Stock Images vs Custom Images – the Pros and Cons

stock image of photographer

What are the differences between custom and stock images? Images are known to increase the effectiveness of social media posts but they play an important role across marketing activity.

Potential customers can tell a lot about your business by the pictures you use online to promote it. Images convey your brand’s story and sum it up. To be effective, they must have a visual impact that will appeal to your target audience.

Good images make your brand more memorable. Business and product descriptions that are displayed with a photograph are remembered by 65 per cent of viewers for up to three days.* Striking, high quality images that engage website visitors should form an important part of your branding.

Sourcing great images

How should you source great images for your website? Consumers respond better to custom photographs – that is a fact. However, they can be expensive. If your budget won’t stretch to the cost of hiring a professional photographer and your organisation does not have the talent to produce your own, stock images are an economical alternative.

Let’s take a closer look and both options and explore their pros and cons.

Custom images

In eCommerce, conversion rates are up to 35 per cent* higher when a custom photo is used to promote a product for service. 67% of online shoppers rated high quality images as being “very important” to their purchase decision. Faces really do sell products – research has confirmed that people notice and remember images that include faces more than photographs of just products, buildings or objects.

While more expensive than stock photos, custom images can be a significant aid to branding, offering consistency and promoting consumer confidence in your brand.


  • Consistency in quality and tone
  • Unique to your business
  • More memorable than stock images
  • You can use the images as often as you like without incurring additional fees
  • They validate the authenticity of your business
  • Produce higher conversion rates


  • The cost may outweigh the benefits, particularly for smaller businesses
  • You may incur additional costs in terms of the time is takes to arrange photo shoots
  • What if the photographer doesn’t fully convey the concept of your business?

stock images business team

Stock images

Because stock images are so common, consumers have got used to them and you risk using an image that has been heavily used before. The stock image above of a business team has been downloaded over 68,000 times. Consumers can now tell the difference between the custom and stock images, and this can be damaging to a brand. However, you shouldn’t write off stock images entirely. If you can’t afford custom images or you want a temporary solution while your website content is being developed, stock pictures can be a lifesaver.


  • Cheap – sometimes free
  • Quick to source
  • Provide any business with an instant professional look
  • They can be a starting point for website development, sparking new ideas


  • Copyright pitfalls. Can you legally use the image?
  • Not unique
  • People may have seen the same images many times before
  • Lower conversion rate
  • May not accurately reflect your brand’s story
  • Some stock images have been used by scammers
  • Branding is not consistent

Using stock images effectively

If your business can’t afford custom images, or you would like additional pictures to complement the photographs you are already using, stock images can be extremely useful.

How to get the most out of stock images

  1. Be picky. Don’t use a photo you have seen before.
  2. Use phrases that are specific to your business/industry when searching for suitable images. This will limit the chances of you using a generic image that people will instantly recognise as a stock photo
  3. Use a search tool such as TinEye to find out where else the images are being used and by whom
  4. Use stock images that could pass as custom images and offer the right fit for your brand
  5. Make sure the image is engaging
  6. Customise the image to make it look different

Using both custom and stock images

You can keep costs down by using a combination of both stock and custom images, particularly if a custom image is not as engaging as you would like it to be. Use these tips to maximise the effectiveness of your photographs:

  • Use a cut-out of part of an image and insert it in another image using PhotoShop or a free tool such as Pixlr
  • Use a combination of stock and custom images in montages and galleries
  • Use stock photos as secondary images on website pages

While custom images will do more for your business than stock images, it makes sense to use a combination of both to get good results and keep costs down. If you understand the importance of visual content on your website, you are half-way there.


*Sources: Research into the Picture Superiority Effect, John Medina, ConversionXL

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Roisin Kirby is an experienced Marketing Consultant based in Nottingham (UK), specialising in education and services marketing. A Chartered Marketer and Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Marketing.

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