How To Use Stock Photography In Your Blog—Legally & Strategically

Meg Hoppe
Posted by Meg Hoppe on June 12, 2015
Closeup of two hands shaking.

You’ve heard it before, probably more than you cared to: every blog post should feature at least one image. Readers are far more attracted to a post (or article or book) that includes images…and the right image can help them “get” your post, too. But not just any image will do. This post outlines what’s legal and what’s not when it comes to photo usage, and gives you some simple guidelines for choosing those that will do the most to enhance your content.

“We Can Just Use A Google Image!”

Google offers an image search function on Google Images (you can also use, but you’ll need to refine your search by clicking “images” in the top navigation once you get your ordinary search results). Just type in a word(s) and you’ll get hundreds…maybe thousands…of results related to that word – images that have been tagged similarly or whose websites include that word(s).

(There’s also a reverse search option. Simply drag an image from your desktop into the Google Images search bar. The results will tell you where on the internet you’ll find that image (websites, blogs, ads, stock photo sites, etc.) and you’ll be shown similar images, too.)

But what many people don’t realize, evidently, is that Google image search is not a free photo library where you can willy-nilly grab an image and use it however you’d like! If you didn’t take the photo or buy it, it belongs to someone else.

The legality around photos is pretty straightforward: the only photos you can use in your blog (or anywhere else, really) are:

  • Original images – those you shot yourself, or that you paid someone to shoot for you (and then only if that person doesn’t hold the copyright)
  • Stock images you’ve paid for

There’s No Free Lunch

There are a number of websites out there offering “free” photos. But read the fine print and you’ll see that most tell you that you first must get the photographers permission…THEN it’ll be free.

Why take the risk? Photos are assets created by professionals who deserve to be paid. Invest in photos…they make your posts better and eventually you’ll have a library you can go to for other marketing needs.

Seeing The Strategy Behind An Image

So, now that you’re only going to buy photos and avoid jail, what types of images should you select? 

First I’ll tell you what not – ever – to use. Stay clear of:

  • Two suit-wearing guys shaking hands
  • Two Millennials high-fiving
  • Anyone giving a grinny thumbs-up
  • Elderly people biking, lifting weights, or otherwise pretending to be in good shape
  • Chess boards, chess pieces, people playing chess…anything that smacks of chess. We get it: you’re strategic!
  • Puzzle pieces. We get this, too: you’re the missing piece of the business puzzle. It’s corny and outdated
  • Over-posed meeting situations (professionals pointing quizzically at a computer screen, with a couple head-nodders looking on)

These are all cheesy. Instead, choose an image for your post based on the overall message you want to get across. Let’s say your B2B blog post outlines how to improve the life of your paper machines by using the proper equipment lubricants. In this case, you’re most likely talking to plant maintenance managers – professionals, but not the kind who wear suits. These guys are walking the plant every day and are keenly aware of all the machinery in their facility. The primary message you’re trying to send them is “our industrial fluids will reduce costly equipment downtime.” So, you’re going to want to look for an image that somehow communicates downtime or, its reverse, improved productivity.

You can be literal or conceptual with your choice of image. Literal images might show a guy fixing a paper machine, portions or all of a machine…it could even just show the appropriate kind of lubricant for that machine. Conceptual images, on the other hand, imply; in this case you’d want to imply speed. A bullet train, a supersonic airplane, a runner, a stopwatch…that type of thing. These can get awfully cheesy, too, so choose carefully.

What about humorous photos? Usually the only person who thinks that “funny photo” is funny is the person who chose it. But if your post is at all tongue-in-cheek or playful, you can have a little fun. Just don’t go overboard. If, on the other hand, the post is pretty serious, go for a serious photo. You know your target and their comfort level, so use your best judgment.

Does your image always have to be precisely aligned with your topic? Nope – it just can’t be completely disconnected (like, if you’re writing about healthcare regulations don’t show a picture of a pipe organ). If an image will enhance the post but doesn’t directly relate, that’s okay. Using the paper machine example again, a dramatic photo of a cool, old, weathered factory door with a weather-beaten sign reading “Late shift employee entrance” would visually get attention and indirectly relate to the topic.

Don’t go the most obvious route. If you were writing a post about homeowners insurance, your first instinct would be to look for an image of a house. Or a young couple standing in front of a house. Or a document with “Homeowners Policy” printed at the top. These are boring. Homeowners insurance is for protecting your belongings from damage and theft, so make readers a little uncomfortable by showing an open garage inside of which is a kayak, a lawnmower, camping equipment, a couple of bikes and a gas grill. Readers will understand that you’re showing items that are attractive and easily accessible to thieves, and that you don’t want damaged by a storm or fire.

Whatever image you choose, make sure your audience can relate to it. A photo of someone writing on a piece of paper won’t work for the paper machine post; that’s an end-user situation, and frankly the maintenance manager isn’t terribly interested in who’s using the paper he makes. He cares about his machines and the problems he has with it. Put yourself in your target’s shoes and use images that tell him you understand his role.

So, bottom line: never, ever use photos you haven’t taken yourself or paid for. The owner is within his or her rights to try to get compensation. Second, take time when choosing a photo. It’s the frosting on the cake, so to speak, and deserves as much thought and attention as the content itself.

10 ways to keep your blog stocked with great content



Topics: Content Marketing

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