Effectively Use Stock Photography in your Digital Campaigns

What’s Up? When you have to use stock photos, find the most effective ones by securing the proper rights, staying on brand, using images of faces, opting for realistic images over staged and editing images to be unique.

To tell a great story online, words are not enough.

Visuals….pictures….images…photos…whatever you want to call them, you NEED them to effectively convey the work your nonprofit does out in the world.

According to research by Buzzsumo, Facebook posts with images receive 2.3 times more engagement than ones without. Furthermore, the same study shows tweets with photos get 150% more retweets than text-only posts. Now you can see how important a visual is when running social media campaigns.

While it would be great if your marketing campaigns always included images of donors, volunteers or people your nonprofit helps, that is not always possible. This is where the world of stock images comes into play.

When people hear the term “stock images” they think of photos of women laughing at their salads, the multiracial handshake or an attractive call center representative. Sure, overused photos can be one of the pitfalls of using stock images, but putting together an image-selection  game plan before unrolling your next visual marketing campaign can help you hurdle common hazards.

When choosing stock photography for your nonprofit’s next digital efforts some of the most important things to keep in mind are:

  1. Secure the rights to use the photographs
  2. Stay on brand
  3. Use images of faces
  4. Find photography that is realistic and less staged
  5. Edit your images

Let’s dive deeper into each of the topics:

  1. Rights

It’s incredibly important to make sure you have the right to use the image you have chosen for your campaign. Here’s a quick primer on the different usage rights you might encounter for online photographs:

Royalty Free – one-time, flat rate license fee that entitles you to use an image multiple times, in a wide range of permitted uses, and forever, without paying extra royalties. This is the most cost-effective option, however there is a higher potential the images available are the kind that are widely circulated on the internet.

Rights Managed – RM license is customized to your specific usage needs. It gives you rights to use images in a determined way, for a certain period of time, in a particular geographic region and for a limited distribution and reproduction volume. This option is more expensive, but you have the piece of mind to know that you are the exclusive rights holder for this image for the period of time that you are using it.

A few websites that could be helpful include:

Royalty Free and No Cost Options


A note on Google Images: Make sure to set the Tool → Usage Rights → Labeled for reuse. The drawback of using Google Images is the choices are widely disseminated across the internet and is prone to overuse.

Royalty Free and Rights Managed Options With Cost Per Photo

  • Shutterstock – Cost is $0.27-14.50 per image depending on how many you buy at a time. This website has the largest selection of images, but can get pricey depending on how many you need.
  • Storyblocks – A database that charges a monthly fee ($5-65 depending on the amount of content downloaded per month). This website is useful if you know you’ll need a certain amount of images per month.
  • Getty Images – Prices range from $15-$1,000 depending on size and rights

2. On Brand

It’s crucial to stay on-brand with your imagery. Your audience should always understand the tone of your work. If your nonprofit likes to showcase the work it does to help a community, choose photography that is shot during the daytime or in a bright light, gives off positive and uplifting messages, and has people smiling. However if your nonprofit is portraying the problems that you are trying to fix, you might go for darker imagery – including black and white photography. You can also use images of people in the situations that you are trying to solve.

Darker ‘fight’ imagery vs brighter ‘winning’ imagery


3. People vs. Things

When appealing for donations for your cause, it’s important to show people doing something instead of objects. This is key because people relate better to seeing themselves reflected in situations verses objects that don’t show significance. Photos of people’s faces have a 38% higher chance of receiving likes and a 32% higher chance of receiving comments on Instagram according to research by Georgia Institute of Technology and Yahoo Labs.

Face vs. an object


4. How staged is too staged?

While action shots from events showing the actual work your nonprofit does is always preferred, sometimes that is not possible to capture. However, when using stock photography it’s important to consider using pictures that could potentially be construed as native to the cause you are promoting instead of ones that are overly staged.

It’s nice to see people doing an activity that they might actually be doing with your nonprofit instead of what is very clearly a goofy photoshoot.

5. Edit your images

The best way to distinguish your brand from falling into the trap of regurgitating an overused image is by editing it. Even if you don’t have a graphic designer on staff, there are free tools available to you to add text overlay captions to your pictures to make them truly unique to your circumstance:

  1. Canva – A website that provides many templates where you can quickly and easily upload photos and manipulate their sizes, add text or graphics and create nice visuals without much experience.
  2. Pixlr – A free online photo editor that is similar to photoshop for those people more experienced with manipulating images.
Just adding text to an image can go a long way in making it your own

While original photography is still the preferred avenue whenever possible, following the above tips should help you better navigate the world of stock photography to ensure your online marketing efforts are unique, compliant and on point when it comes to image use.

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