Opening this piece by quoting an old “a picture is worth a thousand words” adage would be too banal – just as much as picking yet another batch of stock photos for your website without doing any preliminary research on the matter. So, not to be trite, let’s turn to statistics to understand the role of images in the viewer’s overall perception of the content:

  • Images are processed by our brain by 60,000 times faster and memorized by 4 times better than text.
  • Posts with images are by six times more engaging.
  • Infographics draw by times more attention than text and much more than images.

As you can see, visual content is king. Indeed, in the age of social networks, big and small businesses allocate considerable shares of their budgets for visual marketing. At the same time, more and more marketers and content makers prefer stock photos to photos taken by professional photographers since stock images are cheaper and you always see what you pay for. 

Just look at these handpicked Depositphotos images – they are wonderful, aren’t they? Could similar shots be taken by an in-house photographer? That’s a big question, and even if positive, those would cost you a pretty penny. Well, the good news is that exquisite and affordable images that breathe life into content have long become a reality for those understanding how to dig them out on stock photo websites. Without further ado, let’s move to our guide on selecting top-notch stock images.

#1 Define the purpose

There are dozens of places for images – website headers and backgrounds, articles and blog posts, social media and ads –  and each one has specific requirements for image format, size, orientation, weight, transparency, and color gamut. The better you understand those needs, the easier it is for you to narrow down your search to relevant photos. There are millions of shots that might fit, but you can only search effectively if you know what you are looking for. Don’t be generic – come up with the strict criteria to follow.

#2 Work out the right combination of colors

The theory of color is the basic knowledge that you should learn to move any further. It has been composed by scientists, psychologists, and philosophers for centuries and here are some basics rules of it:

  • There are three primary colors – yellow, red, and blue. By mixing two primary colors, you get a secondary color; by mixing a secondary color and a primary color, you get a tertiary color.
  • The most noticeable colors are black, red, green, yellow, and blue. These are good to use in large ads since they do not lose visibility from distance.
  • The most contrasting colors are the colors opposite one another on the color wheel. The greater the contrast of darkness and clarity between the letters and the background, the better the readability.

According to color theory, the examples of working combinations of text and background colors would be black and white, orange and white, yellow and black. The combos to avoid would be brown and purple, green and pink, white and gray, etc.

All in all, the influence of colors on people is quite complex – it depends on gender, niche, target audience, and other factors, so you should do extended research on the topic before you could choose the best color palette for your images, website, and brand.

#3 Pick candid photos

Staged photographs and fake smiles look suspicious and create a feeling of deception, which is especially true for promotional and selling content. You don’t want to make your clients think that you sell them the values that your product doesn’t have, do you? If so, select natural photos with imperfections over impeccable yet unnaturally posed faceless employees or overly happy customers. People tend to identify with what is real, not fake.

#4 Use the full power of search options

By finishing the first steps you will have determined the photo of your dreams, but still, you will have been missing the correct search algorithm. Here’s it:

  1. Choose a few photo stock websites depending on your budget (see the best photos stock repositories in #5).
  2. Explore the advanced search options and see if there are any particular checkmarks to enable and narrow down the search.
  3. Use three to five keywords depending on the keyword specificity to maximize the search potential.
  4. Once you find a suitable image, scan through its keywords to optimize your search.

Last but not least, lots of photos repositories have live support chats – take advantage of those if you struggle to dig out what you are looking for.

#5 Get the best value for money

There are dozens of free stock websites giving away shots without any requirements and obligations, meaning you have all the chance to enrich your imagery without spending a dime. However, craving free photos, by all means, is a huge mistake: first of all, free stock repositories have limited libraries, especially if you need something really specific; secondly, many paid competitors are quite affordable and even provide free monthly trials. Here are the three top-notch photo stock repositories to start with:

  • Depositphotos. The ever-growing library of Depositphotos encompasses about 150 million royalty-free photos, vector images, and videos from contributors from all over the world. For $9.99 only you can get here 10 hi-resolution photos and PSD, EPS, SVG vector images within a monthly subscription plan; for $199 you can unlock 750 exquisite photos of any size.
  • Pixabay. There’s a fair chance to find the imagery you need at Pixabay, a leading free stock photo repository uniting more than 1.6 million shots, illustrations, and vector images. All items available on Pixabay are free to copy, modify, and distribute for non-commercial and commercial purposes, though some shots might still be protected by trademarks or privacy rights. The most thrilling pictures are highlighted in the ‘popular’ category – seek inspiration there, but avoid using ubiquitous shots not to look unprofessional.
  • Shutterstock. The ever-growing collection of images accounting for 314 million high-resolution, high-quality photos and vectors is right what you need to enrich your blog posts, press releases, and articles with relevant shots. In addition to search by keywords, the website enables ‘curated collections’ and ‘offset images’ categories where you can find trendy photos and expertly selected shots taken by professional cameramen. Last but not least, there’s a monthly free trial plan including 10 free images and an in-built editor to adjust the pictures according to your vision.


You never know when a need for high-quality imagery will pop up – there are hundreds of potential cases – so mastering a simple 5-step photo selection algorithm outlined above is a must anyway. After all, being able to pick cost-effective and relevant images from photo stock repositories on your own means being able to save tons of time and money. May the luck be with you in your search for stock images!