Three mistakes you might be making with stock photos

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This post was born out of me stumbling onto a website I created for a client a while ago (client shall remain nameless, of course!). Imagine my delight when I see that they have:

a) updated their website with new events - yes!
b) added new content since I created the original site - yes!
c) added new photos - ye…uh oh.

These new photos were not exactly a great addition to the site. I mean, the photos themselves were great. High quality. Super clear. But also, not relevant to their mission at all and the photos were obviously not taken in a rural WV setting where the nonprofit was located. It got me thinking about stock photography and all the ways it’s actually really great, if used correctly. There are tons of free photos out there (stick around to the end of the post and I’ll share my faves with you). But, they can also be tricky to manage.

Here are three mistakes you might be making with stock photos:

  1. You’re not using them at all

    I recommend using your own photography whenever you can, if you have high-res images that clearly communicate the idea you’re trying to share. But often, especially with nonprofits, you just lack the photos you need. In this case, stock photography is a great asset. Don’t be afraid to explore using stock photos when you’re in need of a visual to better tell your story. Remember to stick to photos that focus on just one or two subjects and that evoke emotion.

    If you’re using a Squarespace website, you have access to thousands of free stock photos right within your website builder thanks to their partnership with Unsplash. Not using Squarespace? Check out my favorite stock photo sites at the end of this post.

  2. You’re using them but you are not using the right photos that represent your work

    Like my client experienced, you can use stock photography the wrong way. When choosing a photo to use, be sure that it actually represents the clients you serve (or want to serve), the location of your organization (if you’re in a small city, steer clear of photos in front of skyscrapers), and the work you’re doing. If you’re having a hard time finding the right photo, try altering your search terms or getting ideas from websites of organizations similar to you. It goes without saying - do not take photos that do not belong to you - but you can get ideas of the kinds of photos others are using.

  3. You’re not optimizing them for your website

    What’s great about stock photos? They are very high-resolution and look crystal clear when used online or in print. What’s not so great? The file sizes are normally very large and if you’re not optimizing the images for your website, you’re going to slow down the load time for your website, frustrating visitors.

    I recommend downloading the original size, naming the photo descriptively, and then resizing the image to be optimized for the web. If you’re not familiar with this process or need more in-depth explanation, this article from Shutterstock is a great place to start! You can resize photos using any number of applications (I prefer Adobe Photoshop) or even try some of the free online programs like

Are you making any of those mistakes? I hope not! But if you are, choose one from the list and make a plan to fix it this week! Now, as promised, here is a short list of some of my favorite Stock photo websites!

Adobe Stock Photos - this is a paid site but it is well worth the money!


Until next time, keep making a great first impression!


P.S. Some of the above links are affiliate links and I may receive a small amount of compensation if you choose to purchase something. However, I only share products I love and use and there is never any additional cost to you!

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