Finding the right stock photo can be difficult—and it can make or break your project.

Back in the day—before stock photography was commonplace—photographers worked closely with marketing teams to capture the perfect images for a campaign. Today, it's just not feasible to do a custom photo shoot for a project as small as a Facebook ad. Stock photography fills the void—but imperfectly.

As a photographer myself, I struggle to find authentic stock photos that work in my designs. I'm going to give you a few inside tips about what photographers look for when we capture these types of images to help you find that perfect stock photo.


Searching for stock photos can be exhausting—and it's easy to give in, choosing the first photo that's "just alright" enough to work. But before you fall into that trap, take a moment and think about whether or not the models in your photos look like authentic humans or mannequins. If your answer is mannequins, keep searching.

Authentic smiles plus authentic connections equals an authentic and convincing ad.

But how can you differentiate those real smiles from the fake ones?

As a photographer, I never tell my subjects how to pose. I like to shoot natural connections between people. If it’s a portrait, I make my clients do something they love or something that lets them cut loose—like spinning in circles or dancing.

Instead of telling my subjects exactly how and where to put their arms, I just give them a suggestion like "hug each other." From there, I adjust their natural touch just a bit to get the best view of their faces and I snap the photo. This gives the photo the best of both worlds—a natural connection with a polished look.

The same thing applies to stock photography. When you find an image that you like, think about whether their pose and expression is natural. Do their smiles look forced or authentic?


Brand guidelines make sure that all of a business' marketing materials have a similar look and feel. That's how an Apple ad looks like an Apple ad—even though thousands of designers across the world are producing materials for the brand. Brand guidelines aren't limited to typography and colors; you'll want to set guidelines for photography, too. Simple directions in your brand guidelines can make a huge difference in helping you narrow down your choices.

Does your brand market to a specific demographic? Are you looking for casual photos or corporate imagery? Maybe your brand does not use photos at all and all of the imagery needs to be illustrations. Matching your brand makes finding the right stock photo more difficult—but will give you a more polished final product.


Technology changes fast. Crazy fast. A phone that's even two years old can make a photo look hopelessly out of date. If you are going to be using this ad for a few years, make sure the images you're choosing don't have anything that will date it.

Pay close attention to technology and fashion in the photos. If you're a tech company, you don't want a clunker of a phone in the shot. If your market is hip young adults, you don't want your photo subjects to be a step behind in fashion. And at the same time you don't want to push it too far—you want your audience to be able to relate to the person in the shot. Again, look for an authentic image that feels like your brand.


In a great design, the elements fall into place naturally. Photography is another one of those elements—it needs to work with your typography and your message. You can't have a cheerful headline paired with a gloomy image. Or if your design style is clean and modern, your photography needs to match that minimal style.

If there's a disconnect between your photography and your text, your design won't work. It's hard to search for style when searching photos, but if you find images that are close you can sometimes click to view more photos from the same photographer—that can be a great way of finding hidden gems.


One of the tell-tale signs of a bad stock photo is that it represents EXACTLY what the headline is relaying. Let's face it, the subjects in stock photography are not the best actors. If you're trying to convey frustration, a picture of a "frustrated" bad actor, tearing her hair out, isn't going to ring true to your audience.

Sometimes an image that's just a little bit tangential to your theme, paired with the right headline, can be more effective than a simplistic representation.

Keep an Open Mind

And finally, keep an open mind about the images you're looking through. It's easy to get dispirited—but maybe you can make that almost-right image just-right with a little bit of Photoshop.

You can tweak a color, crop out an ugly bit of decoration, or even repeat the background to make it work for your design. If the basic idea and composition are there, all you need is a little Photoshop magic!

Scrolling through page after page of stock photography can be daunting, but with these tips in your toolkit you can get in and out as quickly and efficiently as possible. Do these things and you will be in and out of those stock photography sites in no time!