing agreement defines the terms of what you are allowed to do with the photo. Is the usage restricted to the web, or can you use the picture also for print? Do you need to renew and pay the license annually?
Despite all these legal considerations, stock photos can be a lifesaver. For example, if you want to write about lavender in your blog post but miss an image of a lavender field, using a stock photo can be totally fine. Who has the time and money to travel to Avignon, France, in spring to take such a picture?
However, there is a flip-side to this scenario.
Websites are an extension of your business, promoting a particular perception in the marketplace. With every stock photo you use, you run the risk of altering this perception. Stock photos are generic, not taken with a specific purpose in mind. They may look stunning on their own but may appear out of place compared with the other images on your site. In the eyes of your visitors, these small inconsistencies can create a perception of being less genuine and sincere.
To avoid these issues in this column, I have chosen one of my own pictures from Mount Mitchell instead.