What makes a good stock photo?

Lately, I’ve seen some really great educational blogs, videos, webinars, and other tools agents and advisors have been hard at work creating for their audiences. And one major part of what’s making these resources great is the visuals, and sometimes that includes using stock photos.

Using stock photos isn’t bad; in fact, stock photos can be a really great way to connect with your audience and draw out the emotion you’re going for. However, choosing the wrong stock photos can elicit emotions you weren’t going for and can actually bring down your brand’s credibility.

Bottom line: you don’t want to use “stocky” stock photos. And we all know there is no shortage of “stocky” stock photos. In fact, they trend on Twitter from time to time: #BadStockPhotosOfMyJob.

So, how do you ensure you’re picking the right photos? First, your gut should tell you. But, second, there’s several Dos (and a few Don’ts!) you should follow. All example photos are from iStock

DOs & DON’Ts of Stock Photos

1. DO: Pick photos that have groups naturally interacting with each other.


Natural conversation stock photo

Photo Credit: iStock


Unnatural conversation stock photo

Photo Credit: iStock

In the first example, the group is naturally having dialogue about a work project. In the second photo, it seems forced. Plus, you can’t see any emotion, and the speech bubbles are not natural.

DON’T: Steer away from picking photos where the person is looking directly at the camera. In most cases, this doesn’t feel natural; rather, it feels staged. However, there can be an exception to this rule when being used within advertisements—eye contact can, in that case, be an attention grabber.

2. DO: Pay attention to the context they’re in. Look at what is on their desk or surrounding them, and be sure it matches what you’re talking about.

Let’s say you’re writing about someone using software to increase productivity, and you’re writing this speaking to insurance agents.


Correct surroundings stock photo

Photo Credit: iStock

Not so good

Incorrect surroundings stock photo

Photo Credit: iStock

In the first example, she has some papers, her phone, and a calculator near her. All of these things make sense for an insurance agent to have at their desk. Plus, this woman is working from home, which many agents were or still are during this pandemic year.

The second example is actually a photographer, if you look at the items on her desk. She has a camera and a photo-editing pad and pen in front of her. Although this seems pretty obvious once pointed out, small details around the person or group can be missed when you're in a rush to find a good photo!

DON’T: Use photos where people are wearing clothing that doesn’t make sense for the situation, like being too casual or too formal. Again, match the surroundings in the photo to your content.

3. DO: Choose positive images over negative images (usually). You want your content to evoke positive emotions. Although sometimes you’ll want to compare and contrast a before and after (the next “do”), try to always include a positive image.


Positive emotion stock photo

Photo Credit: iStock

Not so good

Negative or neutral emotion stock photo

Photo Credit: iStock

The first example creates a positive vibe because she’s smiling naturally. This makes readers comfortable.

In the second photo, the person is neutral or potentially even negative. Again, depending what your content is, these “negative” emotion photos can create negative feelings for your readers.

Bottom line: ALWAYS match your imagery with your content’s emotion! Yes, content has emotion!

4. DO: Use comparison, like before and after situations. Doing this, you’re speaking directly to your reader’s brain. You’re using neuromarketing, which is the style of marketing designed to sell specifically to the brain. Neuromarketing looks at how the brain works and encourages marketers and salespeople to craft messages that will get through the jumble so the brain can understand and make faster decisions.

We as humans comprehend visuals much easier and faster than the written word. So, using comparisons visually is a great way to make a point.

For example, if you’re illustrating the difference between having excellent phone service and/or WiFi and having bad service, you could use the following example:

Good WiFi Connection

Good connection stock photo

Photo Credit: iStock

Bad WiFi Connection

Bad connection stock photo

Photo Credit: iStock

5. DO: A quick Google search on the keyword or topic you’re covering in your content, and note the images already being used. You want to strike a similar chord with yours, but you don’t want to use the same, often overused images.

A search for life insurance produces a lot of images with a family under an umbrella. This image illustrates the idea well, but I challenge you to not simply follow the pack. Life insurance content generally includes images of happy families with bright colors. Use that as your base, and then get creative from there.


Good life insurance stock photo

Photo Credit: iStock

Not so good

Bad life insurance stock photo

Photo Credit: iStock

The image on the right is the stereotypical “life insurance” photo. The image on the left still portrays a family talking about life insurance, but it goes deeper. The agent is interacting with the toddler who is the reason this family is now purchasing life insurance or (even better) reviewing their plan to ensure they’ve covered their bases now that their family has grown.

DON’T: Use the some photo more than once, unless the content is in a series; then you could find photos that fall into the same photo collection/series.

Another DON’T: Always pick photos from the first page or the first few options. When you can, browse through several pages and pick the best one. If it happens to be on the first page, then fine. But, images found on the first page of results are likely ones used most often by others as well!

6. Last, but definitely not least, DO consider your reader demographics. Pick photos that represent your readers and that they’ll relate to. Simple as that.

Consider their age, marital status, children, where they live, what their hobbies are, and so on. When they see imagery that they can relate to, they’re more inclined to check out your content.

So, if your reader demographic is mostly seniors with grandchildren, pick photos like these:

Grandma and grandchild stock photo
Photo Credit: iStock

Grandpa and grandchildren stock photo
Photo Credit: iStock

Where to Get Your Stock Photos

At AgencyBloc, we use iStock. They have a very wide variety of photos to choose from, but we generally stick to their “Signature” photos which tend to be higher quality and more of the “real” look we’re going for. They offer an easy way to search based on keyword, but you can also browse based on category.

A few alternatives to iStock include:

  • Adobe Stock. We used this for awhile at AgencyBloc, too.
  • Pond5. We use this for stock footage, but they acquired a stock photo company and offer that as well.
  • Stocksy. I don’t have personal experience with this one, but it was founded by people from iStock.
  • Shutterstock. Again, no personal experience, but it’s very similar to Adobe Stock and iStock.

This is just a small sample of the dozens of stock photos sites out there. Check a few out, and see which ones you have the best luck with.

In your search, remember that you still have to pay attention to the copyrights on images even when you’re purchasing them. Because they come from different photographers, some might come with certain restrictions, like not using them to “sell” things. So, read the fine print!

There are ways to find free royalty-free images, though! You can search on Creative Commons, or you can do a Google search with a few specifics:

  • Once you search, click on Settings → Advanced Search
  • Filter under “usage rights” by “free to use share or modify, even commercially”

Google Advanced Search menu

Google Advanced Search image settings

Going Forward

The imagery you use on your website, in your social posts, and for all of your other content is a huge part of your online marketing strategy. The photos you choose help your readers get to know you better.

Going forward, use this blog as a guideline for your next project to ensure you always choose photos that reflect who you are and how they should feel about your brand.

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Posted by Kelsey Rosauer on Tuesday, February 2, 2021 in Sales Enablement

  1. marketing

About The Author

Kelsey Rosauer

Kelsey is the Marketing Manager at AgencyBloc. She helps lead a team of talented marketers in their efforts towards serving and educating life and health insurance agencies. Favorite quote: "You can't use up creativity. The more you use the more you have." —Maya Angelou