How to Use Free Stock Photos on Your Website Without Hurting Your Conversions

Hanne   138

Updated on December 23, 2019

I'm sure you'll agree that the internet is 99% a visual medium.

Photos have always been an integral part of web design and recently popular social networks such as Instagram and Pinterest raised the bar for all of us.

But what if you're not a photographer and you don't have a designer at your disposal?

You've guessed it, you can use stock photos but I should immediately warn you... Using stock images the wrong way can seriously damage your conversion rates! 


How Stock Photos Can Seriously Damage Your Conversion Rates

Anybody looking for a trustworthy mover?

Anybody looking for a trustworthy mover?

Studies have shown over and over again that purely decorative "feel good" images get ignored and that landing pages with stock photos get lower conversions than landing pages with authentique photos. 

That is because stock photos have one big problem, they are irritatingly perfect.

In stock photo world, nobody sweats at the gym, everybody shakes hands in front of huge skyscrapers under a bright blue sky and dentists make fortunes on teeth whitening. 

These pictures scream NOT CREDIBLE and this feeling is automatically associated with the page and the website we find them on.

Key Takeaway

Do not use free or paid stock photos of people on your website or landing pages. Use real, authentic, professional photos of you or your team.

Your visitors want to be able to relate to the pictures they are seeing and they'll immediately rate your site as more trustworthy when they do.

The Story of the Everywhere Girl

In 1996 Jennifer participates in a photo shoot for stock photos at Reed college, little did she imagine that for years her pictures would be used on book covers and websites all around the world! 

Do I look familiar to you? Source

From suicide to mind maps, she's the face on the cover. On her Facebook page she even collects screenshots and photos from websites, journals, books, etc. that have used her photo over the years. Crazy, right?

Now you might be thinking that this is an old story (from before the internet), but let me show you just how topical this is...

This is a (gorgeous) photo that you can download today on one of the free stock photo websites that you'll find in the list I'll share with you in just a moment.

8660 Google results for this exact image...

The photo has been downloaded 3166 times and a quick Google image search for this photo (something you can easily do yourself: copy the URL of the photo, go to google images, click on the camera and past the URL) returns no less than 8660 (!) pages with this EXACT image... 

Clearly this is not a good way of using (free) stock photos on your website!​

Even though this photo doesn't have the yukky stock photo feeling about it, it can still damage your business to use it on your website because it shows no personality and you'll just be one of the other 8659 websites that are using this photo!

Key Takeaway

Never use stock photos without changing & personalizing them!

Now that we agree on this, let's take a look at how you should use free stock photos on your blog and website.

2 Golden Rules for Using Free Stock Photos on Your Blog the Right Way

Rule 1: Only Use Photos That Are Free to Modify

You've seen that it is a really bad idea to use stock photos as such, without modifying them but you have to make sure that you have the right to modify the images!

Photos under the Creative Commons CC0 licence give you the right to copy, modify, distribute any photo, even for commercial purposes, all without asking permission. This is exactly what you're looking for.

Here's a list of my favorite websites that distribute free stock photos under the CC0 licence:

If you're looking for more free design ressources, click here to access our 25 Free Design Resources every content marketer should know about.

Rule 2: Modify the Photo to Create a Unique & Branded Image

All of this can be done with a free online tool called PicMonkey (there are other alternatives out there such as Canva or Pixlr, but I happen to like PicMonkey a lot). In this short step by step video I show you exactly how it's done.

  • Start by cropping and reframing the photo.​
  • Next add a filter or a colored overlay
  • Now you can add your text & your logo.

You now have a completely unique image that you can use on your blog and share the hell out of on social media without damaging your brand!

Now it's your turn. Are you using (free) stock photos on your website? Do you think they might hurt your conversion rates? Let me know in the comments below!

And one more thing, if you liked this article, could you do me a favor and click on one of the social share buttons? Thank you πŸ™‚

by Hanne  March 1, 2016


Disclosure: Our content is reader-supported. This means if you click on some of our links, then we may earn a commission. We only recommend products that we believe will add value to our readers.

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Leave a Comment

  • Hey Hanne, very good post!
    There is a saying: An image says more than thousand words. That’s true, but unfortunately on two ways: Most images seen on the internet are chatty prattlers, talking nonsense – far away from a concise message.
    As a photographer I know how difficult it can be to find the right image for a defined message, herein is tipping point.

    • Hi Christoph, thank you for your comment. You’re right, finding a photo that really matches the message is very hard!

      • Hanne, I’ve heard that Google can find Images based on what is in them, e.g. a bridge, but have never tried to find out if it works. Have you?

  • I’ve been guilty of this! Thank you for the insight on the Creative Commons Act. Until I get professional photos done, I’ll be sure to edit photos from those sites to put my own unique personality on my landing pages.

  • Great post Hanne! Thanks for the tutorial on PicMonkey! I really enjoyed the video and will definitely be trying out PicMonkey. πŸ™‚

  • I’ve shied away from stock photos, except sometimes to display my art work, but of course I’ve modified them by adding in my paintings and often cropping the image as well.

  • This is brilliant. Your image with the camera, before and after with the overlay, is so smart and teaches your whole message in, wait for it, AN IMAGE. Well done and I am inspired to do better (and steal your overlay idea, too, which has never occurred to me). Thanks, Hanne!

  • Great insight, never thought of modifying them at all, thanks! I will be using this method for my next blog post πŸ™‚

    Aside from that, do you rename the image for each blog post? (title, description etc) Or just leave it blank?

    • Hi Bryan, happy to hear you’ll use this method. And yes we do rename all image titles (for SEO purpose).

  • Thanks Hanne, for this timely article! I was just about to do a search to redesign my homepage with your newly installed Thrive Content Builder/LeadPage. I also see many of the same free CC images all over the web, but your advice to modify and refresh CC images has made it a priority for me!

  • Thanks for the tips Hanne. I started modifying and branding my images even before I was done reading your post. It’s fun and well worth the effort. I hadn’t thought of branding the images like you suggested. Talk about an “Oh Duh!” moment. Thanks again. – Mark

  • Do people REALLY care if an image has been used elsewhere?

    I may be wrong, but personally, if someone is checking out where my stock photo originates, then I have lost them as to the real purpose of my page… and guaranteed that person will never convert! πŸ˜‰

    But thanks for the list of resources. It does give us a chance to *improve* any image we care to use, and that comes in mighty handy…

    • Hi Trevor thanks for your insight, I don’t think people actually look up what websites are using the same image (I’m just a bit of a geek ;-)) But they might have seen the image somewhere before.
      Let me give you an example, at one point there was a really cool stock photo with some girl with colorful socks jumping in leafs (something very timely for autumn but also a bit quirky and really recognizable and memorable) and all the sudden I saw this image several times in my Facebook feed but all for different articles… This is rather confusing and is not helpful for the branding of the website.
      As you can see in the video, it only takes a few minutes to make the photo unique and help your website stand out.

      • I also wonder if at some point Google may look at grossly-overshared images as duplicate content, or at least use is as a deciding factor to determine uniqueness.

  • Hey Hanna, great post with a sweet simple solution. .. and i always searched something like PicMonkey…thank you!

  • Great! I always had difficulties selecting pictures on stock sites because they all look fabricated. I now know why and how to illustrate my articles efficiently.

    By the way, this is exactly the kind of post that makes me trust Thrivethemes: facts, with insights from other sources that are not Wikipedia (hey, where’s the value in a Wikipedia link? Everybody is capable of searching on Wikipedia) or first page Google results (same comment), opinion, resources and solutions…
    Thanks for not being a guru and for providing real value on this blog.
    So few blogs are of high quality like this one.
    Thanks again.
    That was my way of saying: “very helpful post”.

  • Is there real evidence that using stock photos affects conversions. Stock photos are widespread and usually pretty obvious. I’m not seeing statistics that prove the claim. Stock photos don’t make me question the credibility of the company. I just laugh as I remember seeing that call center gal before! It would not influence me at all in a decision. I prefer to not use stock photos. I look for thought-provoking photos that have a reality to them. I search Photopin as the images are submitted from all over the world and the foreign touch adds an edge. It’s an art!

    • Hi Judith, in the article, I link to several studies showing that stock photos do hurt conversions and that people have more trust in websites with real photos.
      You might just think “I’ve seen this girl before” but somebody else might wonder if they actually do have a legit call center…
      I didn’t include Photopin because the photos might have different licences (sometimes you have to attribute or you can not alter the images etc.) but it’s a good source to discover nice photos.

    • Hi Alison, I have to say that I find PicMonkey more intuitive than Canva (but that might just be my way of doing things) πŸ™‚

  • Excellent information, thank you! Let’s see now, if a picture is worth a thousand words, then your post is worth about a million.

  • Thanks! I hadn’t heard of picmonkey before. I’m a Photoshop guy, but for fast conversion, picmonkey looks like a great tool.

    Thanks for the tips on modifying stock images and the links to the CCO sites.

    • Hi Bob, for sure not trying to compare Picmonkey and Photoshop πŸ˜‰ But like you point out, for quick editing Picmonkey works like a charm.

  • Thank You… Very informative. I never used Stock images and didn’t know why. Now I do and will definitely practice this .
    Thanks again

  • Hi Hanne,
    Great practical & actionable post. I HATE stock images but it is a constant need to source images for posts etc – really appreciate these tips. .

    • Hi Alison, I understand what you mean! I think that the “new” trend with the more natural looking stock photos is for sure an improvement!

  • Thanks for such a helpful informative post. I need to check my sites and see if I have any common stock photos that need a makeover!

  • Thanks Hanne. I am always struggling with images and I am grateful you showed us picmonkey. Seems powerful enough. I have tried Canva but it is not for image editing as such.

    Allow me to share for very affordable stock photos that people can use. They cost only $1.00.

    Thanks again.

    • Hi Felix, thanks for sharing. I think you’re right about Canva. I do know about the dollar photo club but if I’m not mistaken, they have been bought by Adobe recently and there is no way to join anymore πŸ™

      • Ooooh! I did not know about them being bought. I still have some credits remaining and may have to stock up to ensure more downloads!

        Thanks for sharing the info.

  • Great info. I personally use Canva a lot and use it in conjunction with Pixabay or Pexels, (my go to copyright free image repositories).

    I have also found that images with text on them tend to do better on social media because I don’t think many people read the text, but rather click on a post on the basis of its image. If there is also a small description on it, it gives readers an overview.

    • Hi Harry thanks for sharing. I do think people read the text, it’s kinda automatic when we see an image with text on it (and I mean a headline or some words, not a whole paragraph).
      Image the same picture with the camera but without text… Nobody would know what the article is about, and they might not click because it is not compelling. This is true on Facebook but even more so on “visual” social media such as Instagram or Pinterest!

  • Great post Hanne; Thanks for the list of Stock Photo providers offering CC0 licences. Others to add to the list are:

    One could also source image from Google Images & Flickr, but make sure to filter these using advanced search filtering tools, which usually provide a filter stating something like:
    FREE to use and/or modify, even for commercial use

    eg. screen-shot of Google’s Advanced filter:

    I generally always edit/change any stock images, but sometimes I do get lazy πŸ™‚

    • Thanks for the tips Duane! I have to say that most of the time, searching Google with this filter I do not obtain very good results πŸ™ Flickr is more interesting!

  • Thanks Hanne. Great message on the strength of the personal touch and the trust it creates. If you can find a very underused but great human image, is it still worth using as say an avatar for a company or would you still recommend using pictures of someone in the organisation?

    • Hi Simon, I would always try to have “real” pictures especially for your company. But if you want to use a stock photo, make sure to check where it is used online (through the google image research) before using it on your website.

  • Loved your post, Hanne! Especially as I was about to redo my website photos this week it came at a very opportune time. With your list of favorite websites that distribute free stock photos under the CC0 licence, do you need to link back to the original source or acknowledge the source anywhere on your page when using these photos or parts thereof?

    • Thanks Christin. And no you do not have to acknowledge the source. Another very big advantage of the CC0 licence!

  • My solution to this is that I paid a freelance designer $50 to create a Photoshop ‘template’ that includes the post title, my site branding and mascot. I just drop a stock image into the template, change the post title and export it out to publish on the site. Gives nice consistency to the images on the site (since I started using the template).

    Also, worth keeping an eye out for AppSumo deals. Roughly once a year they run an amazing deal with For $49, you’ll get 100 downloads that never expire. Get 2 or 3 of those and you are set for a while.

    • Hi Seppo, thanks for your insights. That is indeed a very clever thing to do! Even if Photoshop is not an option, an overlay image with branding etc could four sure be a big time saver!

  • Very interesting and I include these kind of concepts in our workshops, great to see the message going out there – companies often just don’t realise these things make such a huge difference eh. I get what you mean about modifying photos but unsure as to whether this can lead to its own problems. Great blog though thanks.

  • Wonderful and Thank You Hanne… Over the last week been researching and gathering info to keep a fresh supply of photos and pics readily available to add to my writing. Writing comes easy to me but adding images for better impact has always slowed me down. Not anymore!

  • Great post. I love the ideas about using “not-so-perfect” stock photos and utilizing more free sites. I have a membership to Shutterstock that runs $169 a month, so will definitely check these out.

  • never knew about this though I’ve been blogging for years.
    I mean, we all know about resources to free stock photos for all use, but to be honest I never knew how can I leverage the use of it. Very good info I have here.

  • Hi Hanne,

    I found your great post and I want to ask, if you could check out and maybe ad my website to the “free stock photos under the CC0 licence” section of your post.. Sorry for disturbing you but I want to get more visitors πŸ™‚
    Of course, I can add link to your post to libreshot – to “wrote about us” page.

    Thank you very much and have a nice day,


  • I added some text as suggested and used this method on my blog posts (thumbnail). But noticed that on the home page of my them (Rise) the title of the post is dynamically overlaid onto the thumbnail, resulting in text over text.

    Would you suggest only adding text onto images not used as thumbnails, or is there a different work-around?

    • Hi Bradley,

      You basically have 2 options:
      – Change the settings on your homepage (to not show the title on the thumbnail
      – Not put a text overlay on the image

      I think in this case, the best way to go is to not put a text overlay on your featured image. This will also allow you to do headline testing.
      The text overlay can be used for social media or other images in your blog post.

  • Oh my gosh, Hanne! This is the opposite of what I’ve been taught but it makes perfect sense. I can’t wait to go forward with images that I have permission to modify. Thanks for posting. I don’t think many of us newbies know about this.

  • I’m working on a website about relationships and dating. For this type of site I’m not sure how you avoid standard stock photography. I mean I can’t exactly ask dates to post for pictures with me or take pictures of strangers in restaurants.

    • Hi Bradley, why not πŸ˜‰
      I think if you want to avoid stock photos, you should do a photo shoot for your own website.
      Spend some time in advance deciding what type of pictures you need and hire a photographer to do a photoshoot.

  • the problem is just that Google is very smart with image recognition… both your images are not seen as unique by Big G!

    If you look up both urls of your images in Google Image Search, you’ll see that Google doesn’t think they are unique and knows where they are coming from.

    Hence, duplicate content.

    So, for users yes. For Google, better noindex all images!

  • Hi Hanne Vervaeck,
    Just go through your article as well practical myself, what a great discover it is really great -thanks for your PicMonkey tutorial, No doubt everybody enjoyed the video, Really it is a valuable resource to use everywhere with related work.Thanks for sharing!

  • Hanne, great job. Thanks for the video. Even though I’ve heard of PicMonkey for years I’ve never used it before. I’ve used Canva instead. I’m definitely going to use it in the future. I’m grateful for your coaching as to how to modify stock images too.

  • I use mostly my own images, Hanna, yet I loved the this you gave here. I will now be able to make them even more interesting. I’ve not used the overlay when adding text so it looks interesting as a way to make white text stand out better on a background that varies in color and brightness.

  • Thanks Hanne. I use Canva a lot and thought pic monkey wasn’t as good but I can see its also a really good tool

    • Both tools have pros and cons πŸ™‚ I find Picmonkey easier for simple stuff such as an overlay or resizing and Canva better for more complex design things.

  • Thank you for the quick edit lesson. Just wanted to add another service to your list: Burst (by Shopify). Beautiful images (some irritatingly perfect), not unlike Unsplash. Thanks again! Carol

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