and what to do instead

Picture this - you're researching a personal trainer, personal chef or wellness coach who will come to your home and work with you on improving your overall health. You go to their website only to see a bunch of generic photos of food, gym equipment or clearly staged yoga stock images. You struggle to find anything that gives you a feeling of trust and rapport with this person you will be inviting into your home. Chances are you're going to keep looking, right? Most people would agree.

A financial services company found a  35% increase in online sign-ups when they replaced a picture their stock photography banner image with a personal one with the founder’s real picture.

Stock photography absolutely has its place in the online world and can be big timesaver for sure. Sometimes you just need a quick image that doesn't need to be personal or customized in order to get a post out. But if you're over-relying on stock images to represent you and your unique brand, you may be missing the mark and inadvertently hurting your business prospects.

To see if this is harming your marketing, and to get five tips on what to do instead, read on.

Customized "stock" type imagery includes thoughtfully integrated personal touches

differentiate through Authenticity

So, what is the problem with using stock images to represent your personal brand or small business? Inc. Magazine put it like this, "Nothing screams a total lack of effort quite like having cheesy stock photos that have been circulated all over the internet on your ads and marketing assets. " Ouch.

  1. First, stock images do nothing to differentiate your business apart in a crowded market. We've all heard of the importance of defining your unique selling points or customer value proposition. Stock images are too generic to be making a case for you with potential clients. They're wondering, what makes your process different than all the others I'm considering?
  2. If you browse websites within one industry, such as real estate and mortgage brokers, you're bound to see the same stock images pop up, meaning they're overused and cliche. Your competitors may be using the same stock images or they've upleveled to more personal brand images. Either way, this is a losing situation for you.
  3. Doesn't give potential customers a reason to feel connected with you. Strategically planned custom images integrate potential touchpoints about you, your style and interests, your background and training, that often give clients more of a feeling of knowing, liking and trusting you.

Some social media algorithms like Pinterest can even penalize overused stock imagery. "Pinterest is a platform that thrives on getting new images. It is the foundation of what Pinterest is about. Pinterest wants to avoid having people overly share the same images time and time again. They want new images," according to this article on beating the Pinterest algorithm on Promote Marketing Online.

Alternatives to Stock Images

So if you're ready to take your business further, what are your alternatives to using the same generic images everyone is using? I recommend cultivating your own set of personalized brand images using the 5 tips below.

Custom brand photography goes beyond the generic


  1. First - brainstorm. A personal branding image strategy involves a lot of thoughtful planning. Here are some thought starters:
  2. What are your image gaps: the images you keep struggling to fill on your website, blog, social media and marketing materials? Do you need more images with negative space for text? Are you missing images of your process behind the scenes? Are all your images smiling at the camera and you could really use more variety or other kinds of expressions?
  3. Think ahead 6-9 months: What are your upcoming launches, new service offerings that you will need to source images for? What sales rhythm and seasons are key ones for your business? Do you have images ready that feel right for the time of year and purpose?
  4. How can you incorporate your brand colors creatively? If your look is very pastel and muted it may be harder to use images featuring too many bold colors without it feeling off brand for you.
  5. Go beyond the obvious work images. We all have lives beyond work, so show that! When I'm planning with a client for a personal brand shoot, I always dig deeper into potential 'brand boosters.' These are the non-work related topics that tend to come up over and over in your feed that your clients associate with your brand. Do you often show images of your dog and your active lifestyle? Your love of farm to table? Your alma mater or favorite sports team? These details help sense for your personality and round out the business focused posts.
  6. Plan for the crops and specs you need - do you need square images for Instagram posts, 9:16 Reels content, header images for your next blog? Some camera phone apps will let you pre-select your crop so you can think about what makes it into the frame.
  7. Integrate your brand colors and vibe. If you're planful up front about layering in your brand colors it can make your social media feed feel more cohesive and 'like you.' One pro tip is to buy some clothes and desk accessories in your brand colors and then you'll always have on-brand items to use.
  8. Outsource. Sound like too much work? Too busy for all that? I hear you. Most small business owners are these days. Planning for the right business images IS a lot of work, so my last tip is of course to just outsource to a brand photographer. A good one will do all of the above and more when planning your session.

A bride looks at jewelry at Kita Events Northwest bridal shop

free brand consultation

For Seattle-area business owners, realtors, coaches and creatives, I invite you to learn more about how custom brand photography can help grow your business. Schedule a free 30-minute brand consultation. I will do a top-level evaluation of your marketing channels across web, social and blog, evaluate your image gaps and give you some professional advice on ways to improve your visuals and messaging.

Kind Words from Brand Clients

Ling Ling, Family Photographer

"Kelly is thorough in her communication and preparation from start to finish.

She has a vision for the session and implements it well. She is fun and easy going and helps make you feel comfortable on the day of your session.

I am a photographer myself and was so pleased with all the images Kelly provided me for my branding session. I love having them on my website!"