Stock photography can be a great way to enhance your website or social media presence. Using stock photography saves time, money, and hassle. Searching and finding the right photo can be easy (if you’re lucky) The licensing options are often straightforward.

But stock photography also has its critics. If you’re careless about how you use it, you can do damage to your reputation. Some feel stock photography is “inauthentic” and hinders connection with your audience. And what if you use an image that’s been seen a thousand times before, or even an image that’s been used by your competitor? Here are a few ways you can make the most of your stock photography.

Do keep your stock images on point

When selecting a stock photo, really take the time to think about what you want the image to say. Whether it’s for a blog post, a product page, or a social media campaign, you want the photograph to reflect both the material and your target audience. Obviously, it should be eye-catching, but it should be relatable and contain the appropriate amount of controversy for your audience. It may take a little time, but try to find something that really speaks to you, rather than what’s merely at hand.

Don’t be afraid to be different

By the same token, you shouldn’t hesitate to wander outside the box a bit when choosing a stock photo. Much hilarity has been made of wildly overused “women laughing at salad” stock photos. You don’t need your next article or ad becoming part of a joke. When picking the right image, don’t fall back on cliché. Your first instinct might not be your best instinct. Sure, you can go with that photo of business people sitting around a conference table, or a happy couple frolicking toward a sunset – but are there some more interesting stock photos you could use instead?

Do know your licenses and agreements

Most stock photo sites strive to make their licensing easy to understand. All the same, it pays to read the fine print. For example, there’s a difference between a standard and extended license, and some licenses require attribution. There may be restrictions on how you can use the photo in marketing materials or ad campaigns. Do a little homework first and avoid any potential legal trouble later!

Don’t use the first image you find

With stock photography so easy and accessible, you might be tempted to use the first “perfect” image you run across. But think twice before you click “buy!” Chances are, the photos that appear first in the search results are the most popular, and have already been used many, many times. If you want to be a little more “original,” take some time and dig a little deeper. You might be surprised at what hidden gems you find. There’s less of a chance you’ll be following your competitors, or using an image that’s been seen so often it’s become unmemorable.

Do add an original touch

Stock photography is great, but it is possible to overdo it. Make a little room in your budget to hire a photographer or add some of your own visual content to your blog, website, or social media presence once in a while. A website or blog bursting with nothing but stock photos can start to look a little generic, no matter how hard you’ve worked to choose just the right photos. That doesn’t have to be a problem — just mix it up a little and you’ll be fine!

Stock photography sometimes gets a bad rap, but it’s a great asset when used effectively. A little creativity and thoughtfulness will go a long way toward making stock photographs a great addition to your business or brand.