Yes, Stock Photos CAN Work for Your Brand

(& why I cancelled my gym membership)

We've all seen them — the same popular, overused free stock photos popping up everywhere. I can understand your skepticism. You're not like everyone else, and you don't want to LOOK like everyone else.

But you're also an entrepreneur on a budget, so custom photos are "out of the picture," so to speak. Can you make generic stock images really work for your brand? With a little patience and whole lotta strategy, yes, you can!

Using stock photos to perfectly fit your brand (yes, it’s possible) involves 3 strategies:

  1. Key descriptive words
  2. Relevant color palette
  3. Customization

1 | Start with your Brand Summary

A Brand Summary is something that I create for all my branding clients. It's a one-page list of key descriptive words that represent emotions —the emotions that characterize your brand as well as the emotions your clients should feel when they interact with your business. If you don't have a Summary, you can create one by starting with three primary key words. Try to go beyond your first thoughts and really get under its skin a bit. Perhaps “modern" can be better described as industrial, refined, or light.  Or “feminine” is actually delicate, sassy, or sparkling. Then expand that list to give a thorough, accurate picture of your brand’s vibe.

2 | Define a relevant color palette

At this point, it’s worthwhile to explore some color psychology. Every color also conveys its own specific emotions and qualities, and your brand colors should align with your Summary words. Jot down the feelings associated with your colors, and add them to your Summary. You can find great resources on Pinterest or refer to my handy graphic here. Do the color associations align? If so, great! If not, it's time to readjust. And if you don’t have brand colors yet, now is the perfect time to look at these resources and see which colors complement your Summary words.

Now what?

If you're looking for a comprehensive list of 60 high-quality sites, then get your hands on my Ultimate Stock Photo Guide. Scroll to the bottom of this post, join the Flight Club, and you'll get instant access.

Use your summary words, actual color names, and associated color feelings as keywords in the search boxes of the various stock photo websites.

For example, let’s say your primary Brand Summary words are clean, natural, and delicate. Your brand colors are blue and green. The associated color feelings are calming, integrity, trustworthy (blue), and fresh, positive, growth (green). In addition, your clients are young women, and you are looking for images for your next blog post on personal growth

Type in any of the above words, either individually or in combination. Most free sites have a smaller library of images to choose from, so you will find more images by using broader terms. Try searching obvious keywords like grow, green, and women. You could also think outside the box and search seedling, leaves, and sunshine, all words that differ from your starting point but would be relevant to what you’re searching for. The paid sites have much larger libraries, so you can be very specific with your keyword search. In fact you’ll want to be specific to avoid weeding through thousands of images! Try typing in entire phrases like “fresh natural green blue” or “positive calming women growth.” Add more words to the phrase for more specific results; delete or replace words to generate different results.

It will take some time and experimentation at first. As you search different sites, make a note of which ones have more photos that match your brand style. It will save you time on future searches.

What if you find an image you love, but it’s not quite right? Download it anyway and use Strategy #3.

3 | Customization

Keep in mind that you can customize any photo in software like Photoshop or Canva. In fact, I often recommend doing this to make your photos more unique and tailored to your visual brand. Here are just a few examples of how you could customize this generic photo from to fit our scenario.


The original photo is a bit busy, perhaps not as “clean" or “delicate" as you wanted. A few simple tweaks and you will have a variety of on-brand images. Don’t be afraid to experiment. Keep a folder of possible images on your desktop so you can quickly find what you need.

Oh, and about that gym membership

Customization doesn’t only apply to our brand photos. It’s just as relevant to everyday life.

I’ve had a membership at our local gym for several years. It’s clean, well run, and has a nice outdoor pool that my kids occasionally enjoy in the summer. I even have friends that go regularly. But for the last year I’ve barely used it. I’ll spare you the details, but my excuse has been that the gym class schedule and my schedule no longer align. Yeah, that and the honest reality that I really dreaded going. Like, REALLY hated going. I know I ought to go; I should want to be healthy, right? And I do want to be healthy, but the guilt, obligation, and monthly fees weren’t enough to get my bum in the door. I had to find something that works for me. I needed to customize my fitness.

So one Facebook post from a friend and one website signup later, and I’m exercising to short online videos at home. Frequently, consistently, happily, guilt free, cost free, and sometimes in my pjs. It's funny, but letting go of my gym membership made me happier than going to the gym ever did!

Of course we can’t give up every less-than-glamorous obligation in our lives. But maybe you can let go of one thing or customize it in a way that works for you, that feels more natural and freeing. Take a look. Experiment. Let me know! I’ll be cheering you on in my pjs!