Stock photos are an excellent resource for businesses that cannot afford custom photography, but many people fall victim to some common pitfalls related to their use.

This post, Web Design: 7 Stock Photography Mistakes to Avoid, was first published on WebMarketingToday.

Following is a list of seven “don’ts” for using stock photography that will ensure your business avoids mistakes.

1. Don’t Use Copyrighted Images

Often, people think of Google image search as a free resource for stock photography, but the majority of images found there are copyrighted and not licensed for reuse.

There is a way to search for images you can use. Just go to Google Image advanced search and select “Search Tools,” then “Usage Rights,” and then filter results to only show those labeled for reuse.

Use Google Images search options to find images licensed for reuse.

It’s best to bypass using services like Google Images for free resources. Search Creative Commons for images that are open for commercial reuse instead.

Creative Commons image search.

Be sure to ascertain how the image is licensed under Creative Commons, to confirm that you can use it for business purposes and to determine whether or not modifications are allowed. While you’re at it, check out Pixabay, a site that provides free images suitable for commercial purposes.

2. Don’t Pick the Wrong Stock Photo License

Even though you pay a fee to download a stock photo, you may still be in violation of the license, depending on how you use the image.

Usage is based on two main types of stock photos: Rights-managed and royalty-free.

Rights-managed images are much more exclusive than royalty-free, and require the purchaser to list exactly how and where he will employ the picture. Such images are often more expensive than other license types but are typically higher in quality. Lastly, rights-managed images cannot be utilized multiple times, due to their exclusivity.

Royalty-free image licenses are more open than rights-managed — they allow multiple usages, for example — but impose some restrictions. Many stock sites limit basic royalty-free licenses to no more than 500,000 reproductions or will not allow the use of images as part of a product intended for resale. has rules on royalty-free images use.

3. Don’t Use the Most Popular Images

Countless numbers of businesses use stock photos, so it’s likely that two local companies may end up with the same image for their respective websites or advertisements.

Skirt this problem by searching for and selecting less popular images in the stock photo site’s catalog. Also, steer clear of using pictures similar to those found on your competitors’ websites, to avoid confusing consumers.

Shutterstock has a sorting option for “undiscovered” images so you can ensure the one you select has not been downloaded previously.

4. Don’t Use Generic Imagery

Many businesses use stock photography to keep their site looking generic and neutral, but this can lead to a poor user experience. A site’s photography should instantly communicate specific information about the business, such as its culture, industry, or ideal customer.

Refrain from the use of stock photography if your product is very specialized. Provide photos of your products instead. Generic images, such as handshakes and business meetings, don’t clearly articulate your company’s unique value proposition and what differentiates it from competitors.

Generic stock photography may also hurt your marketing efforts by presenting a business that lacks authenticity or a local feel. Brick-and-mortar businesses should have photography that conveys a sense of place, encouraging customers to visit in person — a factor that is especially true for destinations like restaurants and coffee shops.

5. Don’t Use Photos That Misrepresent Your Company

Companies sometimes use stock photos of mock team meetings or bustling conference rooms, to show that they are business-oriented. That could result in an unintentional misrepresentation of the scope of your company, however, in terms of the number of employees or facility size.

Using stock photos on your site that consist of mostly female employees, when your company is 90 percent male, presents an inaccurate view of your staff composition. Also, using photos that misconstrue the ethnic makeup of your business could be considered questionable.

Rather than using stock photos of personnel or buildings, it’s better to choose images that illustrate the products you sell or the services you provide

6. Don’t Change the Filename

Renaming files from the long stream of numbers typically associated with stock images to “picture-of-handshake.jpg,” for example, is another common mistake.

While the filename may be more descriptive, it removes a vital piece of information from the image should you decide to deploy it again, such as in a company brochure or other promotional materials. You can use that long stream of numbers to search for the original photo.

7. Don’t Download the Smallest Version of the Image

While you can purchase a smaller size photo for use on your company website, it’s best to get one with a higher resolution in the event you need to incorporate it into printed materials. Smaller size images will not produce quality results in print publications.

Also, as desktop computer and mobile device screen resolutions increase, your website visitors will appreciate the “crispness” that higher-resolution images can provide.