How to Use Stock Photos for Social Media

Eye-catching visuals are key to your online presence, and using stock photos for social media is the perfect time-saver for boosting engagement.

Social media platforms are, at their core, a visual medium. Whether it’s image-driven Instagram or commentary-focused Twitter, adding eye-catching visuals is a surefire way to get scroll-stopping engagement from your audience. Most brands know that having strong, consistent, high-quality images to populate their feeds is important — but how to find those photos and use them effectively is another question altogether. If you’re on a lean team that may not have dedicated designers, photographers, or other creatives on staff, searching for and creating visuals for your social media feed can be a colossal time drain. This is when having a handy stock photo resource like Noun Project Photos can save the day — and even give you clarity on licensing and usage rights.

We’ve created this quick guide to using stock photos for social media for everyone from seasoned brand managers to newly-minted marketers and scrappy entrepreneurs just getting their brand’s online presence off the ground. Let’s dive in:

Using Stock Photos for Social Media

No matter what kind of business you run, your social media channels will come to life with a vibrant, diverse array of images. Even consumer product brands will find value in searching for creative ways to bring their messages — and the more emotional, human side of who they are as a brand — to life using creative visuals. Bear in mind that what you post on social media doesn’t have to be you, your team, or your product on display 24/7; it can be a quote, a surprising fact, or a bit of inspiration paired with a visually striking photograph that drives home the things you value as an organization.

Benefits of Stock Images for Social Media

Stock photos are an often overlooked asset for creating and marketing teams, as they can be used swiftly without the time or expense it takes to commission a custom shoot or build an image library from scratch. Best of all, you’ll find that modern stock photo libraries like Noun Project Photos have been curated to give you visually-pleasing, up-to-date content that speaks to modern audiences — not the tacky, cliché “corporate photo shoot” stock photos of yore. Here are some of the other benefits of using stock photos for social media:

  • Affordable: No need to commission your own photographer for a high-cost custom shoot. Noun Project Photos are all set at low-cost price points that fit any budget — from free or public domain images that look great in social feeds, to higher resolution images that are never more than $33.
  • High quality: While companies may be tempted to have employees simply snap their own photos on iPhones, let’s not forget that professional credibility is at stake. Search for images available from seasoned professional photographers that still fit your brand look and feel — even small companies will find that the social media marketing images they use to represent themselves will drive greater results when they convey authority, quality, and relevance.
  • Ease of use: Grab the photos you want à la carte, without needing to sign up for a costly subscription. Noun Project Photos also makes licensing and image usage rights clear and easy to understand, so you’ll always know how you can use each photo and in what context (hint: click the license link under each download option for a full description of what usage rights your purchase allows).
  • High Resolution: Downloading a higher resolution photo lets you crop and adapt it for different dimensions, placements, and levels of detail to suit any kind of output you can think of. A blurry, pixelated photo can look unprofessional (if not embarrassingly accidental) — so be careful to select only crisp, high-contrast photos that pop off the page.
  • Variety of choices: Browse thousands of photos with a vast array of aesthetics and subjects, from nature scenes to punchy flatlays to poignant portraiture. Noun Project Photos is professionally curated to give you the most diverse and inclusive set of images yet — so you can find content that speaks to people of all different backgrounds and from all walks of life.
Noun Project Photos hosts curated collections of stock photos for social media based on different themes, subjects, and styles. Think about utilizing social media marketing images that speak to your target audience and reinforce your brand’s messages.
Browse Noun Project Photos to find curated collections around a range of themes, subjects, angles and aesthetics.

Tips for Using Stock Photos for Social Media

Of course, you shouldn’t get carried away with the ease and convenience of stock photography– these images are still just a tool with which you tell a cohesive and compelling brand story. Before grabbing photos from the web at random, always go back to the basics of who you are as a brand and how you want people to feel about you: Are you high-brow, sleek, and exclusive? Youthful, bright, and energetic? Stern, gritty, or edgy? Establishing consistency and driving the message home is key.

Here are our top tips for using social media stock photos effectively:

  • Do: remember who you are as a brand, and consider what kind of content will be the bread and butter of your feed: inspirational quotes? Interviews? Product shots? Keep your audience in mind and think beyond your main product offering: what are the interests, passions, and opinions you share with your audience that echo your brand’s essence?
  • Don’t: use images that are “too stocky” or “too corporate” — unless, perhaps, you’re a financial or legal institution. Bear in mind that social audiences are used to seeing advertisements cluttering their feeds. Photos that look too staged, too drably corporate, or too cliché (think woman laughing alone with salad) may be ignored.
  • Do: Search for photos that appear relaxed and naturalistic — or, for an even more eye-catching experience, don’t be afraid to dabble in the quirky, funny, or surreal, just as long as it speaks to your brand sentiment. Abstract photographers like the Zamurovic Brothers offer humorous scenes to illustrate everyday ideas.
Abstract, colorful and humorous stock photos from Zamurovic Brothers that can be used as social media marketing pictures.
Don’t be afraid to dabble in the figurative or downright surreal — not every stock photo in your social media feed has to be the literal manifestation of your brand. Photos by Zamurovic Brothers
  • Don’t: Add too much text or other content that might visually clutter the photo. Contrast is key, and so is minimalism — if you need to share a paragraph of text, do it in the body copy of your post. Don’t try to squeeze it all into a photo that already has several compositional elements demanding focus.
  • Do: Search for photos with “Copy Space” so you can have small blurbs of text and other elements sit in a smooth, open, solid-color space without too much competing background noise.
An example of why it’s important to select social media stock images that have copy space or solid color backgrounds, so you can easily add text without the words interfering with the background and becoming illegible.
Searching photos with “Copy Space” or “White Space” will give you a smooth, solid-color background to add text to. Be sure that your text has contrast and doesn’t conflict with background elements. (Photos: Ana Ivanova and Daniela Simona Temneanu)
  • Do: Take time to search for the best photo for your message (rather than grabbing the first result every time). Experiment with searching for more “niche” key terms and phrases and diving more deeply into the collections of a photographer that you like to find unique gems.
  • Don’t: Use photos that have wildly different aesthetics that wouldn’t fit together harmoniously in, say, your Instagram or Pinterest feed as a whole.
  • Do: Find photos that share an aesthetic tone that augments your brand (e.g., textured photos of nature, woodworking, and craftsmanship, vs. photos with punchy pink and purple pastel tones that evoke childlike playfulness). It often helps to find a photographer whose work you like and view their different collections, rather than try to throw together widely differing aesthetics and hoping for the best. But once you’ve honed in on your aesthetic, it’s easier to quickly spot candidates that fit the bill.
A screenshot of Later Media’s instagram feed showing different types of social media marketing pictures, alternating between stock photos, text, and other digital graphics that carry the same general look and feel.
Social media brand Later alternates their Instagram feed with custom designs, text, and stock photography, but maintains a consistent aesthetic through choice of bright, poppy color palettes and soft textures

And last but not least, always create content with diversity and inclusion in mind. Noun Project Photos was built to provide inclusive visual resources that better reflect the world we live in and its important to make sure all segments of your audience see themselves reflected in the images you use.

Browse Stock Photos for Social Media at Noun Project

Break the mold with fresh visuals, diverse subjects, and exclusive signature collections on Noun Project Photos. Take advantage of both free images for social media and low-cost, high resolution stock photos that take the guesswork out of your social strategy.

For more on how to make the most of Noun Project, read our other Tutorials.

Jeremy Elliott

Jeremy Elliott

Marketing Communications Manager at Noun Project, Designer and Illustrator.

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