Stock Images for Commercial Use: Why and How to Use

TopFoto Archive


1116910: Press photographers wear gas masks and special clothing at the Anti-Gas School at Eastwood House, Falfield, Gloucester – 10 March 1937

One of the most valuable tools you can use for a professional or creative project is stock images. Stock images for commercial use are a great way to make your project visually appealing and eye-catching.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then stock images from the U.K. or elsewhere can say a thousand things about a country, a specific place in time, or a historical era.

It may sound like an exaggeration, but it is not. Stock images are powerful tools for communicating your brand’s message, advertising products, or educating the public.

Here’s why you need to use stock photos, and how to use them to benefit your next project.

What Are Stock Photos?

Stock photos are photographs that have already been taken by others and are available for use. Photographers or archives will submit their photos to big stock agencies that allow for easy download. You then buy an image, and the stock agency site and the photographer or archive split the revenue.

Alternately, many sites now offer a subscription-based service. Instead of paying for each individual image, you pay a set price per month, which then allows you to download a certain number of images each month.

Stock photos are licensed in different ways. A royalty-free license is perhaps the most popular or well known license. Generally speaking, it can give you the right to use the image in any commercial or personal project, without limit.

Of course, every site will be different, so you need to read the terms before you license an image. The last thing you want to do is make the mistake of using an image in a way for which you do not have the license. That could be a costly mistake.

While some photographers sell their own stock photographs on their personal sites, most go through agencies. So if you’re looking for a place to get stock photographs, a stock agency should be your first place to look.

How to: Stock Images for Commercial Use

Now that you know what stock images are, how do you use them?

One of the biggest strengths of stock photos is how flexible they are. They have a lot of uses, some of which you may not have even thought of before. Here are a few ways stock photos can be useful.

Videos and Documentaries

Many documentaries use stock images to provide context to important events. They can supplement existing video footage and interviews.

American documentary filmmaker Ken Burns takes the use of photographs further. He extensively uses stock images in his historical works.

Instead of showing static images, he pans and zooms across the images to create the Ken Burns effect. This gives the illusion of movement in otherwise still photographs, allowing the filmmaker to capture the audience’s attention. This simple technique has allowed the filmmaker to produce multiple award-winning documentaries.

If you have a personal or professional YouTube account, stock images may supplement your existing video content. You can also repurpose existing content as a video slideshow and upload it to your YouTube channel.

If you are not using YouTube for your business, you need to consider it. Why? Because YouTube is a search engine, like Google and Bing.

In fact, it is one of the largest search engines out there. Uploading videos to YouTube will allow your content to be more easily discoverable.

Using stock images in your videos will speed up your creation time, allowing you to create new videos more quickly.


Stock images are also useful in books. Many indie authors have either designed their own covers or hired a cover designer who used a modified stock image to design a cover.

Historical photographs are great additions to history and educational books. They can help bring the past to life, highlight important moments in history, and educate the reader in a way that text alone cannot.

After all, photography is one of the best ways to tell a story.

Retail Displays and Mockups

Stock photos can also be incorporated into retail displays. With the right image, you can create an eye-catching display that will draw customers to your store.

Stock photos can also be used in product mockups. This is a great idea for small business owners and online-only retailers. With a little editing, you can overlay text and combine stock images with your product designs.

Website Design

Stock photos on your website can capture a visitor’s attention. By picking a photo that feels genuine, you can capture your audience’s attention and pull them in.

You can also use stock images in advertising campaigns, and direct visitors to a specific landing page. The images there could be different from the images on the rest of your site.

You could also use stock images when A/B testing, or split testing, pages on your website. This method is when two pages are similar but have a few variables. A/B testing is good for determining which version of a page makes the greatest impression on visitors.

Social Media Promotions

On social media sites, stock photos can promote your products or brand, much like they would in traditional marketing. When combined with your existing images, they show off the usefulness of your products and services.

Stock images can also be used to motivate and inspire your readers. The right image overlaid with an inspirational quote or thoughtful idea can encourage social media users to share your message, or follow your account. There are tons of existing great quotes to inspire discussion, or you can create some of your own.

Keep it simple, with an emphasis on the quote. The image should supplement the idea. Then add in some hashtags, like #motivationalmonday, share your content, and watch others engage with it.

If you are not into motivational quotes or messages, try creating your own infographics with stock images. Infographics are an easily shareable, visually attractive way of formatting a lot of information in an easy-to-read format. All you need are data, an attractive image, and engaging copy.

Infographics can be used to share industry trends, important news items, survey results, scientific studies, quick tutorials, and more. You can even repurpose existing content and create an infographic of it. This allows you to maximize your existing content and share it in a way where it will reach a new audience.

Whether your business uses Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, or other social media sites or a combination, it is important to remember that social media is a visual medium. Text alone will not cut it. Visual content is exciting and easily understood.

In fact, most people describe themselves as visual learners. Visual content is memorable and can create positive emotions.

Blog Posts

Stock images are great for blog posts. They can help accentuate your message and support your text. This is especially helpful if you’re a writer, not a photographer.

Adding images to a post can also break up the text and increase readability. Otherwise, it is too easy for readers to get lost reading walls of text, one paragraph after another.

Corporate Presentations

Stock images can be used in corporate presentations. They easily integrate into applications like PowerPoint.

Similar to blog posts, they can help support your message. They can also replace text, allowing you as the presenter to audibly deliver your message while your clients or coworkers are drawn to your visual aid. No one wants to read hundreds of words on a presentation slide, but they do want to see proof that what you are saying is trustworthy and worth listening to.

Newsletters and Email Marketing

Stock photos can be used in newsletters and email marketing to share good news, engage with your readers, or show off your company culture and personality.

An image can be paired with a call to action to encourage readers to click through and visit your site, or to show subscribers what steps they should take next.

Why Use Stock Images?

Stock photographs make design and creative work so much easier. Without them, the world would be a lot less interesting.

If you have not been using stock photos, here are a few reasons why they deserve your attention.

Affordable Pricing

At an initial glance, some may baulk at the upfront cost of stock photos. However, stock photos are much more affordable than you may realise.

Pricing can vary widely from one site to the next. Sometimes pricing may even vary from one photograph to the next since some sites allow the photographer to set their own prices.

Some sites offer different pricing options depending on the intended use of the photo. Student discounts may also be available.

If you plan on using a lot of stock photos, it may be worth subscribing to a site for a set fee, to get a set number of monthly downloads. This way you are guaranteed a certain number of downloads each month for a flat price.

Whether you pay for each photo individually or subscribe to a plan or both, stock photos are much more affordable than you might think. Startups, small businesses, and self-employed freelancers can all benefit from the professional look and affordable prices of stock images.

Professional Looking Photographs

Stock agencies can be very particular when choosing what photographs they accept. They want only the best submissions.

That means looking at the composition and overall image quality of a photograph before approving it for sale.

This vetting process ensures that stock photos are high quality and suitable for your needs. After all, if the stock agency cannot sell photos, they don’t get a percentage of the sales. It is in their best interest to make sure that a wide variety of high-quality images from around the world are available to you.

Unique, One of a Kind Photos

Many stock photos are unique, one of a kind photos. They may depict famous events or people, or both. Perhaps they capture an iconic moment in history, such as Winston Churchill during the War.

These photos are time capsules of important social and political events. They are impossible to accurately recreate or duplicate, which makes them that much more special.

Specific, Targeted Images

Stock photos allow you to find images relevant to specific demographics. If you are looking to target specific demographics such as millennials, or nursing students, there are images available for those demographics.

Stock images will allow you to reach your desired group, even if your group is a minority demographic.

Easy to Edit Images

Stock photos are easily editable in your software program of choice. They can be cropped, rotated, or otherwise altered to suit your needs – but check the permissions and make sure you have the right license before you alter an image.

Working with stock photos is easy. You already have the photograph, so you can immediately start work on the design.

Stock Images From the U.K. and the Globe

Now that you have read our guide to stock images, it is time to find images for your next project. But before you make any decisions, make sure you understand how licensing works, so you can avoid copyright infringement.

When you are ready to find the perfect photo, TopFoto will be your number one choice. TopFoto has an extensive image collection of stock images for commercial use. We have stock images from the U.K. as well as around the world.

We have images from every subject and era, as evidenced by our curated collection. We have stock images for commercial use or noncommercial use.

Find the right image for your next project today.


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