Let's STOCK about it.

How to get the “staged” out of your stock photos

You know it, I know it, even the models in this picture know it: Stock photos can be LAME AS HELL. 

cheesy stock photo

Are these really the people you want to convey "teamwork" with?? I bet these jokesters are still using Yahoo email accounts. 

That being said, stock is often a necessary tool in visual communication.

Luckily, there are a myriad of interesting (and free!) sites where you can source more unique, less “canned” photos. (Check the links in the sidebar).

But there are also clever design tricks to turn “staged” to “snazzy.”

I talked with Head Ranchero Mikey about some of the Ranch’s best practices in using stock photos.

"Our relationship with stock photos is love-hate. We love stock sites because our clients move fast, and we try to keep up with their pace. Finding great stock photography to tell the right visual story can help us work at event pace. However, we also hate it because everyone else is using it. So it’s a constant battle of trying to find something different, unexpected, but also on-message.

And then, how can we make this unique to our client’s brand?” -Mikey

That’s the question you must be continually asking, how to provide a little TLC to stock you feel stuck with. While you should always do your best to find super interesting images, there are ways to make lame photo uniquely YOURS.

The following are a few favorite examples of simple design additives and ideas that give any image the fluidity and space to become more on-brand and in-line with the message you’re trying to convey.

1. Make it yours, mess with COLOR  

stock with color gradient

Even a potentially cheesy "husband snoring" stock shot can be classed up by playing with saturation, going monochromatic, or using sexy duotones. Bop it, twist it, BRAND it! 

2. BOOST the contrast

Play with brand shapes, pull back on one image's saturation to let your brand colors come AT you!

3. Bring the drama with CROPPING

Focus on the action. Total bonus opportunity here to weave in brand elements to make the image feel like it uniquely belongs to just your client's company. Find someone handy with Photoshop or Canva to work in some of your most recognizable brand features to make it fully owned by your brand.

4. Interesting compositions! 

Draw inspiration from the art world and geometric shapes. Dream up different layouts—how can two or three stock images work together to create unique triptychs and diptychs? 

5. Double Exposure

First, overlay two images in Photoshop to create something a little more interesting than a simple skyline stock photo. 

Next, throw some color over that double-mask to both showcase text and further drive your brand look.

6. Go for the unexpected.

DON'T use those perfectly diverse group shots of young colleagues smiling at each other. You know the one. We scroll through them so often online, it's like we don't even see them.

DO challenge yourself to lean into the art and composition of an idea to make something memorable. What could you show someone instead to help evoke a DIFFERENT feeling?

7. Play with angles

JAWS imagery with shark facts?? Nah, that's too predictable. ;) 

8. And TEXTURE! 

Is it a lush tree from the rainforest? A sick wallpaper from a monochrome barber? Who cares?? It's interesting! 

9. Sprinkle design elements into your stock...

This hipster guy is the reigning KING representing millennials in the B2B workforce. 

But here, we take the burden off of that perfectly manicured monster beard by letting the stock image serve as a backdrop—allowing for more expressive typography to guide the message.


Give your composition a sense of depth by weaving in some unique design elements. The framing we worked in for these pieces helped create something more branded and unique, helps guide the viewers eyes. And we can bring in illustrations to support a talk track and brand message further.

ALWAYS REMEMBER: What might be a generic image at first download has the capacity to transform into something truly memorable.

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Presentation Design