The 123RF Guide to Stock Photos in Marketing

Choosing the perfect stock photo for your marketing campaigns can be quite a headache. There are many reasons why stock images are an unquestionable asset for every marketing team. But in a sea of stock images, how do you know which image is the one that will help with engagement, traffic, and conversions? 

As one of the leading stock photo agencies globally, we’ve got a few tips and tricks that can help you utilize stock photography to its full potential.


Two happy women eating cotton candy in an amusement park by ammentorp, 123RF.


But first, what are stock photos?

Stock photos are readily available images for licensing, usually by paying a fee to the stock agency – like us at 123RF – and the artists that produced the image. The licensed stock photos can then legally be used in a multitude of ways by individuals and organizations, all while the artist retains copyright of their work. Some of the uses for stock photos include marketing materials, commercials, websites, and book covers.

Why stock photography?

Simply put, the vast library of stock photos on the internet makes life so much more effective. Not only is it time-saving and cost-efficient, but there are also stock images in every niche, topic and style imaginable. Compared to custom images where you’ll have to fork out time and money for talent, a location, professional photographers and schedule photoshoots, the stock photography route is the wiser option.

The power of photography in marketing.

The ‘why’ has a lot to do with the psychology behind visual marketing. People are highly visual beings who are wired to respond better to images. Given that two-thirds of the human population are visual learners, images are a powerful tool to help people retain your marketing message much faster than any other method.

For example:

  1. According to eMarketer, 75% of US internet users search for visual content before making a purchase.

  2. Facebook posts with images have an interaction rate of 87%, compared to 4% for posts without images.

When every corner of the internet is visual content, picking the right visual content to represent your brand and stand out amongst the traffic is undeniably essential.

Choosing the right stock photo.

But how do you choose the right photo? The truth is, some naturally have a better eye when it comes to picking out images. Suppose you’re one of those who struggle with picking the right photos. Here are some extra tips to help you look for stock photo gems.

You probably hear this all the time, and we can’t stress this enough: Know your target audience.

The first part of choosing great stock photos for marketing is knowing your target audience. Is it a young bunch (think: Gen Z, Millennials) or an older generation?

Knowing your target audience can help you understand if you want to project an image of fun, professionalism, idealism, sustainability, diversity – the different values that different generations prioritize. It also depends on the topic. For example, a medical brochure about the importance of visiting the pediatrician would work better with a stock image that includes a toddler.


Doctor checking a baby’s heartbeat by rawpixel, 123RF.



Doctor examining a child by choreograph, 123RF.


Authenticity is key.

Stock photos get a bad reputation, and it’s thanks to a whole army of outdated stock photos. Over time, tech-savvy humans have developed almost a sixth sense to tell real from fake, especially when it comes to the authenticity of a business.

Real places aren’t so crisp and tidy, so look out for backgrounds that seem familiar to you. For example, a neighborhood cafe. The people in the photo also contain minor details that tell your subconscious if something looks authentic or not. Think lighting, ultra tidy hair, perfectly ironed out clothing.


Two young women having coffee at a coffee shop by ammentorp, 123RF.


For instance, take this image of two women grabbing a cup of coffee together. The photo looks natural and relatable with the natural lighting, real background, and candid poses.

Aside from choosing the perfect stock photo for your marketing campaigns, don’t forget to be inclusive and diverse too! Are you looking for stock photos for your Mother’s Day campaign? Perhaps use a picture of two mothers instead of a man and a woman. The LGBTQ community would appreciate the representation.


Couple spending time with their child by luckybusiness, 123RF.


When we’re looking at images, we’re making split-second decisions. A brand with images that look too generic may portray a lack of effort. If it doesn’t feel authentic, stock photos can do more harm than good.

Use the search feature.

It’s a rookie mistake to go on a stock photo website and pick out a photo from the first page. The search feature is there for several reasons: to hunt down the latest, most relevant images and avoid generic, outdated photos.

On 123RF, we have search features for relevancy, georanking, safe search, photo orientation, media types, ethnicities, number of people in the photo, styles and more. A pro-tip is to sort by newest entries. 

Copyrights and model release.

Most stock photos are made for commercial, editorial, and personal use. While it is tempting to download pictures off Google or copy and paste random images you found online, you can infringe on the author’s copyright and get yourself into trouble. It’s also unethical to do so. Make sure you attribute the author accurately, too, if required.

When stock images are uploaded to a stock agency, they give the agency permission to license them, ensuring that all photos are safe to use and the necessary permits are valid.

On the other hand, a model release is a legal document that protects the author, the model, the agency, and the user from any disagreements that may arise from the distribution of the images. Read more about 123RF’s model release guidebook here.

Use images that make sense (for your brand).

Only use relevant photos. Don’t just include certain images because it looks nice, but use them because it adds meaning to your message. This might sound like common sense, but you’ll be surprised how many make this mistake.

Tone and style are underrated. 

Visuals provoke emotions. What are the feelings and ideas you want to convey to your audience? The photos should reflect your brand and deliver your intended message in a straightforward yet memorable way. 

Let’s say you’re an adventure company, and you’re looking to market and promote travel locations and activities made for introverts. This picture that is filled with a calm yet adventurous vibe might be suitable:


Hiker stands on top of a mountain and enjoys valley view by mihtiander, 123RF.


Whereas this photo of a young woman packing her suitcase with her fists held high might not appeal to your target audience.


Young woman with her suitcase by beer5020, 123RF.


Tweaks and edits. Edit a stock image as much as you need to – crop, add a filter, resize, add text – to match your brand visuals. Don’t be afraid to “un-stockify” the stock image if the licensing allows.

If you’re going for a whimsical feel for your photos, try out our ‘achieving a Wes Anderson look in photographs’ tutorial here. If you’re going for a moody effect instead, then try this out. 

Explore 123RF’s massive library of stock images!


As one of the largest digital stock agencies in the world, we’ve helped countless small businesses and giant corporations alike to tell their stories using creative imagery and visuals.

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