5 stock photography tips for startup founders

Need a photo for your startup and don’t have the time or budget to hire a photographer? Firstly, don’t do it yourself. You have 15 seconds to create a first impression, so whether it’s your website, social media, or pitch deck, ensure you use quality imagery to show off your startup.

It’s very important for your brand and company identity that you curate your collection of photos carefully. Take time to compile a set of fresh, sharp images that have a coherent style and which really sing your brand. Steer away from picking images ad hoc without a theme. Also steer away from tired styling, low resolution images, or those which have been used by other brands! The latter can really be a blow to your brand and marketing efforts!

It’s super helpful if you can compile a collage of images on a Miro board, or photoshop file and cast your eyes over the image styles and ask yourself if all the photos hang together and that they really tell the story of your brand or service. Are you cool, casual or very corporate? Do they reflect your services and customers accurately? Ask around, test the imagery by getting feedback from your team or customers.

Once you’re happy with your photography style, it’s time to get into the details of licencing and pricing.

Stock photography can help fill the gap of a reasonably priced professional looking alternative. It can be purchased and downloaded instantly. Here are 5 tips from SkyStock founder Tom Watson on using stock photography.

Table of contents

  1. Google image search
  2. Free stock photography websites
  3. Paid stock photography websites
  4. License types
  5. Uniqueness of the photos

The internet is full of content whether it’s a photo on Google image search, a video on Facebook, or an infographic from LinkedIn. It’s very easy to save this content and use it for your own start up, however, this can result in legal issues for breaching copyright. You can, however, add an additional search term such as “stock photo” to your Google image search as this can produce results from stock photo websites. Google has also recently introduced a Licensable badge for photos that can be purchased, but not every stock website has enabled this yet.

Google image search

2. Free stock photography websites

For those on tight budgets, there are free stock photography options such as Unsplash and Pixabay. While a good place to start, the free options tend to have a smaller selection and are of poorer quality, as higher-end professional photographers steer away from these platforms.

Additionally, there is the concern that people (not the actual photographer) who are uploading content to these platforms are giving away copyright to content they don’t actually own. Even as a founder you will be legally responsible for any content you publish.

Purchasing can also create some confusion with platforms offering single purchases, image packs, credits, and subscriptions. Make sure you don’t get tricked into signing up for a 12-month subscription if you are only wanting a single image.

Savings can be made if you are looking to purchase several images at once or looking to continually buy images throughout a year with an image pack or a subscription. If it is too confusing to work out what you are going to be charged, find a platform with more transparent pricing.

4. License types

As touched on in the first two points, legally being able to license the image for the usage you need is the most important issue to take note of when purchasing stock photography.

There can be different rates for purchasing images whether you are using it for personal or not for profit use, in comparison to using it for commercial use. The cost of a commercial licence of some platforms depends on where it will appear such as in a magazine or social media, or on what the expected audience size will be for the content.

Every platform is different and at SkyStock, for example, we licence stock photos for a single project, unlimited usage, or exclusive usage where we will take down the image after purchase to ensure no one else can purchase it. Always double check you have the correct licence for the usage you need.

5. Uniqueness of the photos

Major stock websites such as Shutterstock, iStock and Adobe Stock are the most popular but remember there is plenty of choice out there. These larger sites work on selling large quantities of the same image meaning there are plenty of other businesses out there using the same image that you are wanting to use.

Additionally, this quantity over quality focus leads to a poor commission to photographers, so consequently professional photographers upload their content to more niche stock platforms where they will be adequately rewarded. Be sure to spend an extra few minutes looking at some of the lesser known stock websites which may help you uncover a gem. At SkyStock we focus on aerial photography and video, which can help provide that personalised local content that will be difficult to find on other websites.

If your heart is set on a particular photo which will feature prominently on your site or app, make sure that you do a Google image search for that specific image to see who else is already using it. If you see that image is being used by a rival brand and you need to switch it out – you can use Google search and filter image results based on licensing information. It helps to sort your images with either Creative Commons or Commercial licences. (You can view that using the ‘usage rights’ drop-down menu.)

Hopefully you now have a better idea on how the world of stock photography works, and some ideas on ensuring you get some great looking content for your start up.

Having quality imagery can provide a professional look, whether it be to a customer or a potential investor. Image is everything.


Article co-written by Tom Watson (founder of SkyStock) and Sophie Greenfield (UX designer at Vonto)